Beginning in the late 1980s, a Rockford, Illinois, newspaper editor and publisher, Frank Schier, spent much of his life studying the Rock River. Canoeing many miles of the river, as well as driving its shores many times, he collected books, stories and wonderful experiences. He even named his newspaper The Rock River Times. An idea came to him to seek recognition for the fathomless environs of the Rock River as a multi-use national trail. From jealously publishing his reporters’ sojourns on other paths, his models were the Appalachian National Scenic Trail and the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail.

In 2010, a group of public and private partners from Rockford and Winnebago and Ogle Counties, Illinois helped to establish the Rock River Trail Initiative. The trail initiative was embraced by city and county planners, park districts, conservation organizations, water sports suppliers and local, state and federal political leaders.

They recognized the vision and value of historical preservation, recreational opportunities, economic development, resource conservation and green jobs provided by the proposed initiative.

The first Rock River Trail Conference was held in Rockford in April of 2010, followed by a consultancy agreement with the National Park Service for assistance under the national Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance Program. A legislative briefing with Members of Congress from Illinois and Wisconsin, the US Army Corps of Engineers, Illinois Department of Natural Resources and other federal, state and local agencies and private partners was held February 2011 in Rockford. The Rock River Trail Initiative has been joined by public and private partners in Wisconsin for a true two-state comprehensive effort to build a national multi-use trail along the course of the Rock River through Wisconsin and Illinois.

The Rock River Trail Initiative was presented to the Governor’s State Trails Council in Stevens Point, Wisconsin in July 2011 and will be included as a state water trail in the Wisconsin State Trails Network Plan and was presented to the Illinois Greenways and Trails Council in Springfield, Illinois in January 2012.