Boneyard Creek, Urbana, IL

Steve Taylor

Boneyard Creek, Urbana, IL

On 9 February of 2001 did my second kayak run of Boneyard Creek in Urbana, starting at the Champaign/Urbana border and traveling through much of Urbana, Illinois.

Location of Boneyard Creek.

About to seal-launch into the creek at the put-in on Wright Street.

Boneyard Creek is sort of tricky to run, as there is a very narrow window of opportunity, and misjudging this window could leave you either sitting with your boat on the bottom in a few inches of water and no hope of forward progress OR you might find yourself smeared across the ceiling of one of the several tunnels that the stream passes through, in which case you'll no longer reside in this world.

This graph shows the magnitude of the flooding during my run. Base-level flow is not enough to float your boat.

Stream stage before and during my run. Optimal flow is probably 2.5 feet (less can cause spinal compression from hard landing below waterfall), 4-5 feet might be deadly (low ceilings in underground sections can become pipe-full flow - no air!).

The key is fast action, pre-planning, and consultation of live weather radar. The idea is to put in just after a major storm front has popped the water level up. Tornado warnings and watches are good for this, as are any other extreme weather warnings that come with copious quantities of rain. Then, just after the storm front has passed, put in while the water is still high (but not TOO high).

Radar at the time of my run - note that the worst is over, and there is promise of good weather behind the front (storm is traveling east-southeast).

My first run was done at sunset, so it was relatively dark along the route (you need a helmet-mounted water-resistant light anyway for the underground parts). My second run was done earlier in the afternoon, so it was brighter, though overcast. This significance of this is that when you are booking along in flood waters and abruptly go underground, it takes your eyes a while to adjust. I found that during my second run, I was paddling almost blind through the underground sections in spite of my halogen-bulbed Petzl Duo because my eyes could not adapt quickly enough. Fortunately, I had paddled the route before and scouted it on foot several times before in low water conditions. So, I recommend evening runs for safety reasons (you never know when you might encounter an old grocery cart, for example).

Heading towards the waterfall (class II-IV during floods) and an underground segment, note flood debris on tree limbs - the stream is running nearly bank-full in this sections (just west of Lincoln Avenue).

Further downstream (north of Springfield Avenue) just after the longest underground section of the run. The sides of the creek are confined by heavy metal walls. There is no way out of the creek here, but paddling is easy.

While I felt more comfortable on the second run, the water was only barely deep enough, making the waterfall somewhat painful (aching back as I type this). There are several turbulent areas where side streams (storm sewers) come in that can definitely flip your boat, so I'm still not sure what the best water level is.

One of the larger storm sewers that empties into Boneyard Creek along my kayak run. This Photo was taken during one of my low-flow reconnaissance walks.

Portage back to the car across abandoned railroad tracks at Silver Creek Restaurant.

Special thanks to Mark Wetzel for running shuttle on the second run, and, especially, for taking pictures! I don't know why he wasn't willing to wade into the swift winter floodwaters to take pictures in the underground sections.....

WARNING: Boating in floodwaters is extremely hazardous and unpredictable and may cause serious injury or death. Don't do it. Boating in waters not considered navigable may be considered trespassing. Don't do that either!

More information is available on my Boneyard web page, which is here:

Boneyard Creek information from the Illinois State Water Survey

Boneyard Creek USGS Guaging Station

Created 10 February 2001; Last modified 24 March 2001