Nestled within Kankakee, Illinois, Haigh Quarry is an acclaimed inland scuba location enjoyed by scuba divers the world over. Its fellowship to the local dive community, facilities for recreational and technical divers, and well-maintained environment have made it a star attraction for divers instate and throughout the country.
By John Tapley
Often called “The Caribbean of the Midwest”, the quarry is enjoyed for its welcoming atmosphere, temperate waters, and cool submerged features: a collection of tricycles, a fire truck, a cabin cruiser, stone figures of animals, and a lawnmower amusingly adorned by pink flamingos. And as divers make their way through these attractions, they are met with freshwater fish of many types, including sunfish, albino catfish, and paddlefish. Topside, visitors can enjoy a warm, Midwestern afternoon on the beach or in the grass; beach houses, picnic tables, and changing rooms are just a few features.
Training is another key feature of Haigh Quarry and the facility includes scuba equipment rentals and PADI certification courses from Open Water to Master, and Discover Scuba programs; and snorkeling.
Haigh Quarry’s prominence in Midwestern diving started from humble origins: a simple limestone quarry located in central Illinois, about 60 miles south of Chicago, was shaped into an iconic recreation and training facility through sheer gumption and a supportive community.
Tina Haigh, owner of Haigh Quarry, and wife of its founder, the late Jim Haigh, elaborates on these beginnings:
“It was abandoned – done with its usefulness and emptied – and was put up for auction. At that time, my husband had a tree service and needed a spot to dump trees he had removed. Jim bought it in ’78 and decided to unplug the water pumps to see what would happen. It took three years for the quarry to fill up, and we decided to play with it: partying and having picnics.”
As it turned out, the quarry was a diamond in the rough, and after it filled, its potential as a scuba diving destination came to the fore.
“The north side of the quarry averages about 23 feet; the south about 60 feet. Unbeknownst to us, it was set up perfectly for divers. In ’92, a diver friend suggested we opened it up for diving. One dive store used us exclusively for two years, and from then on, I did some marketing and invited other shops to check the place out. We had about a half-dozen dive shops, and it worked out great so we decided to get serious and have waivers and insurance, opening it up for more dive shops.”
Since then, Haigh Quarry has become one of the Midwest’s most iconic diving destinations. Today, over 100 Today, over 100 dive shops and independent instructors (many of whom venture from out of state) use Haigh Quarry as their exclusive outdoor training center. Much of this success has been owed to the local dive community, which has made suggestions and helped install improvements over the years.
“We’ve had a lot of help and input from the dive community: suggestions; helping us put more objects into the water,” explains Haigh. “Since my husband and I weren’t divers when we opened, we didn’t know what the community would want. Consequently, we now have seven training platforms and objects for divers to look at.”
Looking forward, Haigh is excited to continue working with the local dive community: sharing her and her husband’s vision of an inland scuba diving destination, and the many benefits scuba diving brings to the local community. She’s also exploring a new venture: honey.
“We started raising bees – or the bees are raising us – and we have honey available during the summer months: Scubee honey,” she laughs. “It’s very enjoyable and divers seem to enjoy it as well.”
For more details on Haigh Quarry, visit www.haighquarry.com.