Why the name “White Pelican?”
Each summer, flocks of white pelicans--Pelecanus erythrorhynchos--alight on the Rock River in Oregon, IL. With wingspans of up to 12 feet, these majestic, prehistoric-looking birds float high above the city on thermals or cluster together on the river.
The white pelican--along with the bald eagle, cave swallow, kingfisher, and great blue heron--helps make the Oregon corridor of the Rock River a top spot for bird lovers, nature enthusiasts, or anyone looking for a relaxing getaway. It is also part of the 320-mile Rock River Trail, nationally designated for hiking, biking, and paddling.
Beat the heat in the best way.
It’s been a hot summer. One of those summers, you would rather sit in an air-conditioned home rather than exert yourselves in the heat and humidity. However, there is a place that allows a person to be active outdoors and feel refreshed doing it.
Christy and Aaron Sitze have owned and operated White Pelican, Inc. since 2016. They offer self-guided trips down the scenic Rock River with your choice of watercraft. The outfitter provides canoes, single kayaks, double kayaks, single tubes, double tubes, and stand-up paddleboards.
The Rock River is an easy-to-navigate, gentle river for people of all ages. Each trip comes with a shuttle to get you to the launch point in Oregon, lifejackets, and paddles. Day trips and overnight trips are available. The dedicated staff helps their customers understand the upcoming trip by fully explaining any little nuances about the river.
Customers span from local, regional, and international locales.
There are several places to take out along the Rock River. It all depends on how long of a trip you are up to paddling.
- 1-2 hours by canoe or kayak* | Castle Rock State Park
- 3-4 hours by canoe or kayak* | Grand Detour
- 6-8 hours by canoe or kayak *| Lowell Park in Dixon, IL
* add extra time if floating by tube
Be sure to check out their website for all kinds of trips, including overnights! Prices are listed with each trip. All contact information for the White Pelican is at the bottom of this article.
It takes a team.
White Pelican employs 12-14 part-time employees that keep the business running like clockwork. “One of my favorite parts of running the business is the team that I work with. All of our workers have amazing personalities and are so good with the customers and each other,” said Sitze. “Being part of the Oregon business community is also something that we feel keeps us connected to the other hard-working business owners and people in our town.”
A girlfriend afternoon on the Rock River
Last week--mid-August--my friend, Debbie, and I planned a canoe trip from Oregon, IL, to Castle Rock State Park. As we are both experienced canoers, we just wanted to go nice and slow. This paddle is the shortest trip, taking about one to two hours. Debbie and I were going to take longer because we had the afternoon off. What’s the hurry, right?
I signed up and paid for the trip through the company’s website. They, in turn, sent me a waiver via email. All adults on a journey down the river need to sign these waivers. If you know everyone’s email, the White Pelican will send each person their release to sign via email ahead of time. Otherwise, you will be able to fill out the forms at the site before you can start the fun stuff. White Pelican emailed me the location I was to park my car which was at the Castle Rock State Park parking lot--near the boat ramp--at the prearranged time of 1 p.m. As soon as I parked, the White Pelican van pulled up to take us to the starting point in Oregon. The timing was perfect.
Once all the waiver paperwork was checked over, Christy Sitze gave us information about the river being extra low this year, where to find the best scenery, and chances of seeing wildlife. They gave us a strong push-off, and we settled in for an afternoon of quiet conversation and occasional paddling. Since the river was low, the current was almost nonexistent at certain points. We could just stop and enjoy the scenery and wildlife all around us.
Floating back in time.
The first thing you’ll see along the river are islands. Sitze mentioned that the more scenic vistas are the waterways on the left of the islands. The distance is the same, but it feels like your paddling among the ghosts of our native Americans and early settlers from 200 years ago. The only signs of life are bald eagles--including those young, rascally immature eagles with brown heads--and blue herons. One blue heron was sitting in a tree. We remarked to each other about having never seen these birds in trees before. Now we have. Have you?
Before we hit our first island, we came upon a railroad bridge and heard a faint rumbling from the east. A train was rapidly approaching the bridge we were paddling towards. As the train crossed over, the engineer gave us a honk. I felt like a little kid again. The sound of floating under the bridge as it was roaring over us was amazing.
The take-out. Easy peasy!
Sitze told us that our take-out point was coming up once we started seeing riverfront homes and cars traveling on highway 2 on the right side of the river. Our trip took just short of 3 hours as we were in no hurry. We pulled out near the boat ramp, put our oars in the canoe, and texted White Pelican to say we had finished. Since my car was already in the parking lot, we could head home right away. It doesn’t get any easier than that.
“We were lucky to work with the local health department to provide safe trips during COVID. However, we were limited to how many people could go on trips and ran at about 50 percent capacity last year. We were committed to upholding health standards, so we had an increase in expenses and labor to keep our equipment sanitized to the degree that was acceptable during the pandemic,” said Sitze.
The weather and river levels happened to be exceptional during 2020, so they could keep trips running almost every day of their season. “Ultimately, we were happy that people could have a relaxing day on the river where they could (mostly) forget that almost everything was shut down,” remarked Sitze.
White Pelican is happy with the business for this season. “We’re happy with the way things are going this year. The weather and river levels are less cooperative than last year, but on the whole, there have been some great days for the business,” said Sitze. “Being on the river is a way that people reset themselves and have memorable experiences with friends and family.”
You can feel the love.
Sitze sums up her love of the area and this outfitter business, “There are so many things that I enjoy about White Pelican. It's amazing to be in a business where you see so many people smiling and happy every day to be on vacation, or a reunion, or getting out for a quick trip. Almost everyone we meet is in a good mood and has a story to tell! We all love hearing about a customers’ experience on the river as well. Just the other day, someone texted us that they saw 12 eagles on their trip!”
Make a plan before the season ends.
White Pelican, Inc.’s season is April through November--weather permitting. You can still get in some fabulous summer paddling, but there’s nothing better than floating down the Rock River among the blazing fall colors.
Hours (weather permitting)
Regular hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
After hours: 3 to 7-8 p.m.
White Pelican, Inc.
201 N 2nd St.
Oregon, IL 61061
*call or text. This is their favorite way of communicating rather than email.