Rock River Trail Initiative aims for federal recognition

By Marissa Alter

ILLINOIS/WISCONSIN (WREX) - There's an effort to establish a national scenic, recreational, and historic trail along the Rock River's 285 miles. It's called the Rock River Trail Initiative. The idea is to improve the Rock River eco-system, promote eco-tourism, and market recreational opportunities along the river corridor's 11 counties in Wisconsin and Illinois. Today people from along that stretch got together at Rockford's Burpee Museum to learn more about the project.

Frank Schier has a vision. "It's an unusual trail. I believe there's only one other trail like this in the country and that is the Lewis and Clark Trail."

Like that, the Rock River Trail would promote recreation with hiking, biking, and boating. You would also drive it making it a scenic trail. And then there's all the history up and down the Rock River.

"This is something that can be discovered, and most people just don't know about it. so that would make it a historical trail."

Shier says really, the Rock River Trail already exists. Plenty of cities and counties have attractions: camping areas, educational facilities, historical sites, boat ramps, riverwalks, trails for biking and hiking. This initiative is the first attempt to publicize these assets, try to connect them, and fill in any gaps between them. That means partnerships and using federal, state, county, and local resources.

"The river corridor offers the opportunity to promote jobs, along with the opportunity to promote the rich natural habitats and improve the environmental conditions of the river," says Illinois Congressman Don Manzullo.

"We need to preserve and protect our most precious natural resources. We need to grow our economy and improve the quality of life for all our constituents who visit this area and can gain from the beautiful resource that is the Rock River," adds Wisconsin Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin.

Today was the first meeting for many in the room who spanned two states and 11 counties. Their goal now: to attain three federal designations for the Rock River--"scenic," "recreational," and "historic."

"I think that's the most wonderful thing about this entire endeavor--that we get to meet the neighbors," Schier says.

For more, inluding pictures, visit WREX.com.