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Rock River Trail Christmas presents for the new year

December 22, 2010

By Frank Schier
Editor & Publisher

As founder of the Rock River Trail, I’m very excited to give the region some great Christmas presents for the new year.

Last week, the redesign of www.rockrivertrail.com was unveiled for all the folks who were kind enough to attend VisionBeloit’s last session of the City Center Seminar series, hosted by Beloit College’s Allen-Bradley Professor of Economics Jeff Adams, Dec. 16 at VisitBeloit offices, 500 Public Ave., Beloit, Wis.

Including the new web site design, those who attended the seminar also learned about eight major developments that will flow into next year for the river trail.

The Rock River Trail Project is now an official, tax-deductible, nonprofit, joining Friends of the Rock River, a federal 501 (c)(3) entity since 1991. Paddle and Trail outfitters has become the official sponsor of the trail’s website. U.S. Congressman Don Manzullo’s office will sponsor an informational legislative meeting for the Rock River’s seven congressmen and women, four senators and the Illinois and Wisconsin state representatives and senators and their staff in late January or February. The announcement of the Rock River Micro Hydro Power Contest was also made, as was another challenge to produce a Rock River Dam Portage Safety Channel Buoy. Dane County became the 11th county on the Trail. The evolving goals of the Rock River Trail’s vision for water control and quality on the entire Rock River were set, as was the date for the Second Annual Conference for the Rock River Trail Project at the Clock Tower  Inn and CoCo Key Water Resort for Earth Day, April 22, 2011.

The multi-talented staff of The Rock River Times helped to present and prepare for the seminar and next year’s events. They are: a Spanish language instructor for RVC’s Continuing Education, our  legals typesetter, e-mail editor, and research assistant, Morgan Smith; leader of the Radio Stars band and our webmaster, Caleb Foster; and our sales manager for the websites for Winnebago County Green Business Awards, Winnebago Buy Local and the Rock River Trail, Jody Marshall. Assistant Editor Brandon Reid and Production Manager Jeff Helberg also have been of great help.

They were all essential in the presentation material and in the release of a new design and new content for www.rockrivertrail.com. With lightning-quick work by Webmaster Foster, the premiere of the website was posted just a few hours before the seminar. Please visit us every week for new information. For example, as of deadline on Tuesday, additional resource information was posted concerning the history and resources for micro-hydro design. Please go to the “Happening Now” section of rockrivertimes.com for the original press release for Rock River Micro Hydro Power Contest.

Foster and Smith are always hard at work on the website. Smith provided new content for many counties, including new canoe trail maps, new campsite listings, hiking and biking trails, new greenways plans, park maps, new resources such as canoe launch construction guides, common signage for many purposes, economic impact studies, highway and street routes, and a pretty complete map of all Winnebago County’s Trail assets. As noted, most significantly, Dane County was added as the 11th county on the Rock River, so watch for future postings on that county’s attractions and other new information each week.

We had some great guests who also accompanied us to Beloit to help with the presentation.

The new sponsors of the Trail’s website, Dan Lordon and Walter Loos, owners of Paddle and Trail outfitters, were also present to offer their support. Loos spoke of Paddle and Trail’s operations and stores at Lake Koshkonong, Beloit, and Rockford—and announce their new touring bus. He also noted their new operation at Rockford Park District’s Sinnissippi Park and another Rockford store coming to the River District in the former Junior Achievement Building, just south of the Nicholas Conservatory. Watch these pages for updates and click on their new ad in www.rockrivertrail.com.

At Winnebago County Board Chairman Scott Christiansen’s request, the Director for Winnebago County Regional Planning and Development Sue Mroz presented Visit Beloit with a new book on Winnebago County and spoke of the county’s commitment to renewable energy, shown by ongoing work at Freedom Field, and the commitment of the county to the trail as shown by the extensive work of WinGIS Director Burnie Turner in producing ever-evolving maps of the Rock River. Turner and the amazing WinGIS staff added Dane County to the map of the Rock River in just two days when it was pointed out by Drs. Bob and Sonia Vogl of Friends of the Rock River that part of Lake Koshkonong had been excluded from the map and was part of Dane County. Also, the  Yahara River drains the four lakes of Madison, Wis. into the Rock River as a tributary, just above Janesville, Wis.

Drs. Vogl are familiar to our readers as our columnists and their leadership of the Illinois Renewable Energy Association (IREA), established in the late 1990s. In the late 1980s, their naturalist backgrounds and championing of the local environment culminated in their founding the Friends of the Rock, which also was one of the sponsors of this year’s Winnebago County Green  Business Awards. The Trail’s consultant from the National Park Service, Jeff Obirek, recommended becoming a federal 501 (c)(3) entity, and so the Vogls graciously offered to include the Rock River Trail Project as part of Friends of the Rock, a great and logical fit for all. The Friends of the Rock’s  long-time goals have been very much augmented by the Rock River Trail’s vision for water control and quality on the entire Rock River.

Another great guest on behalf of the trail at the seminar and advising of the processes of the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate, Congressman Don Manzullo’s Deputy Chief of Staff Bryan Davis noted the many possibilities of the Trail and announced the upcoming legislative meeting that will be held in Rockford early next year.

Our Congressman Don Manzullo and his staff have agreed to the goal of making the Rock River the cleanest river in the nation by 2030. The following will be the three major topics of that meeting and the second annual meeting on Earth Day.

Uniform dam Portages for all 19 dams of the Rock River and protection of water control and quality and of the Native American effigy mounds and cultural sites on the Rock River.

A Request For Proposals/Bids (RFP/B) will be published in newspapers of record in all 11 counties. This can be county by county only, or for the entire system.

Incorporating the basic principles of Conservation Design, the Uniform Dam Portages’ RFP/B will give specifications for:

1. Warning and directional signage

2. Approach channels created by anchored and solar-powered, LED-lighted buoys, cabled together to create a safety channel leading to each dam’s takeout area. The challenge is to produce this new product in the 11 counties of the Rock River.

3. Low-impact, solar-powered, LED lighting system for the entire facility.

4. Construction of takeout landing, path, and launch with natural rock or permeable pavement.

5. Canoe cart system.

6. Recycling and regular waste containers.

7. One picnic table made of recycled material at takeout and launch area.

8. Information kiosk for local attractions, resources, lodging, and downstream course.

Proposed budget for each dam: $250,000, provided by federal funds, totaling $4.75 million for all 19 dams. Costs above this amount to be provided by local fund raising.  If a dam’s portage comes in under budget, the remaining funds must be used for regional advertising/promotion for the Rock River Trail. It is hoped, we can get our state governors, representatives and senators on board to help with all the above, as well as the scenic drive, hiking and biking signage and routes.

All of this information is posted or will be posted at www.rockrivertrail.com.

In our first meeting on the Trail with our northern neighbors on the Rock River, another major priority of the Rock River Trail Project was stressed: to improve the water quality of the mainstream and tributaries in both states.

As the vice-president of the Board of Directors of the Quad Cities Waterkeepers, I am very aware that the Illinois course of the Rock River is particularly challenged.

Accordingly, the evolving goals of the Rock River Trail’s vision for water control and quality on the entire Rock River are:

1. Establishing communication lines between the owners/operators of the 19 dams of the Rock River for stormwater control to alleviate flooding. These communication lines could be utilized for the levels of the recreational pools on the river as well.

2. A discussion of returning smaller tributaries to their original state.

3. The feasibility of restoring, protecting and expanding wetlands.

4. The feasibility of shoreline cleansing pools to filter and clear the water.

5. A commitment to the preservation of farmland, as well as the prevention of flooding through the sale of agricultural land credits or agricultural easements attached to deeds to contain urban sprawl.

6. The promotion of organic farming standards on agricultural lands adjacent to the streambed.

7. The planting of prairie grasses that will not drown during flooding season in buffer zones on both shores of the river wherever possible to absorb and filter agricultural phosphorus, ammonia and nitrate runoff, as well as various toxic runoff in urban areas.

8. A program to promote adoption of strong Conservation Design Ordinances on the local and county levels along the entire Rock River.

9. The establishment of 57 water quality monitoring sites on the 285 miles of the Rock River, or one station for every 5 miles of the mainstream. These sites would be maintained by area students and local volunteers. Local elementary, high-school and college students and their instructors will be recruited as volunteers for these monitoring sites, with basic and advanced levels of testing being offered as educational and data gathering processes.

10. As an IREA board member and one of the major sponsors for the yearly Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair, this Aug. 13 & 14, 2011, at the Ogle County Fairgrounds, I announced that a press release has been sent out to media outlets up and down the Rock River announcing a student/professional design competition for most powerful micro-hydro, shore-station generator. The winners will be announced at the Winnebago County Green Business Awards Oct. 6, 2011. Again, that press release is on our websites.

We have an inventory of all the effigy mounds on the Rock River, as well as former village sites. I and all the board members of the Native American Awareness Committee are actively collecting more information all the time. We will not publish this list until we know these sites will be protected. Congressman Manzullo’s office is looking into the process of making the violation of such sites a federal crime.

The above are the major points that will be discussed at the legislative meeting early next year and at the Rock River conference on Earth Day, April 22, 2011.

Last Thursday, three major challenges/opportunities were made to the concerned citizens of Rock County at seminar:

1. Build new campsites for the on the river. I spoke of what we did in Winnebago County with the help of Winnebago County, City of Rockford, Winnebago County Forest Preserves, the Rockford Park District, WinGIS, and the Native American Awareness Committee. We now have 17 new campsites in four new groups on the Rock and Kishwaukee rivers for travelers on the Rock River Trail.

The area at the confluence of Turtle Creek and the Rock River was once a major Native American village that has a rich history. I can’t think of a better site for new campgrounds, and Beloit residents tell me  land is available there for new campsites.

I spoke with Beloit’s Parks and Leisure Services Director Brian Ramsey and offered a meeting with Rockford Park District staff. Ron Butler, our park district’s operations director, said he’d be glad to meet with the Beloit Park District to offer the costs and methods of our efforts.

2. Promote the Rock River Micro Hydro Power Contest and the creation of a new renewable energy river buoy in the educational institutions, professional design groups and manufacturers in Rock County. What a great leader Beloit College could be in such an effort!

3. Send us material to post in the Rock County section of the Trail’s website—it’s free!

Think about all the possibilities from eco-tourism to green project listing to Black Hawk War tours to birding, hiking, biking and canoe trips.

We will post any official information for Rock County: county or city land-use or greenways plans, natural resource inventories,  portage information and routes for area dams, public and private campsites, delineated hiking and biking trails along the river, outfitters, marinas, cultural attractions, B&Bs, hotels, restaurants, Native American cultural sites (mounds, former village locations, ceremonial areas) and city, county or state parks on the shore of the river.

If possible, maps composed in GIS (geographic information systems) or CAD/CAM (computer-aided design and computer-aided manufacturing) formats are preferred. CDs or printed materials may be sent to The Rock River Times, ATTN: Morgan Smith, 128 N. Church St., Rockford, IL 61101. We wish to represent everyone on the shores of our beautiful river.

We look forward to meeting more of our neighbors, listening to your ideas, and discussing cooperative approaches to our common concerns. Please attend the Second Annual Rock River Trail Conference at Rockford’s Clock Tower Inn and Co Co Key Water Resort, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Friday, April 22, 2011.

Thanks to all who attended the VisionBeloit seminar, and special thanks to the great work of Therese Oldenburg.

Please visit www.rockrivertrail.com every week. You’ll never know what we might post next—the Rock River Trail is already established—you can “drive it, hike it, bike it, kayak it, canoe it”—today! Get outside. Nature’s good for us—be good to Nature. Merry Christmas! We’ll have a great time on the Rock River Trail next year.

From the Dec. 22-28, 2010 issue

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