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By Frank Schier
Editor and Publisher
Founder of the Rock River Trail
The National Park Service’s Outdoor Education Planner for the Midwest Region’s River and Trails Program, Jeff Obirek, visited Winnebago County Aug. 25. He liked what he saw and heard about the Rock River Trail, and he’s going to help us.
Obirek notified us on Aug. 27, the National Park Service has agreed to be a consultant to the Rock River Trail for the fiscal year starting Oct. 1, 2010.
This good news is the result of an application for a Rivers and Trail Conservation Assistance Grant, submitted Aug 1.
Obirek was impressed by the application and the website, www.rockrivertrail.com, and agreed to visit Aug. 25.
A welcoming committee of Rock River Trail partners was waiting for him in our morning meeting, consisting of: Brian Eber, stormwater project manager of the City of Rockford; Mac “Spotted Horse” MacVenn of the Native American Awareness Committee; Drs. Sonia and Bob Vogl of the Illinois Renewable Energy Association; Bernie Turner, director of WinGIS; Scott Lewandowski, manager of Memorial Hall; David Peterson, administrator of human services of Winnebago County; and Bryan Davis, deputy chief of staff and director of economic development of Congressman Don Manzullo’s office.
After introductions, a presentation was made of where we are so far with the Rock River Trail and what our goals are.
Lunch was at Sammy’s Restaurant for some homestyle food with the Park District’s Executive Director Tim Dimke and Deputy Director of Operations Ron Butler. Burpee Museum of Natural History Executive Director Alan Brown also attended to show his support.
Butler provided and drove for an afternoon tour of what the Park District and Forest Preserve District have done for river campsites at Hononegah Forest Preserve (where we were met by Winnebago County Forest Preserve District Director Tom Kalousek) Sportscore I, Brooke Road, Hincliff Forest Preserve, and the Atwood Park facilities’ five new campsites on the Kishwaukee River. We have 12 new campsites on the Rock, for a total of 17 new campsites installed this year for the Rock River Trail.
Then, we went to Fordam Dam, where Eber discussed some of the city’s interesting proposals. For the short term, it was agreed that the Rockford Park District and Friends of the Rock River Trail would portage Rock River Trail travelers by vehicles from the Riverview Ice House ramp to South Park (yes, that’s really its name) just behind Familia Fresh Food on 1414 S. Main St. Watch for signs being installed on River District bridges soon.
Dam portages and absolute safety are the last piece of a template for all counties based on Winnebago County. Signage, canoe/kayak carts, the portage path and ingress and egress buoy channel are considerations. Congressman Manzullo’s Deputy Chief of Staff Davis said he would champion federal funds for these elements for all 19 dams on the Rock River. Noting the four congressional districts the Rock River runs through in Wisconsin and the three in Illinois, he also said he will try to arrange a meeting of all seven congressmen and the four senators this October for a presentation on the Rock River Trail.
In addition to all of our local achievements, with the National Forest Service allowing the use of the outline of the Appalachian Trail Symbol for the Rock River Trail logo, the National Park Service acting as consultant and Congressman Manzullo’s efforts, that’s three levels of federal involvement in the Rock River Trail!
Obirek wrote: “Thank you to everyone for providing information and showing support for the water trail efforts on the Rock River. I was impressed with the capacity for collaboration and the many opportunities that can come from such a project, and I hope to find a useful role in assisting with your efforts.
“The grant that Frank applied for with the National Park Service Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance Program (RTCA) is a non-monetary grant. The ‘grant’ is of NPS staff time and expertise in providing consulting advice as you move forward in the project. …This year I am able to offer 2-3 days total of travel for this project, and the opportunity for phone and e-mail inquiries as needed. Many consultations grow to become full multi-year projects in future years; many more become fully sufficient on their own, without the need for our continuing assistance.
“Based upon my introduction to the project, I recommend first that an association or friends group be assembled to delegate tasks necessary to moving from a vision to a work-in-progress. I also suggest focusing on Winnebago County as the template while attempting to bring in stakeholders from all counties that can create their own groups. In addition, it will be important to focus the efforts on the easily completed elements of the trail—i.e., having temporary, but usable solutions for portaging around dams until more costly plans are feasible. Most of the trail is already there to be mapped and promoted—losing time and energy on those big challenges can slow necessary momentum. Finally, promote those segments of the trail that are available now. Having a 5-10-mile length available that symbolizes the whole trail immediately can create support and excitement while the bigger plans lie ahead.”
Those recommendations and others will be taken into consideration as the “How to Construct the Rock River Trail in Your County” template book is assembled for distribution by this December as a Christmas present to all the 33 municipalities and 10 counties of the Rock River.
Go to www.rockrivertrail.com to see what we’ve done so far, and look for new postings on all the Native American Effigy Mound Sites up and down the Rock River—our river of hearts in our backyard.