Thank you so much for taking time out of your busy life to check out these images! To capture these photos, I have put in hours of research, pre-production, field work, and post-production. Each image was carefully taken to try and capture the story and beauty of this park.
Kankakee River State Park
This is a place to tell you a bit of my personal story that lives behind these images. Many of the thoughts were recorded the day of the shoot with a field journal.
Time is such a fleeting moment. Everyday, we live our lives in a cyclical fashion. We work, eat, sometimes socialize, sleep, and repeat. This is my greatest fear in life - going through a monotonous life without any adventure. However, these adventures I wish to take are so much better taken with another person.
My dad and I have a very special relationship. We both love the great outdoors, fishing, wildlife, and so much more. This particular trip was just my dad and I. And although this wasn’t one of our famous fishing trips (one is coming soon!), it was just as special. One thing I do to prepare for a shoot is research extensively the area which I’m going to. With both of us being history buffs, this always makes for fascinating conversations on the way to the location. Kankakee River State Park is about 3o minutes from home, which meant a 30 minutes history lesson about the park. We talked about the indigenous peoples who occupied the land, then the interaction European fur traders, and finally how the park was developed. It was interesting talking about the passage of time at such a critical point in my life.
In a few short weeks, I will be moving to Washington DC, 800 miles from home. I want to spend the remainder of the time I have living at home doing the things that made me who I am today - traveling, adventuring, fishing, and messing around with cameras. These trips I take confirm to me that I’m headed on the right path, and the duplicity of life from when I was younger to now, is insane to me. Growing up, my father hosted Midwest Bass Fishin’ and Huntin’ Adventures on the Outdoor Channel. So, for the first 6 years of my life, we travelled around the country filming a tv show. Then, after that he was a professional fisherman. Again, this meant traveling around the country camping, adventuring, and fishing. It wasn’t until I was about 9 that we lessened our travels from every month, to about every 3 months. My brother and I started more serious schooling, my mom became more involved with students on the campus she worked at, and my dad became a teacher. Still, we travelled all over the country. However, oftentimes, for baseball tournaments or just vacation. But that adventurous drive was still in me, as well as our whole family (for the most part), so we tried to plan more of those trips as well - the Rocky Mountains and the North Woods in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area were two of our favorites.
As I look back, time really does fly. Sure, we can always embark on huge adventures to magical places, but oftentimes, the trips just 30 minutes from home are just as magical. Those car-ride history lessons, hilarious conversations, and times walking the paths through the wilderness will not soon be forgotten. And I know this reflection isn’t really about the park itself, but this is a testament to nature’s ability to reconnect us with our roots (pun intended). For me, it assures me of my career choice and helps me remember why I am who I am. We all have memories of the outdoors, some fond and some not so fond, but we all have them. Go outside. Go to the park. Go reminisce about your past.
A Park's Journey: The Story of Kankakee River State Park
As most state parks, the journey of this now 4,000 acre retreat was one that spanned many decades. While Europeans first began settling on the eastern seaboard, the Miami and Illini tribes sought refuge in the now Kankakee-Bourbonnais area. For years, they lived peaceful and plentiful lives. Then, between the 1670s and 1680s, the first European contact was made. It was shortly after this the Three Fires Tribe Nation became occupants of the land, primarily, the Potawatomi and Chippewa people. As time progressed, more and more Europeans began moving into the area. A Quebecan fur trader and explorer, Noel Le Vasseur (the “father of Kankakee”), initiated trade with the Potawatomi during the 1820s. After discovering the beautiful land and abundant trade opportunities, he returned to Quebec and convinced others to move to the Bourbonnais Township Area. This kickstarted groups of natives to leave the area. Eventually, in 1832 the United States took over the land, ultimately pushing the remainder of Indigenous peoples out.
With the land primarily in American hands, business began to boom. The Kankakee & Iroquois Navigation Company (also known as the Kankakee Company), was one of the first to function on the current park grounds. They were charted to provide power and navigation from the Illinois and Michigan Canal to Warner’s Landing. However, before any strides could actually be made, the creation of Railroads reached the area. The Wabash Railroad Company put the Kankakee & Iroquois Navigation Company out of commission since the canal was no longer essentially needed. Ironically, the Wabash Railroad, which planned to place tracks directly through the land, lost financing for the project shortly into construction. In the current Chippewa Campground, hand cut Limestone pillars mark where the tracks would’ve gone.
From 1793 - 1900, the slow and mighty Yellow Fever Epidemic spread across the United States - first starting in Philadelphia, then moving westward. It wasn’t until the turn of the 20th century that the epidemic almost completely wiped out the families in the Kankakee area. One of the park’s landmarks is the Smith Cemetery, a final resting ground to those who lost their lives due to Yellow Fever. Possibly most interestingly, the entire cemetery is of one family.
In the 1890s to the 1920s, the Custer Bowery Amusement Park grew large crowds from the city of Chicago. Little did anyone know that this amusement park’s downfall would be the beginning of Kankakee River State Park. After its collapse, Chicago residents still wanted to escape the city and spend time on the beautiful Kankakee River. This led to the construction of numerous cabins along the river in the 20s. One of these Chicagoans - Ethel Sturges Drummer. His love for the land led him to donate 35 acres in 1938 which created the state park. For 18 years, the park remained the same humble size until 1956 when Common-Wealth Edison gave 1,715 acres. In the following years, the park continued to grow, ultimately leading to the current 4,000 acres.
While on the history-rich lands of Kankakee River State Park, visitors can enjoy an extensive 10.6 mile path - perfect for biking and hiking. Other activities include fishing and picnicking. Between the rushing waters of the Kankakee and the seemingly endless miles of dry fun, Kankakee River State Park is the perfect day-trip destination for families and nature lovers.