Rock River Trail gains National Water Trails status!

This plaque was received at the offices of The Rock River Times Tuesday, April 10, 2013. It designates The Rock River Water Trail as part of the National Water Trail System. Signed March 11, 2013, by Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and Director of the National Park Service Jonathan B. Jarvis, the Rock River is now are on the same status level as the Lake Michigan Water Trail and the Appalachian Trail. (Photo by Frank Schier)

Staff Report

The Rock River Water Trail has been designated into the National Water Trails System by Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, according to an announcement by the National Park Service in Washington, D.C. The official letter of designation and plaque have been received by the trail’s founder and coordinator, Frank Schier, editor and publisher of this paper.

The National Water Trails System is a distinctive national network of exemplary water trails of local and regional significance that are cooperatively supported and sustained. The trails system has been established to protect and restore America’s rivers, shorelines and waterways and to increase access to outdoor recreation on shorelines and waterways.

We are extremely pleased and honored to have been designated a national water trail, “said Greg Farnham of Hustisford, Wis., coordinator of the Rock River Trail Initiative, and an elected commissioner of the Lake Sinissippi Lake District.

Trails in the National Water Trail System must meet four criteria for national recreation trails plus incorporate seven best management practices.

For the past two years, our management council has worked closely with the Wisconsin and Illinois departments of Natural Resources and the National Park Service Rivers and Trails Program in Milwaukee and Chicago to establish a water trail on the Rock River,” explained Farnham. “We understand that the Rock River Water Trail is the first national water trail in both Wisconsin and Illinois.”

The Rock River Water Trail links 11 counties in both states along the 320-mile river course, from the headwaters above the Horicon Marsh in Fond du Lac and Dodge counties to the confluence with the Mississippi River at Rock Island, Illinois. The water trail is a delineated path on the river that connects access sites, resting places and attractions for users of water craft.

During the planning process, our council members contacted each of the counties, municipalities, park districts and park departments along the river,” said Schier.

It is remarkable that it has occurred so quickly. We had our first meeting in February 2010 with two other major meetings and many subsequent local information sessions and council meetings. We spoke with community organizations with interests in public health, resource conservation, public recreation, tourism and economic development along the Rock River. The water trail is truly a locally-supported effort.

Special thanks go to the City of Rockford for its significant signage contributions; to the Rockford Park District for its many contributions to the project; and to Winnebago County and members of WINGIS for their continuing contributions on mapping. The staff at this paper spent many hours on this effort; I am truly blessed to benefit from their talents. This support was essential in gaining this designation.

Mr. Farnham and council member David Scheiber started writing the plan a year ago and submitted it to the Department of the Interior and the National Park Service in October,” Schier added.

Mr. Farnham and I also thank all the other members of the Rock River Trail Initiative Council for their time and effort: Carles and Dorothy Brown, Sheila De Forest, Dave Druen, Bill Ehlenbeck, Dick Flynn, Candice Holbrook, Jim Kerler, Tom Lindblade, Dean Mathias, Joe Nehmer, Webbs Norman, Chris Ontiveros, Chad Pregracke, Joleen Stinson, Loren Swartley, Debbie Thompson, Robert Vogl, Erin Folk, Lori Williams and our newest Council member Duward Inch.”

Benefits of the designation include national promotion and visibility, with use of the National Water Trails System logo, and opportunities to obtain technical assistance and funding for planning and implementing water trail projects.

The National Park Service has found that as a result of designation, national water trails can provide tangible benefits to river communities,” added Farnham.

These benefits include a positive economic impact from increased tourism, assistance with sustainability projects, increased protection for outdoor recreation and water resources, and contributions to public health and quality of life from maintaining and restoring watershed resources.”

Farnham and Schier emphasized that achievement of national water trail designation highlights the collaborative process of local community interest, support and participation along the river.

We really appreciate how extensively the 11 counties, 37 cities and villages and many local organizations have stepped forward to affirm the Rock River as a vital natural resource and backbone for local recreational, cultural and historical interests, and economic and community development activities, as embodied by their 110 letters of support,” they added.

What a wonderful achievement for all concerned.”

The letter that was received with the official plaque reads:



March 11, 2013

Mr. Frank Schier

Founder, Rock River Trail Initiative

128 North Church Street

Rockford, Illinois 61101

Dear Mr. Schier:

I am writing to inform you that I have designated the Rock River Water Trail as a part of the National Water Trails System.This recognition places the Rock River Water Trail in a distinctive national network of exemplary water trails and commends the efforts of the local community and its partners in promoting active involvement in the conservation of our water resources. The Rock River Water Trail is a paragon in a growing movement to connect Americans to their rivers, lakes, and coastal waters.

The expansion of water trails across the Nation is important to a sustainable future for the environment, our local communities, and the economy. Culture, commerce, and our natural environment are inextricably connected by these trails. The effort to conserve and connect to these treasured waterways unites us to our natural and cultural inheritances.

With the outstanding management and accomplishments of Rock River Water Trail, your mentorship and guidance will undoubtedly contribute to the success of the National Water Trails System. Thank you for your leadership.


Ken Salazar

A celebratory opening ceremony is being planned by the Rock River Trail Initiative Council, and will be discussed at their next quarterly meeting, to be held April 19, 1 p.m., at Oregon’s Maxon’s Manor. The meeting is open to the public.

Information about the National Water Trails System is available at
The website of the Rock River Trail is

From the April 10-16, 2013, issue

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