Hailed as the Caribbean of the Midwest for its electric assortment of features suited for scuba divers of all stripes and skills, Haigh Quarry of Kankakee, Illinois has been a beacon in Midwestern diving since its inception in 1992. Nestled within the countryside, its reputation as a family-friendly, easily accessible facility has been a long-standing effort, made possible through the hard work and dedication of its owners and scuba divers throughout the region.
Article by John Tapley; images courtesy Tina Haigh
Spanning 13 acres, Haigh Quarry has been a haven for scuba
explorers and students of different skill levels with the facility’s shallow
side hovering at 25 feet in depth with its deeper reaches hitting 65. The
quarry’s prominence as a training facility has led to visitors from many states
– neighboring states and from farther places like New York and New Mexico.
Underwater platforms, seven in total, are set at varying depths. As a former
limestone quarry, the facility contains the remnants of its previous operation.
Students often train on abandoned mining equipment, including conveyer belts,
drills, and a rock crusher that stands about 14 feet off the bottom.
Haigh Quarry is well regarded for eccentric submerged features, including a group of plastic chairs designed to look like hands, a stone gorilla, a 33-foot cabin cruiser for wreck diving, a 1960s firetruck, and military vehicles. Students studying underwater archaeology often partake in an underwater artifact park, which emulates the remains of a 2,000-year-old shipwreck, complete with amphora and a galley. Beyond these installments, the quarry also contains an assortment of oddities such as a lawnmowers adorned with pink flamingos, giant stone pickles, and a menagerie of concrete animals, including a cow, alligator, and a gorilla.
Visitors who plunge into these Midwestern waters are further joined by a diversity of fish life, including catfish, bass, bluegill, crappie, perch sunfish, and rare paddlefish donated by Shedd Aquarium in Chicago.
This premier diving destination originated from humble origins when local Jim Haigh, who owned a tree cutting business, purchased the derelict quarry in 1978 for the purpose of discarding trees.
Jim’s widow and Haigh Quarry owner, Tina Haigh, explains the transition from disused quarry to outdoor scuba facility:
“He decided to let nature take its course. He unplugged the pump the stone company had, and it filled up with water in three years. We partied and played with it for about 15 years, and in ’92 decided to open it up for scuba diving. A friend suggested we do that, so I contacted one [dive] shop: they had exclusive rights to it for two years. They loved the place, so I decided to do some marketing and contact some other shops. Gradually it built to about 100 different dive shops and independent instructors using us for their training. From there, it grew to a lot of recreational divers.”
As Haigh Quarry’s appeal began to flourish, the local dive community appreciated the Haighs’ devotion to it and contributed their expertise, helping to shape the facility into what it is today. While Jim was not a scuba diver himself, the togetherness and fun he brought encouraged him to continue his work until his passing in the early 2000s.
Haigh Quarry opens on the weekend of April 4 and 5 and continues weekly throughout the usual diving season until October when it opens for weekends. Barring a few ice diving events, the quarry is closed December through March. Looking into summer 2020, Haigh Quarry is prepping for Diver Appreciation Day. Slated for Sunday August 16, the daylong festival will feature a free lunch and raffle drawing.
Through a friend, Tina has also picked up bee keeping and she sells honey, Haigh Quarry Scubee Honey!, at the quarry.
“It’s a fascinating hobby,” she says. “You never know what to expect with Mother Nature.”
A labor of love between a family and scuba divers, Haigh Quarry has been a mainstay for Midwestern scuba diving for nearly 30 years. A result of dedication and fellowship, it will continue to prepare scuba divers for future adventurers and further establish a stronger community.
“We’re blessed with a lot of good, family-friendly divers who are really kind,” says Tina. “It’s a good group to be with. Everyone is a buddy. My family has made a lot of friends and they treat us like family. I’m happy we’ve been able to have them in our backyard.”
For more details on Haigh Quarry, visit haighquarry.com.