Diving in the Midwest does NOT have to be boring! (but it will probably be a little chilly – so prepare for that!). Our Landlocked Scuba Club (LLSC) in North Liberty, Iowa has been busy this year with local dive adventures, most recently to Mermet Springs in Southern Illinois.
‘Diving in First Class’ at Mermet Springs (max depth is around 120) starts with preparing what to take and reserving a canopy for your group at the dive site.
1. Snacks and drinks. While Mermet does have a small snack shack, you may choose to bring items to make lunch and whatever you want to drink. There aren’t many food choices very close by. You’ll work up an appetite because you can dive as often as you’d like (within your limits of course!).
2. Tanks and weights. You can get tank fills there as well for $10 per tank.
3. Sufficient scuba exposure protection. During Easter weekend the water was 60ºF at the surface and 48ºF at our deepest (around 60 feet). In July, the surface is around 85ºF, and the depth temperature was not much higher than 48ºF. This gal dives wearing a drysuit for cold months and will wear a wetsuit for shallow dives. But always a drysuit for deep exploration.
4. Sufficient top side exposure protection. If it’s cold you will want several layers to warm up in in between dives (the locker room is heated if you need it.) If it’s hot, you’ll want to make sure you’re not overheating. (I learned this the hard way last year) and sunscreen is probably a good idea too.
Nice to have:
1. Hangers for your wetsuit/drysuit. You can leave them hanging overnight along with all your gear. No need to pack it up and leave it wet in your car.
2. Small folding table. They have picnic tables but an extra was helpful for us to make lunch.
3. A small indoor/outdoor carpet. This was great last year when we were in wetsuits so they didn’t track the gravel everywhere. With drysuits this past trip, it was not so essential.
Our small group of four made the trek south through the entire state of Illinois and ended up at the Holiday Inn Express in Metropolis (also home to the gigantic statue of Superman.) There are other hotels to choose from but this particular one offers a nice discount for Mermet Springs visitors and their staff is great (plus – free breakfast.) We also brought a grill and made hamburgers during our service intervals.
Few dive locations can boast the service level of Mermet. First, they have some of the nicest staff out there. Dive pros are granted free diving, and for divers it’s just $25 per day to dive. (Note, if you are teaching a class, make sure to talk to the staff about their safety procedures.) The site has two main platforms for either giant stride or steps for walk in entry. Every platform and sunken artifact is marked with a buoy that is labeled with what’s below. What’s even cooler is that underwater there are ropes that lead you to and from the various points of interest so it’s all but impossible to get lost while diving.
The highlight point of interest? That’s debatable since there are so many cool things! And I don’t want to spoil it for you – half the fun is discovering all the fun stuff (hello bicycle scavenger hunt.) But for me, the coolest thing is the Boeing 727 from the movie US Marshals. Most of the body of the plane has been sunk, starting at 15 feet and ending around 60 feet.
My next favorite is the spoonbill paddlefish! The first time you see one, you might jump a little – they are big and so prehistoric looking but I promise – they won’t hurt you. If you stay still and don’t chase them (like many things underwater) they may venture even closer to check you out.
After diving make sure you check out the ‘gear trailer’. They have some fun finds in there. And be ready to meet some new dive buddies! While Easter weekend was pretty quiet, this site is hopping most weekends as it’s a popular place for open water training dives and specialty classes, like Deep Diving.
After a long day of diving, sitting down at one of the local restaurants is a fun way to refuel your body and share your stories with your dive buddies. We chose Rafferty’s Steakhouse and Fat Edd’s for our dinners this trip. Both were delicious (and both serve quart mason jar cocktails – super delish.) There’s also a steakhouse across the street from the hotel which we plan to try next time.
Want to experience this for yourself? LLSC is going back to Mermet Springs Memorial Day weekend. Call Diventures in North Liberty for more information!