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One of the hidden gems in the central Illinois heartland, Lake Lou Yaeger provides over 1200 acres of recreational enjoyment to residents and visitors alike. Built in 1966 for flood control, recreation and water supply, Lake Lou Yaeger has become a major focus of outdoor activities nearly year round. Stretched along eight miles of the flooded West Branch of Shoal Creek, the lake holds a wealth of coves, inlets and bays with a combined 45 miles of shoreline. Much of the southern portion is residential, graced with year-round homes. The lake is a favorite among visitors from both the St. Louis and Springfield areas who can travel to the lovely swimming beach in less than an hour. Although created for primarily utilitarian purposes, Lake Lou Yaeger has become one of the area's best-known recreational destinations.
The long expanse of open water makes Lake Lou, as it is fondly called, a boating destination for many visitors. Two marinas along the shore offer boat slips, sell gas and snacks, offer launch facilities, and rent small boats. There are no speed or motor restrictions on the lake, although personal watercraft are restricted to certain hours on the weekends. Some areas are posted 'no-wake' zones, reserved for sailing and paddle-sports. All visiting boats must purchase a daily boating permit, available at launch sites. This contributes to Lake Lou Yaeger being one of central Illinois' favorite locations for water skiing, tubing, and jet skiing. Here water lovers can sail, power boat, pontoon, wake board, canoe, kayak and row. In August, racing boat events are held on the lake. Most private homes have their own docks and swim areas; some even have rather elaborate swim docks and boating decks. Annual local events such as July 4th fireworks and the 'Lake Lou Triathlou' bring visitors from Chicago and beyond.
Fishing is a favorite pastime at Lake Lou Yaeger. Owned by the City of Litchfield, the lake is stocked yearly with largemouth bass and hosts several bass club fishing tournaments each summer. The lake also holds a healthy population of crappie, bluegill and catfish. The many coves provide excellent spawning areas for panfish. In 2012 Lake Lou Yaeger was in the news due to fishermen catching two eight-inch pacu in the lake. These tropical fish from the Amazon are often raised in home aquariums and were presumably released from someone's aquarium as they grew too big for their space. Because pacu are vegetarian members of the same family as the piranha and look much like them, rumors quickly spread that the fish were dangerous. The hysteria was likely advanced by often-repeated 'old-wives tales' of huge pacu biting people in other countries. The Illinois Dept. of Natural Resources published a press release stating the fish are not dangerous and won't be able to survive a cold Illinois winter. Anglers are encouraged to report such unlikely catches so the DNR can monitor any exotic fish found in the lake. Fishing and swimming are entirely safe at Lake Lou Yaeger.
The reservoir attracts large numbers of visitors to Milnot Beach swimming area. Equipped with lifeguards, a sand beach area and high-and low-diving boards, the pay beach brings many visitors to enjoy a day of water and sand. The beach house has showers, restrooms and a snack bar. The 266-acre Shoal Creek Conservation Area provides picnic areas, playgrounds, pavilions, rest rooms and outdoor stoves. Two campgrounds offer both primitive and trailer camping. Trailer pads include hookups, flush restrooms, city water, and free shower facilities. There are horseshoe pits in the shaded campground area. A series of camping cabins are being constructed for placement at Lake Lou. The local school district's building and trades program is building these cabins for those campers who prefer a more solid structure to tent camping. The park area also allows horseback riding on specified trails; the Blake Lowry Horse Camp is a unique facility that provides oversize campsites for horse owners. The area is open to the public without reservations and provides a camping area with space available for vehicles and horse trailers. City water, night lights, and outhouses are on site. Several miles of horse trails lead from the camp area through the woods surrounding the lake.
Shoal Creek Nature Conservation Area was established in 1990 to provide a great hiking experience with opportunities for birders, botanists, and nature photographers. Over 700 species of plants and over 70 different kinds of butterflies have been identified within the Shoal Creek Conservation Area. Two self-guided nature trails were constructed to observe wildflowers and wildlife in a unique barrens-savanna habitat. Two hiking trails are available, easy enough for a young child while offering a nice scenic walk in the outdoors. The local Rotary Club and the Shoal Creek Volunteers, Inc. help to maintain and preserve this area by monitoring plants and animals. Since 2005, a pair of bald eagles has nested at the lake where their housekeeping efforts can be seen with binoculars from near one of the marinas. The less developed areas along the shoreline are wooded and often allow for glimpses of deer, small mammals, waterfowl and large numbers of birds.
The City of Litchfield is a quiet and historic small town which once was the junction of six railroads. Later, famed Route 66 skirted the town. Besides the usual village amenities, Litchfield also holds several nostalgic locations of interest to Route 66 fans; one is the drive-in theater which has survived the longest on Route 66 in continuous operation. An old diner is still serving meals, and a local winery offers a vintage 'saloon' experience with such antique amusements as pinball, darts and a gift shop. Therefore, the occasional rainy or chilly day at Lake Lou Yaeger will quickly become an adventure with nearby local points of interest. Only 45 miles to the north, the Illinois capital of Springfield contains a wealth of historic venues such as the Lincoln Library and Museum, the old State Capitol with costumed interpreter guides, Shea's Gas Station Museum filled with Route 66 memorabilia, Lincoln's Home Historic Site with its surrounding neighborhood preserved for posterity, and many more locations pertaining to Illinois' most famous resident and the achievement of Statehood for the state itself. Both Litchfield and Springfield offer several conventional hotels and other forms of lodgings such as bed-and-breakfasts.
If you thought a central Illinois vacation had little to offer, you obviously haven't seen Lake Lou Yaeger. The lake provides everything necessary for a fun-filled vacation at a reasonable driving distance from Midwestern cities. Occasionally, visitors may be lucky enough to find a private home to rent directly on the shore of Lake Lou Yaeger. Real estate is often available at Lake Lou, both lakefront and with deeded lake access. So, come for a visit. Bring the boat, the kids and the camping gear.
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