Lurking Beneath the Surface of Blackwater North
By Dan Kenney
The stillness of tree lined Skunk Hallow Road in Jo Daviess
County Illinois, twenty miles from the beautiful Palisades along the
Mississippi River, will soon be shattered by gunfire. Not the gun
fire of wild turkey hunters but the gunfire from a new training
facility for the most powerful mercenary army in the world,
I had a view of Blackwater's new Illinois facility that is
usually reserved for the hawks circling overhead. I stood on-top
their climbing/rappelling/shooting tower looking down at the
bulldozers busy moving tons of earth to create more shooting ranges.
On eighty acres in this isolated corner of Illinois, one
hundred miles from Chicago, Blackwater is creating another large
training site. This site will eventually, according to Blackwater
North's vice deputy Eric Davis, compare to their headquarters in
North Carolina. They have a full schedule of classes ready to roll
beginning April 9th with a pistol shooting course that is already
three over capacity. The first three weeks of courses are filled and
the others are filling fast.
is planning to do the same type of training that a small group called
The Site who trained a few Illinois police officers previously,
so "they do not require a special use permit because the property was
grandfathered in when zoning codes were established in 1995.
Linda Delvaux, JoDaviess county zoning officer told a source
that there are limits on what Blackwater can and cannot do. She said
they can't buy any more land for this site without getting a special
use permit, which would require a public hearing. Also their
"Pro-shop" can't be open to the general public, only to people taking
classes. People nearby, which might number 10 and most of them are
over two miles away, can make complaints about noise, damage to
property, animals, or increased traffic, etc.
In January Blackwater paid a visit to the Village Township
Trustees and also to the county board. According to a resident they
said hello we're your new good neighbors and we're happy to be part
of the community.
When I drove into their Blackwater North site off the country
road I could see immediately that they were doing far more than what
they were telling their neighbors. Just inside the gate the
bulldozers were busy moving earth, also near the combat town were
several cargo containers along with a large CAT front-loader. As Mr.
Davis told me, "We've got a lot going on."
"Everything they offer in North Carolina will be offered here
except for the high speed driving portion. We don't have a track yet.
We'd like to buy some of the surrounding acreage so we could put one
in." He said with his mild southern accent looking out across the
grassy area to the tree lined ridge.
I told him that I thought they may not be staying around
since they only had a one year lease according to Dave Whittrock one
of the owners.
"A year's lease with option to buy at the end of the year."
According to Mr. Davis the lease began in September of 2006. "We're
staying. They're not going to let it go now. I mean we've got just in
moving earth alone a half million dollars invested." That's not
counting anything else."
The anything else would be the fiber optics they had to put
in because they are over 50 miles from any type of adequate computer
connections to meet their needs. Which means they easily have close
to a million dollars invested in this secluded rural location.
He said of their North Carolina headquarters that they owned
6,000 but leased another 6,000. "We're starting out like they did 10
years ago." He said kicking a stone with the toe of his boot. "But
we're getting there."
While he led me in the direction of the pro-shop in a large
modern metal building a few feet from the tower, he told me that they
were flying up two instructors from North Carolina for Monday's
class. When I asked if they had a helicopter pad he replied, "We will
Once inside there are office areas and a break room with a stack of
empty pizza boxes. One of the two high school girls answering the
phones is his daughter who has spent half of her life with him
overseas while he was a marine responsible for embassy security in 17
African countries. "I was with the marines for 22 years. I worked
directly for the State Department."
I was told earlier in a phone conversation over 30 days ago that they
would not be having a submachine gun class because they did not
have "a permit for that kind of instruction." Now he highlighted for
me on a copy of the course schedule the submachine gun class. A
Heckler & Koch weapons course. Their catalogue description of
the five day course reads; "This course is designed to develop
understanding and tactical proficiency with H & K MP5, or UMP
weapons." They will be offering both an instructor course as well as
an operator's course; the first Scheduled for April 30th is full. He
told me that 21 of their 25 courses were open to anyone and that only
five are for active duty law enforcement and active duty military.
I asked about buying something from the pro-shop expecting
him to say no because of what I was told about the zoning restriction
but I was surprised when he said sure, "I'm always willing to take
your money." So I made a purchase and got a written receipt.
I asked about sales tax he said that Blackwater had business
licenses and tax identification numbers in all 50 states.
When we got outside I asked if I could take some pictures
from the tower and he said sure again. So we climbed the tower where
I had a good view down onto the entire Blackwater North 80 acres.
When I asked if Blackwater's construction company was doing the work
I saw below he said no that it was contracted out to a local
company. "You got to figure out which side your bread is buttered on.
We live in the local community it's better to spend local dollars."
So even though Blackwater's construction company is upset with them
and even though the bids were similar they went with the local
company. "We get to make the decision because we're here on the
ground. So whatever decisions we make they (Blackwater N.C.) go with
"That down there is our classroom building." What I saw was a double
wide portable classroom better looking than any I've seen at any
Unlike the zoning officer and the resident's report on the county
board meeting Mr. Davis claimed that work was behind schedule due in
part to the weather and also due to "the county gave us the run
around too. Trying to get all the permits. The county probably backed
us up forty days. I had to get my EPA permit, Illinois Historical
Preservation permit, I had to get other permits, and I had to get
this permit and that permit. Every permit took thirty days." He says
as he zips his coat closed.
Driving down the lane past the computerized Blackwater designed and
built target system, out onto the country road again. I notice the
sign on the fence across the street reads, "Illinois Wildlife Refuge
Area." I stop to take in the beauty of Spring coming into this
natural valley, some of the buds beginning to show on the branches,
hawks still circling, hidden in the trees deer stand watching. The
bulldozer roar begins to fade in the distance as I pass over the
crest of another hill.
Reflecting back on my visit to Blackwater North I realize more fully
the fact that often more is going on than one sees on the surface.
And I think about a bumper sticker on the front of their pop cooler
in the break room that read: "Sniper: You Only Need One Shot."
What becomes of our souls when we make war a business?