Boaters using the Stratton Lock and Dam in McHenry to head north or south on the Fox River probably already noticed its largest post-renovation improvement.
On a busy day, it could take boaters waiting their turn two to three hours to pass through, said Loren Wobig of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, District of Water Resources.
Now, with the lock fully reopened to boats, that passage takes 20 minutes, Wobig said.
A Wednesday ribbon-cutting ceremony celebrated the lock’s full reopening, five years later than planned.
Renovations started in 2014. Then, a state budget stalemate stalled the project for two years. Originally set for a November 2016 completion date, the facility was completed in November 2021.
Work on the lock and dam cost a total of $22 million, said Colleen Callahan, IDNR director.
The idle time meant that the project cost went up, Wobig said. Originally a $16.7 million project, it was running on time and on budget before the stoppage.
During the stoppage the lock was operational, Wobig said. However, as temporary structures sat, parts filled with sediment. Contracts were renegotiated, he said.
State officials didn’t argue on those budget increases, expected after such a long idle time, Callahan and Wobig said. COVID-19 did not stall construction further, since most of the work was outdoors, Wobig added.
Since reopening in May at the beginning of the 2022 boating season, 4,933 boats have passed through, with 2,580 lockages – when the lock is closed to raise or lower the water level, said John Palmieri, lock master.
During the 2021 boating season, 14,535 boats used the lock with 8,816 lockages, according to Palmieri’s records.
Renovation increased the lock’s capacity, doubling it from 75 to 150 feet in length. Five dam sluice gates were replaced with three new automated gates. According to officials, the dam gates are now safer and more reliable, and the lock is more efficient for boat traffic.
Depending on their size, up to 10 boats now can go through the extended lock, Palmieri said. Before its rehab, the number was four.
The lock also fills and drains faster, taking just 6 1/2 minutes for the water level to go up or down, depending on the direction of travel.
Callahan said she recognized how important the lock, connecting the Chain of Lakes and the lower Fox River, is to the community and its users.
State Rep. Tom Weber, R-Lake Villa, noted how many businesses rely on boaters and recreation during the summer season. Each year, “hundreds of millions of revenue from tourism” is generated by the Chain of Lakes. “This is exciting” to see the lock completely reopen for recreation, Weber said.
Further changes to the Fox River and its capacity for recreation downriver is expected later this summer, including the removal of the Carpentersville dam, Wobig said. Other towns to the south have been in talks about possible dam removal or renovations to allow kayaks and recreational users to pass through.