Rock River kayakers complete 320-mile journey down Rock River
By Jim Hagerty
The first kayak trip from the headwaters of the Rock River to the mighty Mississippi since the Rock River Trail was added to the National Water Trails System is in the books.
Maranatha Baptist University students Jake Boucher and Jon Gress, along with their friend, Garrett Feik, paddled into Sunset Marina Tuesday, May 27, two days ahead of schedule to complete the trip.
“We are looking forward to spending time with family and enjoying their company,” Boucher said.
During the past two weeks, the men floated through the solitude of the woods as the Rock took them through 37 municipalities along the trail. It wasn’t all peaceful early on, however.
Just as angry as the sea when George Costanza pulled a Kramer-pounded Titleist from a beached whale’s blowhole, a furious Lake Koshkonong was an old man returning soup at a deli. Strong winds and the chop of the big lake made for a treacherous paddle; and the men sought assistance to continue from Ft. Atkinson, Wis., toward Illinois. But, that would be the end of inclemency. From Wisconsin, it was smooth sailing, or in this case, smooth paddling.
As Boucher, Feik and Gress passed through Rockford Wednesday, May 21, they were met by Rock River Trail Founder Frank Schier, the Rockford Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, and the grandeur of the Rockford riverfront. They made stops at several downtown locations, including Nicholas Conservatory, Prairie Street Brewhouse and Blackhawk Park, before continuing their push to Rock Island, Ill.
South of the Forest City, the Rock River banks are know for its historic aura, perhaps left in the footprints of Black Hawk as he fought to preserve the gifts of the valley. There, the travelers, along with Schier, mulled how to continue to preserve what Schier bottled when he founded the trail in 2010.
“We all had a roundtable discussion on what we hope to see become of the Rock River,” Feik said. “There’s a lot of work to be done, but with the Rock River Trail leading the way, we foresee great things in the future for our Rock River.”
From Lowden State Park, Gress, Feik and Boucher paddled through Dixon and Rock Falls, Ill., where they received keys to the city. Como, Prophetstown, Erie and Barstow followed before they emerged at Sunset Marina in Rock Island Tuesday afternoon.
The 320-mile trip is the first on record since Rockford photographer Nels Akerlund paddled the entire Rock in 1994.
“I congratulate the guys for being the first to complete the trail in 20 years,” Schier said. “They showed that it is possible to do it in just two weeks. It shows anyone from the general public that this is a great vacation opportunity. Their trip also heightens the awareness of the communities along the Rock River Trail that we need to complete the signage for dams and access points for safety purposes and for good branding of the trail as the economic and tourism tool that it is. Again, congratulations Jon, Jake and Garrett. Great job!”
Rock River Trail Coordinator Greg Farnham noted: “I am most impressed with the perseverance and the commitment of these three young men. Their demonstration of gratitude along with the warm welcome of folks in the communities along the trail has been very exciting.”
Boucher added: “At first, we were just doing this for fun. But now that we may have set or broken some kind of record [first to complete the trip since 1994], it kind of changes things.
“I used to kayak a lot in high school, but it’s been hard to do it in college,” he said. “But this trip has really been a shot in the arm. I am certainly not sick of kayaking.”
The trip has been a fund-raiser for Maranatha Baptist University, where Boucher and Gress are students. Feik is enrolled at Western Illinois University.
Send donations to:
Maranatha Baptist University Sabercats
745 West Main St.
Watertown, WI 53094
From the May 28-June 3, 2014, issue