McHenry Dam on the Fox River


McHenry Dam, nestled in the southwest corner of Moraine Hills State Park, is a large and peaceful destination in itself. With the quiet roar of the dam in the background and stand of large, dense trees, the dam offers a lovely place to relax for fishermen and picnickers alike. Moraine Hills State Park’s system of hiking trails connect the dam to the rest of the park, but the dam has its own parking area and facilities as well.

One of the favored fishing spots in the area, and it’s easy to see why fishermen like McHenry Dam: a nice elevated fishing perch, an onsite bait and concessions store, restrooms and lots of free parking. Fish Tales Concession offers bait, boat rentals and ice cream and other snack items, as well as a place to congregate and tell your own fish tales about the one that got away.

The same things make it a perfect picnic spot, with the addition of picnic tables under the trees, a smattering of fire pits and grills, and a couple of swings for the kids. Keep in mind, this is an old-school park with lots of grass to run on and nature to explore rather than a fancy playground-type park. And that’s a good thing.

To find the dam, set your GPS to 42°18’36.3″N 88°14’59.1″W, or look for the intersection of South River Road and McHenry Dam Road southeast of McHenry at the bottom of Moraine Hills State Park. Then just follow McHenry Dam Road until it ends in the parking lot.

McHenry Dam is actually the only dam on the Fox River that is served by a lock system. The dam gates date back to 1939 and the locks were built in 1960. Both will be reconstructed this winter in a $16.7 million improvement project, according to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR). The good news is that next year’s boating season (May 1 thru October 31) should remain unaffected. Read all about the project at IDNR’s site.

Fresh Tomatoes from Farmer’s Markets

Tomatoes at Crystal Lake Farmer's MarketWe went to the Crystal Lake Farmer’s Market last weekend and picked up an amazing selection of tomatoes. As soon as I saw that gorgeous table of tomatoes at Depot Park, I knew I had to make my tomato salad.

I don’t bother with lettuce, just cut up chunks of fresh veggies like cucumbers, summer squash, red onion, red bell pepper and whatever else looks good. Then I toss that in an olive oil and balsamic vinegar dressing with the juice of a lemon and some thyme. It’s so delicious and refreshing on a humid day.

The Crystal Lake Farmer’s Market is pretty small compared to Woodstock’s farmer’s market (which by the way was voted the best in Illinois in 2012), but I love walking through the downtown to get a coffee and do some shopping before picking up fresh local produce.

In 2014, the Crystal Lake Farmer’s Market runs Saturdays until October 11, from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. You can find it at the Depot Park next to the downtown Metra station.


magazine_cl_beets These beets made such a pretty display on the table that I had to snap a picture. What will you find at your farmer’s market?

In addition to crystal Lake and Woodstock, Cary, Huntley and McHenry also host farmer’s markets in McHenry County. Head over to the closest one and support our local farmers while enjoying a stroll. Better yet — tour them all. There’s still time to hit three of them before the season ends.

Which one is your favorite?