McHenry is amping up its recreational offerings along the Fox River in an attempt to attract more visitors to the area.
New piers, events, a marina, a boating business and a lengthened riverwalk are in the works for the McHenry area in the coming months. Mayor Wayne Jett said the expansion of activities along the river is part of an ongoing effort to make McHenry a destination for people outside the city and beyond.
“We are bringing in opportunities that aren’t in surrounding communities,” Jett said.
One of the newest opportunities is brought to the city by Pedal and Pour Inc. Tony Esposito, a McHenry resident who is a captain with Chicago Pedal Boats, wants to offer boat cruises along the river in McHenry. He is working with Pedal and Pour President William Russell to make it happen.
The pedal boats are pontoon-like vessels that can hold up to 14 people. A licensed captain and deckhand will operate the boat, which has a motor and can go beyond “no wake” zones, but is additionally powered by passengers pedaling. Passengers aren’t obligated to pedal if they don’t want to, Esposito said.
“This has an interaction and socialization component that you don’t get on a normal pontoon boat,” he said. “I think this will be a tremendous draw.”
The boat will likely be docked at either Miller Point or a private pier near Buddyz Pizzeria. Passengers are allowed to bring their own drink if they want to drink alcohol on board.
Esposito, who has lived in McHenry since 2005, said he was excited to bring the opportunity to the city.
“I have a real interest in seeing growth in McHenry,” he said. “I have a real interest in bringing pedestrians and visitors to the riverwalk and Millers Point and helping McHenry become a destination for family fun.”
He added that the Pedal and Pour intends to work only with the city and its businesses, which he praised for their collaborative effort.
“We are not interested in marketing the boat down the river with another location,” he said. “We want to make it exclusive to McHenry.”
The boat should be in place by early June.
People interested in operating their own boats throughout McHenry will also have more opportunities along the Fox River. The Watertower Marina revitalization project was announced late last year and now its new boat slips are filling up, Jett said.
Keith Carpenter of KMMK Properties Inc. is developing the property, which is expected to include 110 new piers, seasonal slips, drystack and winter boat storage, as well as in-and-out service and an on-site restaurant.
“There are a lot of boaters in McHenry, but unfortunately a lot of them keep their boats in Fox Lake because there weren’t slips available,” Jett said. “The Watertower Marina project will bring in opportunities to keep the boats and money here.”
McHenry Country Club is also in the process of adding four piers to its property so that boaters can stop at the club while out, according to a project notice by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
The city recently approved other projects related to boating and river tourism, including a dredging agreement for Boone Lagoon, a new seawall plan for the area near Walsh Park and the creation of a St. Patrick's Day event – McHenry Shamrocks the Fox – that included dyeing the river green. The city, in partnership with McHenry Chamber of Commerce, is planning a September Venetian night that would include a boat parade.
The riverwalk project also has made strides in the past year and its next phase should be opening soon, Jett said.
“People bypass McHenry,” he said. “As a boater myself, I know you go to the lower lock or Fox Lake. Our goal is to get people to stop in between.”