A Late 1970’s Alternative Vision of Recreational Gravel Pits in Algonquin Township – Part 1

During the first month of publishing McHenry County Blog in 2005, I wrote the following about what could be done with the gravel pits in Algonquin Township.

Since then, of course, Crystal Lake has used higher sales taxes and a Tax Increment Financing District for Three Oaks Recreational Area.

There are still many empty gravel pits between Cary, Crystal Lake and Algonquin where some of the ideas that you can read about today and tomorrow could be implemented.

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For You Dick Tracy Fans – The Gravel Gertie State Park Idea

Speaking of the old Crystal Lake Dump, as I do in the post below, I once had a phone conversation with Dick Tracy cartoonist Chester Gould about Gravel Gertie. It was when I was state representative in the late 1970’s.

I had this wild idea that a non-traditional state park could be cobbled together from the gravel pits that lie between Crystal Lake, Lake in the Hills, Algonquin and Cary. Maybe 4,000 to 5,000 contiguous acres might be possible, although there would have to be tunnels under some roads.

Mr. Gould told me he was driving along Virginia Street Road—in the 1940’s—when he got the idea for Gravel Gertie and B.O. Plenty. Neither were handsome, to put it mildly. They owned a gravel pit.

B.O. Plenty is described by ComicsPage.com as “a seedy, bewhiskered and smelly smalltime crook,” who was a friend of Dick Tracy. “B.O.’s cussing, spitting and toacco chewing endear him to the eccentric Gravel Gertie,” the source continues, and they were married in 1946. They had a daughter Sparkle Plenty.

My vision was to get the state to buy the property and convert it to untraditional parkland. I figured the alternative was that it would be covered with apartments or industry, both of which would make the traffic congestion worse.

Why a non-traditional park?

Because horse riding had just been banned at the old Lake Defiance, now Moraine Hills State Park. Snow mobilers weren’t having trouble finding places to ride. Most parks didn’t want dogs around.

There was lots of pressure for passive use of parkland. But, who could complain with anything that you did with a gravel pit? When you fly over much of Algonquin Township, it probably looks like the moon, just with water.

Here’s some of what could be done. Dirt bikes could have a designated area. Horse riders and snow mobilers could, too. Some of the pits are so sheltered from the wind that people could go swimming in them during sunny November days. Some act like a solar oven, heating the surface of the water, while the wind is blowing wildly above. Obviously, ice skating, ice boating, sledding and, maybe a semblance of a beginners ski hill could be found.

In the summer, there could be trailer camps like the one just (or soon to be) closed on the Fox River by the Lake County Forest Preserve District. Fishing would be allowed and any kind of boating you could imagine could be found a place. There’s already one subdivision about an old gravel pit in Island Lake built especially for those who want to water ski.

(One person familiar with Vulcan Lakes commented that, having seen the size of its waves get, he would not go out on it unless he were in a powerboat. Of course, the Crystal Lake City Council doesn’t want powerboats on Vulcan Lakes because of its purity.)

You get the idea. All the pleasures forbidden in most state parks around the area could be enjoyed in such a multi-thousand acre park made out of gravel pits.

It could even have a theme park aspect something like Disney World’s Indiana Jones show. Part could have gangsters stuffing a body in a car trunk and dumping it over the side of a hill into a gravel pit lake. (Of course, one would drain the car of its fluids first.)

People could even reach the park on weekends by train and shuttle buses from the Cary or now Pingree Road station.

Of course, the idea was too untraditional to catch the attention of those who think parkland is to be seen and little used, but I did get Dave Kenney, Director of the Department of Conservation up on (now mined) Three Oaks Road to see the potential.

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Part 2 tomorrow.

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