By Drs. Robert & Sonia Vogl
On a sunny Saturday morning in June, over 100 people gathered on the banks of the Rock River in Beloit to dedicate the Rock River Trail system and to honor its founder, the late Frank Schier. Beloit was chosen for the ceremony since it is halfway between the beginning and the end of the Rock.
Theresa Oldenburg, member of the Trail Board of Directors, opened the program by welcoming all to the celebration and reminding them of what a special accomplishment it was to obtain a National designation for the multi-purpose trail – not only water for canoeing and kayaking – but also a biking, hiking and driving trail; an air trail; and multiple special interest routes, including chocolate and art trails. Representatives of the interests held signs that represented the many aspects of the trail.
Joseph Standing Bear Schranz, a member of the White Earth Reservation in Minnesota, invited the audience to join him as he offered a moving blessing reminding all of the sacredness of the Earth and its gifts and of the sacred gift of the Rock River. Beginning with the east representing the beginning and moving through the north representing the end of life, he led them through the journey as his assistant wafted sacred sage smoke meant to purify what it touched.
Four members of the air trail association flew in formation overhead.
When a small gray cloud poured rain, which stopped as soon as everyone was indoors and the sun returned, friends commented that it was “so Frankie!” It would have been his kind of joke if he could have done it.
Greg Farnham, Coordinator of the Rock River Trail Initiative, presented the seven-year history of the making of the Trail, assisted by Sheila De Forest, Beloit City Councilor, and Ted Rehl, Mayor of the City of South Beloit.
The Wisconsin State Assembly passed a resolution last month recognizing the Trail and the contributions of its founder. Amy Loudenbeck, 31st District Representative, and Mark Spreitzer, 45th District Representative, presented the Plaque and Memorial Paddle, to be displayed in a place of honor.
The 320 Mile Awards were presented to three students who had paddled the entire length of the River.
Keynote speaker and photographer Nels Ackerlund, who published Our Rock River, a coffee table book about his journey with his father on the Rock in 1994, related tales of friendship and hospitality that he encountered in every city and town along the way. He is also known as the youngest man to canoe the entire length of the Mississippi.
Amy Madigan and George Bellovics of the Illinois DNR and Angie Tornes of the Milwaukee office of the National Park Service praised the Trail and the accomplishments of those involved in making it happen.
Throughout the program, Frank Schier, whose love of the River led him to establish the trail and whose perseverance helped him through the entire arduous process, was honored. His love of nature not only motivated him to establish the trail with safety signage for paddlers, it led him to distribute 65,000 native oak trees to be planted along the River corridor to help restore the ecology of the region. Unfortunately, Frank did not “get there with us,” but his greatest accomplishment stands as a memorial to what loving dedication can achieve.
The program ended, as many do, with a ceremonial ribbon cutting. R.
For more information visit rockrivertrail.com.
Drs. Robert and Sonia Vogl are the President and Vice President of the Illinois Renewable Energy Association.