By Shauna Ubersox
Winding along the Rock River, the bike path (formally titled Rock River Recreation Path) is a permanent and popular fixture of Rockford life. On any given day, pedestrians will be walking their dogs, jogging or taking their children out for some sun; bikers and rollerbladers whiz by and in-between fellow path users. A plaque along the path defines the area as the “Bicentennial Bike Path,” which was dedicated in 1977.
The area, green and in bloom at this time of year, is a great spot to walk and relax. Those who have grown up in Rockford will always fondly recognize the many permanent features. For example, walking past (or under) Symbol, the 47-foot-tall red-orange sculpture that still confuses Rockfordians.
At a whopping 30 tons, Symbol was created by Alexander Liberman, a Russian-American artist whose towering steel structures are displayed worldwide. Liberman was commissioned by the City of Rockford to create an iconic sculpture that could be recognized as belonging to the city.
The sculpture, originally erected in 1978 at the intersection of West State and Wyman, cost $117,216. When its original location at the intersection became open to traffic again in 1984, the sculpture was disassembled and then reassembled at its current location along the bike path.
“I used red because, first of all, it stands out against the gray of cities, that’s the primary reason. Also, I just like red,” said Liberman, in a 1986 interview with Bomb magazine. “I think red increases the dynamics of form. I attempt as much as I can in my sculptures to have a sense of elevation, of thrust, directional thrust.”
The Rock Guardians of Rockford, created by artist Terese Agnew in 1988, are an intimidating presence in granite and concrete. Four of them stand in a semi-circle, each in a different pose. The Rock Guardians are one of the path’s more recognizable features, having been around for some time.
Other notable sculptures along the path include “Suspended Motion,” installed at Sinnissippi in 2004; “Inlet Markers,” installed in 1990; “The Flame,” now outside Nicholas Conservatory; and the “Sinnissippi Guardians,” installed in 2009.
The most recent sculptures are “Dancers,” by artist O.V. Shaffer; “Anemotive Kinetic,” by Robert Mangold; “Coneflowers,” by Joe Mongan; and “Sight Seeing,” by J. Seward Johnson Jr.
Another memorable fixture — a more natural one — is, of course, the ducks and geese. Walking in early June, one could see the goslings flocking together with their parents on the grass. When you disturb them, if they do not come at you, they rush into the water; possibly the least savory thing about the bike path is the lovely presents the geese leave behind, though that’s just an occupational hazard of being in nature.
Parking is available in more than one way along the path. Parking lots are available near the YMCA on Madison; multiple parking lots are accessible via North Second Street. For posterior parking, the path is scattered with lots of benches. Many of the benches are dedicated to or for a specific person or group. Trees, rocks and memorials are also dedicated to the memories of various loved ones.
Much of the path’s attractions are under construction at present: the Sinnissippi Eclipse Lagoon, under construction since October 2011, is in the process of renovating and restructuring the lagoon area.
Once the $1.4 million lagoon is completed by the end of this summer, it will boast a new patio area, waterfall and pedestrian bridge. Early June finds the lagoon area still fenced off along a long stretch of the path, making it difficult for visitors to enter the gazebo area — it is possible to enter the gazebos, but there is no way out once you reach the other side.
The newest and largest attraction is distinctly Nicholas Conservatory & Gardens, the third-largest conservatory in the state. The conservatory encompasses more than 20,000 square feet, 11,000 of which are dedicated to a plant exhibition area. The plant exhibition has a tropical setting, and holds water features, seating areas and sculptures.
The conservatory hosts guests year round, featuring educational programs and field trips for children, workshops and series of lectures for adults, and allows patrons to host events for their group or business. They also have an indoor gift shop, called “Garden Gate Gifts,” for guests to peruse.
While many people have complained about bikers, visiting on a June afternoon found only a couple of cyclists, who were courteous and avoided pedestrians. It was great to see so many visitors — dog-walkers, mothers with their children, individuals in transit.
There was little garbage, everything was fresh, and there was even a snack stand set up. Many people were stopping to look at the sites under construction, including a new dock projecting into the Rock River, which is to be completed this month.
The grounds were well kept, and though much of the park’s main attractions were closed for the time being, it was nice to be able to enjoy time outside in a good environment. Rockford’s Park District always does a good job with their upkeep and maintenance. The Sinnissippi bike path is a great way to draw visitors into the downtown area, and its Rockford landmark status gives the city a good accreditation to its name.
From the June 13-19, 2012, issue