By Rob Rohde-Szudy - Madison, Wisconsin - USA


Chicagoland Midsummer Messabout at Pierce Lake

The first annual Chicagoland Midsummer Weekend-Long Messabout will be held at Pierce Lake in Loves Park, IL on July 18-20, 2008. The plan is to keep this on the third weekend in July indefinitely unless there’s a good reason to change it.

As is not often the case for a first-annual anything, we have pictures from an experimental one-day event in July 2007. Since it was an experiment with a new lake, so we didn’t want to invite the general public only to find it was not a good arrangement. Fortunately, it turned out to be ideal for future events!

The Lake

Pierce Lake is 162 acres of water wholly contained within Rock Cut State Park in Loves Park, Illinois. If you don’t have a map handy, that is just north of Rockford and just south of the Wisconsin border. The lake is an impoundment of Willow Creek – the creek is small but the drop at the dam is huge. The sole disadvantage of this lake seems to be that the main launching point is at the windward side of the lake, so it is always unwind on the way back. But the lake isn’t so big that this can pose too much trouble. Even if everything fell apart, poling back in the shallows isn’t so terribly far it would be a major problem.

But you wouldn’t have to because motors are allowed. But it is the best kind of motor-allowed lake – motors over 10 hp must operate at no-wake speed. (I had to wonder if a tiny johnboat with a 9.9 could go screaming all over.) This must keep away the majority of power boaters because on a perfect weekend day none of us had to wait to launch. And there is no launch fee! Most traffic on the lake was sailboats and canoes, and some of those pedal boats that the park rents out. You can imagine how remarkable this is within two hours drive of Chicago.

If you simply must have a hydrographic map, you can get one HERE for $4. But I wouldn’t call any of the contours surprising, so it might not be worth it. When you see weeds it’s getting shallow.

A further indicator that this lake is the right sort of lake … late in the afternoon Chris Feller and I were the only ones still there. A guy pulled in with a 1915 Dispro launch that he took 50 years restoring! He got the engine in high school and it took him 50 years to accumulate a hull and all the mechanical parts, then replace half the wood in the hull. We were probably babbling like idiot kids, but let’s not think about that. Anyhow she fired on the first spark and we guessed she went chugging off at a healthy 8 mph with almost no wake.

(click images to enlarge)

So who was there in 2007?

Me with the AF4B

Chris Feller with the Philsboat

Mike Sandell with the Vector. I only got a photo of him in company with the others, on the right. Sorry Mike.

Tom Hamernik in the Mixer

Dan St. Gean in his really, REALLY fast proa. Actually he tells me it’s a Polynesian canoe, since it tacks instead of shunting.

Dave Seaburg in Windigo. Sorry about the imperfect photos, Dave.

Dan Johnson didn’t know about the event, but he’s clearly “one of us”. He came with a mirror dinghy his dad built from a kit in the basement. I guess that would be a “classic” homebuilt boat! It was pretty fast too.


Now the really cool part. There are non-electric campsites right on the water for $12 per night. The shoreline is rocky, but I think it would work to drag little boats up over an Astroturf doormat, or secure big boats between an anchor and a tree. In spite of the imperfect beaching situation, the setting seems very promising for a weekend messabout.

The trouble is that you can’t RESERVE these sites. The lady at the office said as long as the site is paid and a tent set up, you’re OK though. So we could arrange something where the folks going on Thu night or Fri morning have the money and tents to hold spots for those who won’t get there until later on Fri.

The “landable” waterfront sites are 39, 41, 45, 49, 51, 55 and 57. These are all in a cove that shelters from the prevailing wind, though 57 is relatively exposed. Right across the narrow road and uphill are 22, 24, 26, 28, 29. Directly adjoining those (and also uphill) are 10, 12, 14, 16, 17, 18, 19. Site 11 is uphill across the next road. All of these are pretty close together with no bushes or anything. So all offer a good view of boats beached at the waterfront sites. I’d call them all partial shade. For those who like a little more privacy, 59, 60 and 20 are more wooded, overlooking the lake but with no good landing. They have wooded slopes leading to the water. You might be able to manage something at 59, but the shore is exposed to the prevailing wind.

There is also a boat launch ramp on the same peninsula as the campsites, but with less parking than the one on the other side of the lake. This is probably a wise move, since most campers will park their trailer at their campsite.

There are two more oddities that bear mention. First, no swimming is allowed in the lake. I’m not sure why this is or whether it is enforced. The more difficult limitation (for a Wisconsinite) is that no alcohol is allowed in the campground. (I guess I’ll live through it.)

Upcoming Messabouts

So knowing all this, the first weekend-long Chicagoland messabout will be held at Pierce Lake on July 18-20, 2008. If you are interested in attending, be sure to contact me so we can hold you a camping spot. We intend to continue having Spring and Fall day events as well. If you want to keep track of when these are happening, consider joining our…

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Rob Rohde-Szudy
Madison, Wisconsin, USA

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