The Illinois Fox River and the Chain O’Lakes (The Chain) Public River Access and Private Land Owner Rights

The Illinois Fox River and the Chain O’Lakes (The Chain) Public River Access and Private Land Owner Rights

The Fox River begins in the State of Wisconsin and flows through the State of Illinois to the City of Ottawa where it then flows into the Illinois River.  In McHenry County and Lake County, Illinois, the Fox River connects to the Chain O’Lakes.  The Chain O’Lakes consists of ten main lakes known as Grass Lake, Lake Marie, Channel Lake, Lake Catherine, Bluff Lake, Petite Lake, Fox Lake, Nippersink Lake, Pistakee Lake, and Redhead Lake.  There are another five lakes connected by canals and channels.  These five lakes are Duck Lake, Long Lake, Spring Lake, Dunns Lake, and Brandenburg Lake.

The State of Illinois pursuant to the Illinois Administrative Code through the Department of Natural Resources publishes a list of waterways.  If a waterway is listed that means that it is open to the public and a private land owner who owns land adjoining the waterway does not have any authority to block or restrict any member of the public from using the water once the person is on the water.  A private land owner does not have the right to restrict anyone while that person is on the waters of the Fox River and the Chain O’Lakes.

The Illinois Administrative Code makes the entire Fox River and the Chain O’Lakes open to public use, including all of the below listed waters.  The Code provides as follows:  The following public bodies of water are opened to public use, the entire length and surface area including all lakes, rivers, backwaters, submerged lands, bayous, and sloughs open to the main channel or body of water at normal flows or stages, are open to the public including but not limited to the Fox River (entire Illinois River Basin), Fox Chain O’Lakes (McHenry and Lake Counties), Bluff Lake, Lake Catherine, Channel Lake, Fox Lake, Grass Lake, Lake Marie, Nippersink Lake, Dunns Lake, Pistakee Lake, Lake Jerilyn, Lac Louette, Redhead Lake, Petite Lake, Spring Lake, and all connecting channels.  17 ILL. ADM. CODE Section 3704 APPENDIX A Public Bodies of Water.

Part of the reason for making the Fox River and the Chain O’Lakes open to the public is to promote commerce.  Commerce is plentiful on the Fox River and the Chain O’Lakes.  The Chain O’Lakes is the home to hundreds of various “On the Water” types of businesses including marinas, boat sales, charter boat captains, fishing tournaments, boat races, resorts, campgrounds, fine dining restaurants, and bars.  One of the historical and most famous places is the bar known as Blarney Island.  Blarney Island is located in the middle of Grass Lake and is only accessible by boat.

Does the Federal Government have jurisdiction over the Fox River?  The answer would be yes because of the inter-state nature of the river.  The Fox River flows through two different states.  It would be up to the Federal Government whether they would exercise such jurisdiction and the extent of the involvement.

If you have questions regarding lake or river rights, local attorney Andrew Szocka provides thorough and speedy assistance in the Chicagoland area.  To schedule a free initial consultation, visit Andrew Szocka, P.C. or call the office at (815) 455-8430.


The owner of this website has made a commitment to accessibility and inclusion, please report any problems that you encounter using the contact form on this website. This site uses the WP ADA Compliance Check plugin to enhance accessibility.