Good luck, Barry!

The Rockford area lost a good family last week. No, not through death, but by a move. Long-time resident Barry Smith and his family moved to Oland, Sweden, on June 3. Oland is a large island off the southernmost edge of Sweden noted for its forests, beaches and friendly people. I’d talked to Barry last summer, and he’d mentioned a possibility of moving to Sweden.

Two weeks ago, though, I drove to his farmette on South Mulford Road to buy some straw, and to my surprise, Barry told me he was moving in a week.

Barry is 45 and married with two daughters in grade school. I understand that his wife was born in Sweden, but not in Oland. Barry is not famous or a Rockford politico, shaker or baker—or is that a mover and a shaker? He’s your average good guy who doesn’t seek attention most of the time. Yet he has an edge, a sleepy edge.

Barry grew up on Lucky Lane, two blocks from White Swan School, a quarter mile from Bell School Road and East State Street. “All through my childhood and young adult life, Bell School Road and East State Street was just a stop sign,” said Barry. “Alpine was the beginning of Rockford. We used to camp and play on the creek bank on the farm across the street that’s shortly going to be a super sprawl mart.”

I remember camping with Barry at Lib Conservation Area, but that’s another story. Barry is opposed to all the needless growth (sprawl). “You might call me an environmentalist, you might,” said Smith. “It didn’t start at Rock Valley College, but my nature idealism sure got a boost there, sure got.”

What’s your vector, Victor? Barry has a way of sounding like an honest-to-brethren pioneer and does this in pen just as well. Yes, Barry is your average guy, but he’s slightly famous for his letters to the editor in the Rockford Register Star. His letters have been published more than anyone else I know. He usually writes them when ticked off about something that profoundly affects him.

Barry wrote the letter to the editor that ignited a local environmental movement. It was the first letter complaining about the hard-surface trail put in the Blackhawk Springs Forest Preserve in the mid-‘90s. Blackhawk Springs Forest Preserve was the Smith family’s favorite place to enjoy nature. Barry and his wife taught many things about the flora and fauna at the preserve to their children. They referred to it as the place that looked pre-settlement wild.

“One day, bulldozers were there, and the ground was deeply scarred. Trees were pushed over, and a sign close to the carnage read, “Habitat restoration.” Barry wrote the forest preserve director, Tom Kalusek, but Tom’s response did little to satisfy Barry’s concern. After Barry’s letter, others appeared in the Star about the Blackhawk Springs bike trail, or as it’s formally now known, as the Kishwaukee River Trail. Most of us, however, call it the “road.”

Soon, a story appeared in the paper about the trail. Then there was a multi-page story on the subject by Gayle Worland, a superb journalist, who now writes environmental stories for the Chicago Tribune. The trail was a hot issue, and most environmentalists opposed the trail, as it would beyond a doubt degrade the preserve. Plans were on the drawing board to put a hard-surface trail from Cherry Valley to Kishwaukee Gorge along the Kishwaukee River, but the tide of public opinion turned against it. Concerns were raised about how the Winnebago County Forest Preserve’s philosophies were changing for the worse, and how they were spending money and breaking environmental laws. The end result was that the trail never was expanded; the public is keeping a watchful eye on the Winnebago County Forest Preserve District, and the Kishwaukee River ecosystem in Winnebago County is safer from over-development.

Barry’s not going to like my writing so much about one letter, but dadburn it, Barry, that’s the way I burn ‘em.

Barry’s not leaving America because he hates it; he just wants his children to experience a society not blackholed in materialism. He cited a new “in thing” behavior by parents who celebrate a child’s birthday by renting an expensive hotel room to hold the birthday party. “Things in Oland are much simpler and traditional,” said Barry. He is also upset with American foreign policy. “We could take all the money we’ve spent and are going to spend in Iraq and invest it in looking for a new energy source and probably find one. Then we wouldn’t need their oil, which is what the war is really about,” he observed.

Barry, if you don’t like it over there, please come back. Rockford needs families like yours.

Barry Smith has been a shop teacher at Sycamore Middle School for more than 20 years. He plans to teach in Oland.

Rod Myers is a local resident with an interest in the environment and disability issues. He has an associate’s degree in science and a bachelor’s in fine arts. Rod is a member of the Audubon Society, the Wild Ones Natural Landscapers and Rockford Amateur Astronomers, Inc.

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