Guest Column/Editorial: 'No Wake' means snooze and lose business

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-11200654008638.jpg’, ‘Photo by Frank Schier’, ‘A buoy that has been run over many times by boats at night because it has no light sits in the middle of the Rock River. Boaters are not used to the No Wake markers being out this far. Rock River Enterprises & Barge, Inc. temporarily put in the barrels toward shore to mark where buoys should be according to normal DNR regulations for boat ramps—150 feet. Boaters are complaining about the new zone.’);

Once again, the Business Prevention Department of Winnebago County (sometimes known as the Winnebago County Sheriff’s office and their general policies on the river) has requested and received another way to keep area businesses depressed and make the community less attractive to tourists. Legally?

On May 19, 2003, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) granted a very large restricted area, No Wake Zone, for “A portion of the Rock River at Martin Park in Loves Park from the Riverside Bridge south to the island located at the south end of Martin Park.” This is despite the fact that a mandatory 150-foot No Wake Zone exists around every public boat launch by existing DNR regulation.

This new restricted area is the result of the Winnebago County Sheriff’s department. Sgt. Steve DePauw made the request to the DNR.

When the DNR office was contacted, Capt. Greg Hunter said he signed the approval at the request of the Winnebago County Sheriff’s office. When asked for copies of the paperwork that are required for the enactment of a new restricted area, Hunter stated none were available.

Am I to think there was no petition with 25 signatures? Who signed them? No detailed description with appropriate maps and supporting data? No evidence that indicates that a boating safety hazard exists, accident reports, etc.? No evidence indicating that a boating users’ conflict exists?! Importantly, the regulations state consideration for protection of private property is not to be a factor for this new restriction. Was it?

Why ask all these questions?

The DNR has very specific rules for designation of a restricted area. CH. I. 2030.15. You can read them for yourself on the Web at

If these rules were not followed, can this restricted area lawfully exist?

As a boater, I must follow the rules, but the people who make the rules don’t follow their own rules for making rules?

The new restricted area has made countless boaters miserable. Passing though the No Wake Zone takes about 12 minutes. If you are on the river to visit downtown Rockford businesses at the eight new slips that were installed by the River District Association last summer, 24 minutes have been added to your round trip.

The restricted area has effectively split the Rock River into two separate sections: “River North” and “River South.” No longer can a person water ski from downtown to Roscoe.

Once on the river, numerous boaters refuse to travel through the restricted area. Most days, you’ll find one of the sheriff’s boats parked there. Boaters don’t want a conference with a police officer during recreation time activities. The result is additional boat traffic and congestion north of the Riverside bridge.

When you upset people’s leisure time activities, they will take them elsewhere. This is very bad for local businesses.

A boaters stops at the local gas station and fuels the watercraft, 30, 40, 50 gallons or more, then he visits the local grocery for snacks and sodas, then stops at businesses along the river once on the water. Later, that same boater will stop at a local restaurant for dinner after an extended day on the water. Boating is an expensive hobby that enormously impacts the local economy.

It’s sad to think the same boater, now aggravated with the new No Wake Zone, will take his watercraft out of the area—along with all his dollars. Boaters from other areas won’t visit when they are informed of the unpleasantness on the river.

It’s just another way your local Business Prevention Department is helping to keep the economy slow in Rockford.


By Frank Schier

Editor & Publisher

I couldn’t agree with Mr. Fiduccia more. I say this as a fellow boater and in empathy for my many personal and business associates who have been and are presently upset and damaged by the policies of Sheriff Richard Meyers. Unless you are one of the politically connected, his river polices are bad for recreation, business and tourism.

Meyers’ officers, as those of the DNR patrol, are good men, doing their job and promoting safety on the river. Ostensibly, the reason for this No Wake Zone as submitted by Sgt. DePauw is to make docking, launching and taking out boats easier and safer at Martin Park. Admittedly, huge waves crashing into the ramp as a boat is being unloaded or loaded could be seen as a hazard—if you’re not careful. Yet, the boat ramps on the lagoon at Sportscore 1, just a few miles north, are very good and peaceful.

A much more sensible policy would be to really shorten the No Wake Zone in length, width and in hours of operation. The length of the zone from the north end of the island at the Rockford County Club’s golf course to the Riverside bridge is ridiculous. It should be a third of that length. Its width is also extreme. It cuts the channel of the river in half, extending at least 50 feet beyond the 150 required by the DNR regulations that Fiduccia referenced. This narrowing of the channel actually causes more congestion, which is what they are supposedly trying to avoid. If launching safety is such a concern, impose it when it makes sense—during high-use hours and holidays.

Speaking of safety, the marker buoys in front of Martin Park are not lighted. At night, more than one boat has run over them. If you don’t believe that, just look at them. They are very battered.

Feeling battered themselves, skiers and wakeboarders are really unhappy. Many times, I’d see the Ski Broncs practicing passing under the Riverside bridge, going north; now I don’t, speaking of tourism.

On the deck of Castaways (formerly Lungo’s Landing and now the only restaurant actually on the river), I hear boater after boater gripe about the No Wake Zone.

“Man, the government is in your face even when you go out on the river and to relax and have fun. You can’t get away from them trying to control you one way or another. They are ominous, uncomfortable, irritating and an intrusion,” said one boater. “As the local Big Brother, Meyers is spoiling the fun of being on the Rock River. I can’t wait for the next election.”

That sentiment is also echoed by some business owners whose revenues are impacted by Meyers’ past and present polices.

The closing of the river south of the Riverside bridge until nearly the Fourth of July and keeping the river closed north of Harlem bridge until the third week in July last year damaged many businesses. Meyers’ decision, along with that of Paul Calligan of ComEd, on the amount of water that was released by the Fordam Dam made little sense.

The Railnet railroad bridge below the dam is like a rock. The liability factor is nill if the dam is closely watched and opened wisely during high water. The ensuing damage flooded property owners (not to mention their high ComEd bills because of running their sump pumps non-stop); the debris swept off the shore smashes anything downstream (including the Jefferson Street pedestrian bridge and the dam itself). This is all costly to individual property owners, insurance companies and the public bodies responsible for the river.

The automatic sensor system at the Auburn Street bridge doesn’t work all the time as was shown Jan. 14, when the river dropped at least a foot and a half and 4 or 5 feet at Rockford Marina. The year-round docks at the marina were damaged because the river froze at the low level around them. When ComEd figured out the dam was open, the docks were crunched by the ice being pushed up by the rising river as the dam was closed, as were other year-round docks all up the river.

Back to the effects of last year’s river closing, Rockford Marina was hit really hard. They lost significant sales on gas and concessions. Until now, those facilities were closed, as a lessee is sought.

Brian Huels, co-owner of Rockford Marina said: “My business was down 50 percent because of the closing of the river last year. We had to make significant changes to even stay alive last year.”

Here we have a great new facility on the river, opened with great fanfare, which now has to struggle to stay aliv

e. The docks and maintenance facilities remain open at Rockford Marina, but Meyers’ new No Wake Zone is discouraging traffic to the River District Association businesses.

“The No Wake Zone definitely discourages people from coming downtown,” said Megan Koch, co-owner of Rockford Marina. “Our gas pumps will be open, just this weekend. My brother is taking that on, and River District Catering will also be here on the 4th from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., selling hot dogs, pork chops, brats and a full bar. This is probably the one time of year that people will bear the new No Wake Zone; but the rest of the time, I don’t know that they will.

“Our gas station will be open on Friday from 2-8 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday 12-8 p.m., and Monday 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Ask for Dustin Koch, my brother. The idea is, if it’s a success this weekend, we’ll be open for the rest of the season. We’ll see if Rockford people will support it, and we’ll see how the new No Wake Zone treats us,” added Koch.

A case in point is how many boats are docking at the new River District boat docks this year, compared to last year—not many. These docks were installed to get boaters to go to Paragon, Octane, Serrano’s, Swilligan’s, Kryptonite, N.A.T., Coronado and MetroCentre. More than three years were spent on raising the $25,000 to build the docks. Thanks, Sheriff Meyers.

And thanks from all the people who are trying to promote tourism in Rockford’s metro area, too. Fiduccia has it right: the Business Prevention Department of Winnebago County is on the river. We need to promote fun, not kill fun on the Rock River to draw tourists.

Meyers needs “Wake Up” calls from as many boaters and business people as possible. River policy and the Fordam Dam need to be run by someone who is not politically connected and subject to heavy hitters who want the river to be as quiet as On Golden Pond. The DNR should run the dam and river.

The municipalities of Rockford, Loves Park and Machesney Park need to stick up for their boaters, businesses and potential tourists.

A petition will be circulating at the Davis Park boat launch to rescind the new No Wake Zone. Sign it, and let’s reclaim our river from the Sheriff!

From the June 29-July 5, 2005, issue

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