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If a vacation on the Fox River Chain of Lakes appeals to you, Dunns Lake in the Chicagoland Region is just the ticket. This small lake, reached via a short channel from Nippersink Lake, is just far enough from the main lakes to be reasonably quiet but close enough to that you won't miss a thing. Compared to many of the lakes in the chain, Dunns Lake is small in area but big in accommodations: newer condos around the lake are often available as vacation rentals, making this a perfect spot to schedule a summer getaway.
The Fox River Chain of Lakes is one of the most popular vacation destinations in the Chicago area. The large lakes in the chain -- Fox, Grass, Pistakee, Petite, Bluff, Marie, Channel, Catherine, Redhead, Nippersink and Spring Lakes -- and several smaller lakes such as Dunns Lake, together with a 45-mile stretch of the Fox River, make up a recreational paradise only 45 miles from Chicago. Water level control on the entire Fox River Chain O'Lakes is controlled by a series of dams on the Fox River. The dams, under the control of the Illinois Division of Water Resources, maintain recreational water levels and control flooding.
Settlement began in the area soon after the region was opened up for homesteading in 1836. Farming was scattered and transportation difficult due to the many square miles of bogs and swamps. Early residents soon took advantage of the waters' bounty, including waterfowl hunting, freshwater clamshell harvesting and arranging hunting and fishing parties for visitors from Chicago and Milwaukee. By the 1880s, many resort hotels catered both to genteel visitors and a rougher crowd of the less-than-lawful. The larger lakes around the Village of Fox Lake soon sported a variety of illegal gambling establishments, taverns and hotels. Although illegal, gambling profits from the casinos once provided so much revenue that local farmers weren't required to pay taxes.
Periodic corruption clean-ups by Lake County officials resulted in several round-ups of slot machines and gaming equipment but were unsuccessful in stamping out the money-making enterprise. The advent of Prohibition hardly slowed down business at the many drinking establishments along the chain of lakes. Gangster Al Capone often visited the Mineola Hotel in Fox Lake, which still displays his hat in a glass case. Capone's rival, George "Bugs" Moran, supplied booze to Lake County, according to news accounts from that time. In 1930, a year after the St. Valentine's Day Massacre in Chicago, five people were shot and three killed in a mob-related hit at the Manning Hotel in Fox Lake. The Fox Lake Massacre was the worst incident of Prohibition-era gang violence in Lake County. The crime was never solved.
A real estate development adjacent to Dunns Lake takes its name from another famous attraction on nearby Grass Lake. Lotus Woods is named for the vast field of American Lotus that nearly covered the shallow lake at one time. Enterprising Tour boat operators printed up thousands of picture postcards of the wide patches of "Egyptian Lotus" that had been "miraculously transported to Illinois by birds" to entice visitors to come and visit.
Modern visitors to Dunns Lake are a much more honest crowd. The chain of lakes gets thousands of visitors each year to water ski, sail, wakeboard, jet ski and pontoon. Dunns Lake doesn't get the massive amount of boat traffic the larger lakes get, making it an ideal spot for swimming, sun-bathing, tubing, canoeing and kayaking. It's the perfect home base from which to engage in the power-boating sports on the bigger lakes with an easy retreat in case of bad weather.
Fishing is a favorite activity both winter and summer on Dunns Lake and the other lakes in the chain. While small Dunns Lake is a good spot for panfish, other areas in the chain offer up yellow perch, walleye, northern pike, muskellunge, largemouth bass, bluegill, white and black crappie, white and yellow bass and channel catfish. The chain of of lakes is a favorite among waterfowl hunters who must follow Fox Waterway Agency rules for permitting of blinds. Dove, waterfowl, archery deer and permit pheasant hunting are available at Chain O'Lakes State Park nearby.
Off the water, many local venues provide unique opportunities for birding, wildlife watching and the observation of wetland plants near Dunns Lake. At Chain O Lakes State Park, two hundred acres of restored native prairie provide nesting habitat for grassland bird species. White-tailed deer, rabbits, ground squirrels, chipmunks, mink, opossum, skunks, raccoons, gophers, fox, badgers, beaver, coyotes, and groundhogs roam the park. A check-list of the nearly 200 birds that have been identified in the park is available at the park office. The trails are available for hiking, cross-country skiing and horseback riding. Eighty-acre Turner Lake Nature Preserve supports a variety of plants in a unique bog environment; the remaining beds of American Lotus on Grass Lake are breathtaking when in bloom.
Dunns Lake visitors with an interest in wetland ecology will enjoy the two bog preservation areas southeast of Lake Pistakee. The Pistakee Bog Nature Preserve and adjacent Volo Bog State Nature Area provide excellent opportunities to observe bog plants such as the rose pogonia and grass pink. These native orchids grow only in bog areas under ideal conditions. The Volo Bog contains Illinois' only quaking bog with an open-water center. Interpretive trails and exhibits acquaint visitors with the delicate ecology of the wetland bog.
The villages of Fox Lake and Ingleside provide visitors with groceries, ice, charcoal and beverages. The larger lakes offer marinas and water craft rentals. In Fox Lake, one can take in a movie on a rainy afternoon or indulge in dinner in a hundred-year-old resort hotel with ambiance of a 1920s speakeasy. Numerous nightlife establishments located around the larger lakes can be accessed by boat. Chicago is only 45 miles away by Metro rail. Milwaukee is 60 miles by highway.
Finding vacation lodgings at Dunns Lake is as easy as renting a condo, private residence or hotel room. Vacation rentals are commonly found among the summer cottages either on the lakefront or with lake views. Many provide watercraft along with the rental or you can bring your own. And real estate available in the immediate area means you can claim a permanent spot on Dunns Lake. Come and spend a weekend or an entire vacation enjoying the water sports around the Chain of Lakes. You may decide to make it your forever home.
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