U.S. Reps. Manzullo, Baldwin, Schilling to hold legislative briefing on Rock River Trail

From press release

U.S. Reps. Don Manzullo (R16-Ill.), Tammy Baldwin (D2-Wis.) and Bobby Schilling (R17-Ill.) will meet Thursday, Feb. 3, at Burpee Museum of Natural History, 737 N. Main St., Rockford,  to discuss a new 11-county initiative to improve the Rock River eco-system, promote eco-tourism and market recreational opportunities along the river corridor.

U.S. Senate and other U.S. congressional staff from the area will be joined by state representatives and senators from Illinois and Wisconsin, and various regulatory agencies to learn about several proposals included in the Rock River Trail Initiative (RRTI). Although the event is not open to the public, the media are invited to attend and cover the briefing.

The RRTI proposals concern the safety of the Rock River’s 19 dams, codification of trail routes and sites, water quality and buffer zones, and historic preservation and promotion. Additionally, Living Lands and Waters’ Chad Pregracke will present a major gift to the RRTI, Illinois and Wisconsin.

The focus of the RRTI—whose parent organization is Friends of the Rock, a 501 (c)(3) organization—is founding a National Scenic, Recreational and Historic Trail along the 285 miles of the Rock River, from its source above the Horicon Marsh in Wisconsin to its mouth at the Quad Cities in Illinois, as a tributary to the Mississippi. This new federal trail would promote eco-tourism, provide jobs, stimulate local economies, improve environmental conditions and educate citizens about the rich Native American cultural heritage along the river, ranging from the Black Hawk War to Hopewell Culture effigy mounds and various Native American village sites.

Begun in February 2010, the RRTI already has several elements of federal recognition. Because the RRTI is partially modeled after the Appalachian Trail, the National Forest Service granted the use of the outline of the Appalachian Trail logo. The RRTI has also attained a Consultancy Grant for one year from the National Park Service’s (NPS) Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance Program. The RRTI’s consultant, NPS Midwest Region Outdoor Planner Jeff Obirek, told Frank Schier, the trail’s founder, “Organizing and building the trail and amenities along the Rock River can benefit communities in Illinois and Wisconsin by enhancing their environmental awareness, giving a healthy place to recreate outdoors, and improving community pride and enjoyment.”

Schier said: “I have been canoeing the largely unknown wonders of the Rock River for 25 years. My goal in creating the Rock River Trail is so anyone can drive it, hike it, bike it, canoe it, kayak it and explore its amazing history in a safe and clearly directed way. Think of the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail and the Appalachian National Scenic Trail. The 285 miles of the main stream of the Rock River runs through 11 beautiful counties in Wisconsin and Illinois, and we certainly can attain the ‘Scenic,’ ‘Recreational’ and ‘Historic’ federal trail designations because we have those assets!”

Really, the trail already exists. Visit www.rockrivertrail.com. Explore the site. All the signage necessary has been created. The dams are listed. Partnerships are under way, and more can be created. City and county maps, websites and attractions are listed and updated upon request. More than 28 camping areas exist on the river. Every county has its hotels, motels, B&Bs, grocery stores, restaurants, pharmacies, marinas, outfitters, parks, historical sites, educational facilities, boat ramps, river walks, hiking and biking trails and roads along the Rock River. The RRTI is the first attempt to declare and inventory these assets, publicize them, and ask the various governmental entities to connect the gaps between cities and counties, utilizing existing federal, state, county and local resources.

“Meet the neighbors; we all live on our Rock River!” said Schier. “I am very proud to watch history being made. We held the first meeting in history of all the counties and cities on April 16 at the Best Western Clock Tower Resort & Conference Center and CoCo Key Water Resort. Through the contributions and good offices of Winnebago County’s WinGIS agencies, we have made the first satellite map denoting all 19 dams, 28 camping areas and many access and lodging sites on the Rock River. This is a very pastoral, yet strong, river that is wasting away in our own back yards, tremendously underutilized, unprotected and under-appreciated.”

Sadly unknown, in many cases, and under-appreciated, are the many and hidden former prehistoric and Woodland Native American village sites up and down the Rock River. More well known, but underpromoted, are the many mysterious effigy mounds in the forms of thunderbirds, panthers, deer, bears, direct north-south lines, cones, and turtles along the banks of the Rock River, created by the lost Adena/Hopewell civilization (1,000 BC-500 AD). The Black Hawk War brought the region to the nation’s attention in 1832, but it is largely unknown for its two soldiers who would become presidents on opposing sides of the Civil War. The course of this war’s battles goes from the Quad Cities, up the Rock River, to its tributary, the Yahara River, and through the four lakes of Madison, Wis., to the tragedy at the Mississippi. These timeless elements are any history traveler’s dream, but we have not organized our value of this richly-storied heritage. This heritage can be visited right now by car, by foot, by bike or by water. What an opportunity for community marketing! We must protect these sites!

This tremendous opportunity exists, and the effort is under way to create a major new route for eco-tourism that will stress environmental quality and protection, and at the same time potentially build a new, “old-fashioned” river trading network up and down the length of the Rock River, strengthening the local businesses and tax bases in these challenging economic times. Please assist the Rock River Trail Initiative. This is the first time many of these legislators, staff, regulatory agencies and staff will meet their Rock River neighbors.

Two of our neighbors to the south will also make an announcement of a major contribution to the RRTI and Wisconsin. Quad Cities Waterkeeper Art Norris (whom our readers know as a regular columnist, quadcitieswaterkeeperuppermississippi.org/) will introduce, Living Lands and Waters’ Chad Pregracke. The announcement is a joint venture between the two organizations.

Internationally renowned, Pregracke’s website, www.livinglandsandwaters.org, states: “In 1998, at the age of 23, Chad founded Living Lands & Waters, a not-for-profit organization based in East Moline, Ill., dedicated to cleaning up and preserving our nation’s rivers. Today, the organization has grown to include 10 full-time employees and a fleet of four barges, a towboat, six workboats, two skid steers, five work trucks and a large box truck. With this equipment, the crew is able to travel and work in an average of nine states a year along the Mississippi, Illinois, Ohio, Missouri, and Potomac rivers, as well as many of their tributaries. Since the project’s inception, Chad, his crew, and more than 60,000 volunteers have collected more than 6 million pounds of debris from our nation’s greatest rivers. Most recently, Chad expanded the mission of the organization to include Big River Educational Outreach, The Million Trees Project, and the Adopt-a-River Mile programs.”

Along with many local, state, regional and national honors nominations and awards, Pregracke has been featured on the Sundance Channel and CBS.

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