Recreational Boating on the River: High or Low?

Image courtesy of the News Tribune
With the river running through the backyard of most towns and cities in the Illinois Valley, boating is a common summer activity throughout the area.

But is recreational boating as popular as it once was?

“I think it’s coming back some,” explained Rich Casey, president of Hennepin Marine.

Casey said the fishing industry is also coming back, with the gamefish starting to take back the river from the Asian carp. He says if the commercial fishermwn continue to help control the Asian carp population, true recreation — skiing and water sports — will continue to come back.

The cleanliness of the river, thanks in part, says Casey, to the Environmental Protection Agency and wastewater treatment factory regulations, also plays a part in bringing recreational boating back.

As for the boats purchased at Hennepin Marine, Casey says, it’s fishing boats that are his best-sellers, with pontoon boats coming in second place. They no longer sell pleasure boats, although he believes the market for them may slowly return.

“Pontoons are just such a big bang for the buck. People are now using that as recreational boating because you can put more people on them,” casey said.

Part of what hurt the boating industry is what hurt everything from cars to houses — the economic collapse in 2008.

“We noticed a drop in '08 and ‘09. It picked back up in '10, and we’ve seen continued growth since that time,” Casey said of the boating industry since the economic collapse.

Casey says the people buying recreational boats from him, who for the most part are baby boomers, are keeping their boats on lakes and boat clubs as opposed to taking them in and out of the water on each trip.

“Baby boomers are dominating the market. Baby boomers are for the most part buying boats so they can keep their families together. It’s the one aspect where the pontoons come back into play —10, 15 people can get on to one boat,” Casey said.

Boat clubs

Starved Rock Yacht Club at capacity holds 135 members.

This year, the club has 12 open memberships, an uncommon occurrence for the club, said membership chair Ernie Mitchell.

“Usually we’re always full,” Mitchell said. “We’ve had a few (members) move south, we had a couple pass away, had a couple just get out of boating.”

Mitchell said that while the club may be old — celebrating its 80 birthday in 2014 — he sees boaters of all ages coming into the club to inquire about open memberships, which he feels he will have no problem filling.

“Younger people are coming into the market, middle age,” Mitchell said. “I’ve spoken with three or so people in the last 10 days. When the sun comes out, the interest sparks.”

Mitchell is a boater himself, and feels that in his area, from Utica to Marseilles, it’s still very busy, but he agrees with Casey the trend in boats is changing.

“We’re getting people with more wake boats, the faster boats, more pontoon boats on the river now,” Mitchell said.

Boaters for life

Tracey Jaegle of Peru and her husband Bob, are longtime members of Spring Valley Boat Club. They spend most weekends and at least one day during the work week during the summer on their 38-foot-powerquest boat.

Jaegle said she has noticed a downturn in boating interest in past years.

“Years ago when we’d boat it was almost like a highway out there. The boats were going everywhere, people on wave runners,” Jaegle said. “Now there are times when my husband and I leave the harbor from Spring Valley and go to Peoria and we’re lucky if we run into three or four pleasure boats from here all the way to Peoria.”

She blames a combination of things, including high gas prices from the economic downturn, high water in years past, and the motor home fad made popular in the past couple of years.

“The year gas was almost $5 a gallon...we still went because that is what we do. We live for the summer, but even with gas cheaper the last couple years, it has helped bring people around, but not nearly like it was 10, 12, 15 years ago,” Jaegle said.

Jaegle, who is in her 50s, sees all age groups, but also agrees with Casey pontoons are the place to be, and while boat clubs are still popular, putting in and taking out is still an option for the casual boater.

She isn’t sure what could bring recreational boating popularity back, but she thinks having more stops along the river, something that has disappeared in recent years, someplace to get something to eat or drink, may help.

No matter how the trend in river recreation goes, Jaegle has no plans to stay off the water.

“It’s an expensive hobby, but we love it. It’s something we do, that we just love. Our kids were brought up on the river, and they still love to go.”

Source: News Tribune