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Guest Column: Freedoms being denied by alcohol ban at Kish access sites

June 13, 2012

By Steven H. Larsen
Larsen’s Landing Outfitters

The possession of alcohol has been banned at certain launch areas in the Winnebago County forest preserves. This legislation was passed by our elected officials with very little public discussion or publicity.

Since 2002, Winnebago County’s main objective has been to promote tourism. Public river access within the forest preserve parks draws thousands of tourists every summer.

For the past 10 years, Larsen’s Landing Outfitters has been providing canoe and kayak rentals on the Kishwaukee River. Many of our customers choose to enjoy their trip with a cold can of beer, drinking responsibly, and almost always camping onsite after their river trip. With one stroke of a pen, that has all ended for the only “A”-rated river in northern Illinois.

How about the local resident who wants to share with his child the “silent sport” of paddling or fishing who will no longer be able to crack a cold one and access the river through the forest preserve his hard-earned tax dollars pay for?

From the way the sheriff explained this new law to me, bank fishermen also cannot have alcohol because of the definition of “launch area” or “river access points.” Now, this will only be possible if you are privileged enough to own riverfront property and private river access. I would assume the majority of people whom the new legislation affects do not have that luxury.

It is admirable that a group of individuals (Friends of the Kishwaukee River) are willing to voluntarily promote the stewardship of the river. It is a shame that the governing bodies did not give these stewards the opportunity to address the littering issue and the responsible and respectful use of all of our natural resources. By giving people knowledge and increased awareness, you will most certainly achieve social responsibility.

This region has been nearly decimated by unemployment and a stagnant economy. Because of this, the Kishwaukee River has become a low-cost form of recreation. Rather than ruling with a heavy hand and forcing everyone to suffer the consequences of a very few irresponsible individuals, wouldn’t it be a better idea to educate all users to achieve a better response and, in turn, a higher rate of compliance?

The majority of those who enjoy this river are service industry workers who can’t afford a kayak or canoe that costs as much or more as the car they drive. Is this not a natural resource that belongs to all citizens?

How can we be expected to agree with the county denying our right to passage to the public river access points because they don’t think it’s a good idea anyone be drinking alcohol on the river? Our freedoms are being denied here!

As a business owner, I am concerned the customer base I have been building for the last 10 years will choose to find another river to paddle. It is inaccurate to make a statement that the majority of litter in the river is beer cans. The garbage my customers remove from the river is unbelievable, and you can tell that the larger items came from people’s yards during high water. The biggest surprise is the number of water bottles that are pulled from the river.

This past week was especially hard for me because not only did I have to explain why my customers could not bring beer with them, I also had to explain why the sheriff was there looking through their coolers and personal belongings. Numerous times I overheard moms assuring their children they were safe, and then heard the child ask, “If it is safe, then why are the police here?” These customers will never return to the Rockford area.

The problem of drunken behavior and violence, from what I understand, is mainly on Saturday afternoons at Kishwaukee Forest Preserve. If everyone knows this, why isn’t there a police presence there at this time?

Parking issues have also become a regular problem at launch areas. The users of the river are not to blame for this. Is it not the responsibility as our elected officials for the county board to provide and maintain adequate and acceptable parking for their constituents?

I will bet you a dollar to a doughnut those who voted to address the issues at hand in this manner never gave a second thought to how the person who bags their groceries will spend their time off work with their family and friends if they can no longer enjoy the river responsibly, regardless of alcohol consumption or not.

All users should be made aware of their “CIVIL DUTY” to protect our resources. We need to act responsibly by respecting ourselves, others and our environment. Empower the people through education and awareness.

If we did, we would not be in the position we are in.

Steven H. Larsen is owner of Larsen’s Landing Canoe & Kayak Outfitters, 1951 New Milford School Road, Rockford. Visit www.canoethekish.com for more details.

From the June 13-19, 2012, issue

One Comment

  1. John F Sweeney

    June 15, 2012 at 11:05 am

    For one,the County Board didn’t act at all on this because we do not govern the Forest Preserve District anymore. Secondly, this county board member will be at the next Forest Preserve District Board meeting to express support for your cause David.

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