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Located north of Chicago in the Chicagoland Region of Illinois, Fox Lake is part of the Fox River Chain of Lakes. The Fox River Chain consists of nine large and several smaller bodies of water including a stretch of the Fox River. The hydrologically connected chain of lakes, just south of the Wisconsin border, is interconnected in such a way that inflows between the lakes change based on prevailing winds. 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.
Originally called Nippersink Lake, now only the large bay west of Fox Lake is known by that name; it is considered a separate lake. Movement from Fox Lake to Nippersink, Grass, Petite, Bluff, Pistakee, Channel, Spring, Catherine and Redhead Lake is direct and therefore easy for boaters to navigate, making it a favorite for all types of water sports. Several other lakes, including Lake of the Hollow, Lac Louette, Jerilyn, Dunns, Duck and Long Lakes can be accessed with smaller boats by channel and improved streams. Fox Lake's imprint on Illinois history stretches back continuously for over 150 years.
The area around Fox Lake was originally explored in the late 1600s by Europeans. Some reports say French explorers entered Fox lake, but others say it appears English trappers got there first. The only reason European settlement didn't occur until 1836 was the area was owned by the Pottawatomie tribe. When sold by treaty to the United States, settlers quickly flocked to the area to farm and to take advantage of the bounty provided by the waters and expanse of wetlands along the chain of lakes. Only forty miles from Chicago, entrepreneurs found a ready market for their products and services among the city dwellers. Some hunted waterfowl, packing their catch in barrels for shipment to upscale Chicago hotels. Others did the same with fish, or raked clam beds both for freshwater pearls and for shells used in button-making.
Several enterprising land owners built "hunting and fishing resorts" -- crude log multi-room edifices that could accommodate hunting parties. It wasn't long before more genteel accommodations on Fox Lake attracted families for a few weeks or the whole summer. By 1880, the entire area was well-known as a resort area, with visitors coming by train to the many large and elaborate resort hotels. Postcards from the era show cruise boats and ladies picking lotus from rowboats on Grass Lake, which was once covered almost entirely by American Lotus. In 1910, the Chicago Tribune referred to the area as the "Vice Capital," noting the openness of gambling, saloons, dance halls, and other activities. Gangster Al Capone frequented one of the local drinking establishments.
With the advent of the automobile, the large resort hotels faded away to be replaced by summer homes and cottages. The allure of Fox Lake never waned, however; the lake and the entire Fox River Chain remain a favored destination of summer visitors to swim, fish, water ski, enjoy tubing, wake boarding, jet skiing and pontooning. After the river was dammed downstream, the Fox Waterway Agency was formed to bring order to competing water use interest groups. Projects and maintenance are paid for by user fees paid by each boat using the waterway. Some of the projects include dredging, shoreline protection and water quality monitoring. Water levels drop about a foot and a half in winter due to drawdown at Stratton Dam several miles downstream at McHenry.
Fox Lake's residents, both year-round and seasonal, find a variety of amenities to occupy their time. A water taxi operates in the summer and transports fare-paying customers from point to point. As Fox Lake offers a variety of water-accessible eating and drinking establishments, the water taxi operates a "party barge" route so that the inevitable bar-hopping crowd can travel between venues in safety and comfort. Several full-service marinas provides fuel, boat repairs, berths and fishing supplies. Other establishments rent boats, pontoons and personal watercraft. Sailing is popular here and nearby Pistakee Lake hosts a yacht club that accesses most of the chain of lakes.
Fishing is a major drawing card to Fox Lake. The chain holds largemouth and white bass, crappies, bluegills, channel cat, bullheads, carp and yellow perch, along with the big fish such as northern pike, walleye and muskie. The latter are actively stocked by the State to assure good fishing for the trophy hunter. Three large bays (Mineola, Stanton and Columbia), as well as the area around large Orchard Island, provide the best fishing locations. Several boat launch locations around the lake give fishermen good access to the water. And winter, of course, brings ice fishermen.
Visitors to Fox Lake will never run out of things to do even off the water. The Village of Fox Lake offers grocery stores, fast-food stops, a movie theater and the customary small town services. Other small communities along the shore -- Ingleside Shore, Fox Lake Hills and Klondike -- provide convenience stores. All are geared to the outdoorsman and recreational lake visitor. Just outside of Fox Lake Village, the Grant Woods Forest Preserve provides hundred of acres of wide-open prairies, quiet woodlands, and marshes teeming with wildlife. Six miles of trails, most of which have a crushed-gravel surface, provide plentiful hiking and wildlife viewing. In winter, snowmobilers have access to 4.5 miles of the trail system that tie into adjacent snowmobile trails on private land.
Just north of Fox Lake, adjoining Grass Lake, Chain O'Lakes State Park borders three natural lakes -- Grass, Marie and Nippersink -- and the Fox River that connects the other seven lakes (Bluff, Fox, Pistakee, Channel, Petite, Catherine and Redhead) that make up the Chain. In addition, the park contains a 44-acre lake within its boundaries. The 2,793-acre state park and adjoining 3,230-acre conservation area are home to white-tailed deer, rabbits, ground squirrels, chipmunks, mink, opossum, skunks, raccoons, gophers, fox, badgers, beaver, coyotes, and groundhogs. A check-list of the nearly 200 birds that have been identified in the park is available at the park office. Camping, fishing, hiking and cross-country skiing are available within the park. During hunting season, certain areas are available to the hunter with permit.
Vacation rentals are always available around Fox Lake. Motels, private homes and bed-and-breakfasts are plentiful in the area. Real estate is often found for sale either lakefront or lake view. It's a great place to visit, vacation or raise a family. The nearby Metra line can ferry commuters into the Chicago area in less than an hour. So don't wait another day to locate vacation lodgings in the area: Fox Lake is lake living at its best.
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