Destination Illinois: Lake Shelbyville, A Lake Among The Prairie

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SHELBYVILLE, IL (WCIA) — There aren’t too many lakes in Central Illinois, but Lake Shelbyville is a big one.

At 11,100 acres in size and 172 miles of shoreline, it is only behind Lake Michigan, Carlyle Lake (60 miles east of St. Louis), and Rend Lake in southern Illinois as the biggest lakes in the state.

One River, Two Big Lakes

Kaskaskia River flowing through the Lake Shelbyville Dam

Lake Shelbyville isn’t natural, rather, it is a reservoir as a result of the Kaskaskia River being dammed up in Shelby and Moultrie counties. This is for flood mitigation purposes. So while we are all able to enjoy the swimming, boating, fishing, hiking, and more, its first priority is to protect area crop fields from flooding. It is not a source of drinking water to the city of Shelbyville.

When you talk about why we are here and flood control, it is because of the agricultural side and protecting the crops that’s needed for our economy as well. So when you realize that we’re protecting that aspect of it and you’re driving around and you see corn fields and crop fields and bean fields everywhere and then you come and see Lake Shelbyville and what opportunities it has it really is that hidden gem.

Ashley Florey, Natural Resource Specialist with the US Army Corps of Engineers
Closer to normal water level
About 10 feet higher than normal water level as of July 2019

The Kaskaskia River starts in Champaign county. If you drive I-74 between Champaign and Mahomet often, you will see the sign. It then travels about 325 miles to the south where it meets the Mississippi River about 10 miles north of the town of Chester. Its watershed is a little over 10% of the state. As a result, controlling the flow of water through the lake can have large consequences hundreds of miles away. As of July of 2019, the water level is about 10 feet higher than normal.

Looking at the dam from the lake side

The dam that forms the lake is 3,025 feet long and 108 feet tall. Construction on the dam started on May 4th of 1963. Once completed, the lake began to fill up on August 1st, 1970 and was officially dedicated a little over a month later on September 12th. Like most dams, it was constructed and is maintained by the US Army Corps of Engineers. Interestingly, Carlyle Lake mentioned above, is also a result of the Kaskaskia River being dammed up downstream of Lake Shelbyville. While Lake Shelbyville is large, Carlyle Lake is over twice the size at 25,000 acres in size.

One of the many coves of Lake Shelbyville

A Real Sense of Nature

Overlooking Lake Shelbyville

You would think that such a large lake would also attract property buyers wanting to build large mansions, but you’d be wrong. Due to construction and when Congress passed on the project for the US Army Corps of Engineers to build, private lake access is prohibited. Surrounding the lake are Wolf Creek State Park, Eagle Creek State Park as well as five federal campgrounds. In addition, the whole lake suffers from erosion due to the sandy bluffs along the water, so building along it just isn’t possible. But with all those parks, four public beaches, and three marinas, there are plenty of ways to get on the water.

There’s anything from walleye to crappie to bass, white bass, there’s pretty much a select variety of everything around here.

Local Angler John from Pana, IL

Fishing is obviously a popular sport on the lake, with walleye, crappie, bass, carp, gar, and many others all possible for both the novice and experienced angler.

If fishing isn’t your thing, there are over 65 miles of trails to hike and bike on along and nearby the lake. The General Dacey Trail in particular is nice due to its proximity to the lake and it goes over the dam.

More to Explore

Shelby county courthouse

Shelbyville can also claim to the birth place of two important inventions. Josephine Cochrane is credited with inventing the dishwasher. Her company, Cochrane’s Crescent Washing Machine Company would eventually go on to becoming the well known KitchenAid Company. She patented her idea in 1886.

Horrace Tallman was another inventor in Shelbyville. He was the inventor of the pick up hay bailer. He sold his invention to Ann Arbor Machine Co in 1915 and by 1935 they were operating in 19 different countries. His home is on the National Registry of Historic Places and now serves as the lobby for The Shelby Inn, a 52 room hotel right on Main Street.

Rain absolutely has effected us, there’s no two ways about it. This time of year, Shelbyville would be really busy, it’s just not. They are just not getting here because of the high water, although the ramps are still open, they think the high water ramps are hard. People have heard about bad things, with the high water where it really weren’t true.

Ken Fry, Owner of The Shelby Inn

The extremely wet spring has slowed things down in town, but everything is up and open and the lake and town just beg for a day or even a weekend to be explored! Due to the drier forecast, the lake is actually dropping about 0.1 foot per day.

People come to Lake Shelbyville to get away. You know, get away from the hustle and bustle of whatever their life is being thrown at them and to be out here and to have a little bit of solitude and feel like you’re kind of by yourself a little bit at times and not seeing the homes and you know all that, I think it is an added benefit.

Ashley Florey, Natural Resource Specialist with the US Army Corps of Engineers
The Kaskaskia River as it continues south

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