Lake Thunderbird celebrates its 50th anniversary
LAKE THUNDERBIRD —áIn 1969, the American Central Development Corp. established the recreational community based around the man-made lake known as Lake Thunderbird.
The developers also created similar communities such Oak Run near Galesburg and several others. The Putnam County area was growing quickly at the time with the addition of a large steel mill and the construction of Interstate 180 providing easy access to Interstate 80.
The 115-acre lake was created by the construction of a dam along Senachwine Creek, and the beautifully wooded valley soon provided roughly eight miles of shoreline for its new residents.
“It’s a very diverse group of people who live here, and it’s just a beautiful place,” Lake Thunderbird Association member Jill Hamann said.
Featuring 1,982 lots, Lake Thunderbird offers a variety of homes and options for residents, from beautiful waterfront homes to smaller sites tucked within the surrounding woods, as well as 83 camping sites.
Small, unbuildable lots are also available. These provide their owners with access to the many amenities enjoyed by association members at an affordable price.
A thoughtful balance of everyone’s needs and wants has been established in the community, which consists of roughly half of the members as full-time residents, and half who vacation there on holidays and weekends.
As an example, the lake allows boats that are 19 feet and under, with a limit of 100 horsepower, and pontoon boats 24 feet and under, with a limit of 40 horsepower. However, many residents enjoy canoeing and kayaking, and the wakes from power boats can lessen their enjoyment. To satisfy both groups of owners, the association established a “no wake” period from 7 to 10 a.m.
“It’s wonderful to be out there early in the morning when everything is quiet and still,” Hamann said.
After 10 a.m., boaters can hit the throttle and enjoy water skiing, tubing or touring the lake.
Fishing is a major attraction at Lake Thunderbird, and the conservation-minded association encourages the practice of “catch and release.” The lake is stocked annually, and species within the waters include crappies, blue gill, walleye, stripers, flathead and channel catfish, smallmouth and largemouth bass, muskie and more.
Two years ago, the association spent about $500,000 to dredge the lake. This action removed 35,000 cubic yards of silt and resulted in the deepening of increasingly shallow areas and also noticeably clarified the water.
“The lake is our pride and joy, and we work to keep it healthy,” member Bob Hamann said.
The area was developed in phases as membership in the association grew. According to members, one of the best decisions made in the early days was the establishment of its own water district.
As with many areas, maintaining the community’s infrastructure provides a financial challenge, especially when the association’s covenant mandates the yearly administrative usage fee can never be more than $26 a year.
“Imagine trying to take care of all of this with just $26 a year from each member,” association member Andy Merek said.
To work around the well-intentioned and affordable mandate, the association had to be creative and establish a variety of other fees to fund the area. Their plan appears to be working because, despite the typical challenges, the community is well maintained and idyllic.
“We have a great staff of seven full-time workers, and they do a wonderful job of helping us keep everything nice for our members,” member Barbara Gurrister said.
There’s a huge number of amenities at Lake Thunderbird. Residents can enjoy a well appointed clubhouse, swimming in a heated pool, camping, canoe races, tennis, 5K races, disc golf, nature trails, a staffed beach area with a floating dock and water slide, a boat launch, picnic areas, fishing tournaments, fireworks displays, a newspaper, and a variety of social activities. In addition, the association is working on the development of an 18-hole miniature golf course.
Members also spoke of men’s and women’s social clubs, wine and cheese tastings, murder mystery dinners, community garage sales, Kentucky Derby and Super Bowl parties, a monthly food collection that benefits the Putnam County Food Pantry, a Toys for Tots drive at Christmas, fundraising for an animal shelter, the annual corn boil, daily water aerobics, tai chi, line dancing, Zumba classes and more.
The area also celebrates an annual Venetian Night, which features a festive water parade of decorated boats and docks, along with music at the beach.
Lake Thunderbird also has a unique piece of history in Chairtree Park. The focal point of the park is a tree that was used by the Potawatomi and other Illinois tribes as a trail marker. For countless years, the uniquely shaped tree, made so by the native tribes, has fascinated curious visitors. However, the tree’s fairly recent demise struck a blow to those familiar with its appeal and historical significance related to the famous Chief Senachwine.
To honor that significance and to maintain its appeal, a sculptor was tasked with carving the remains into a suitable tribute. The twin trunks of the legendary tree now feature colorfully painted reliefs of a number of local animals.
Nature is the true appeal of Lake Thunderbird, and members described regularly seeing an abundance of local wildlife, including bald eagles soaring over the lake. They said the area appears underdeveloped in the way members enjoy.
“It’s a lake in the middle of the woods, what’s not to like?” Bob Hamann said.
For more information about Lake Thunderbird, visit www.lakethunderbird.com.