ST. CHARLES – For Tara Wolf of Sycamore and her two sons, taking a trip up and down the Fox River on July 1 on the Fox River Queen paddlewheel riverboat was a way to enjoy not being cooped up in their house.
"It's beautiful out and we're happy that things are starting to open again," Wolf said. "It's nice to see all the scenery and hear about the history of the Fox River."
The St. Charles Park District's iconic paddlewheel riverboats were in operation again starting July 1. Based on health guidelines, the two boats are operating at 50% capacity.
This is the 75th year the paddlewheel riverboats have been in operation and the second year the St. Charles Park District has been operating them. The district bought the St. Charles Belle II and the Fox River Queen paddlewheel riverboats in 2019 after Rich Anderson, the owner and operator of the St. Charles Paddlewheel Riverboats for 32 years, decided to retire.
Anderson, the second-generation owner of St. Charles Paddlewheel Riverboats, inherited the business from his father and company founder Chet Anderson in the late 1980s. The family-owned business had offered daily sightseeing trips and private group charters from Pottawatomie Park in St. Charles since 1945.
Normally, the riverboats are operating by mid-May. Liam Keigher, captain of the Fox River Queen paddlewheel riverboat, was glad to be back behind the ship's wheel July 1.
"It's really good to be back on the river," Keigher said. "I missed the people and scenery."
This is his 26th season of working on the paddlewheel riverboats.
The park district is encouraging those boarding the paddlewheel riverboats to wear face coverings.
Keigher said the face coverings and other measures the park district is taking are just part of the "new normal."
"Generally, it feels the same. There's just other things going on at the same time," he said. "We're wearing masks and cleaning more. This is the new normal."
The park district's Swanson Pool also has reopened for recreational and lap swimming, along with the Splash Park at Otter Cove Aquatic Park. Reservations will be required at both facilities, and each facility will be able to have a maximum of 50 people.