A brief history of the Friends of the Rock River
By Dr. Robert VoglIn 1991, both the Friends of the Fox River and the Friends of the Rock River were established. The organizer of the Friends of the Fox asked us to meet with him. That led to a meeting with Lt. Gov. Kustra in Chicago a short time later. Kustra served with Jim Edgar from 1991 until his resignation in 1998. When we learned he was a fly fisherman interested in water quality we met with him and asked him if he would back our efforts to set up a citizen water quality monitoring network which he agreed to do.
Kustra set up a meeting with State officials (probably the EPA) including a member of the Illinois Water Survey. The officials were reluctant to back such an effort initially but finally agreed to implement it. Their stated fear was that data collected by citizens would lack reliability and not be useful for any court case the state might become involved in. State regulations are based on chemical assessments and our interest was in biological indicators of environmental quality.
Soon after that meeting a citizen water quality effort was underway. Sonia and I were told we would serve as consultants to the project but that role was assigned to other interests and we were out of the loop. Al Stenstrup, a former student of ours from the Wisconsin DNR , attended our Illinois meeting to get a sense of what could be done in Wisconsin.
We then held a public meeting at the Byron Forest Preserve which was well attended and gained the attention of the DNR. However, other interests jumped on the idea and sponsored similar meetings following ours at Byron and in Wisconsin usurping our role as the initiators of the action. One meeting was sponsored by agricultural interests and another by a Rockford environmental organization. Lacking time and resources, we refocused our interests on Ogle County.
The man who started the Friends of the Fox became frustrated with the lack of financial support for his efforts and suddenly moved out of state. Fortunately, others took over the operation which continues on in its mission. A former student of ours, Gary Swick, is listed as vice-president. We will ask him to meet us in Rockford to discuss their efforts.
The Friends of the Rock then took on the mission of trying to protect the unique beauty of the Rock River in Ogle County and developed a report which it submitted to the county board. We received little support from the board although some concepts were picked up in the county zoning ordinances. When conservation interests obtained Illinois Gov. George Ryan’s support for C2000, for the next 10 years we focused our activities on preserving natural areas in Ogle County. In cooperation with other organizations we secured both land and conservation easements through funds from C2000. We might have a list of the properties and if we do not perhaps the DNR has such records.
Around that time, DNR purchased the land held by Warren and Philip Miller along the Rock River. It is now known as the Lowden Miller State Forest and is a very significant holding as the 2000 acre forest is across the river from the 2000 acre Castle Rock State Park. Warren is a friend of ours whom we met at the University of Michigan and interacted with when he was with the Illinois EPA. We socialized with him and his late wife Nancy when they lived in Ogle County.
Knowing they were active in historic preservation in the Pullman community, we encouraged them to become involved in historic preservation in Oregon. They bought a building now known as Washington Corner in Oregon which they did an excellent job restoring. Their efforts at historic preservation in Oregon ended when their effort to set up an historic district was defeated by the city council.
Warren always expressed an interest in having their lands preserved for perpetuity and succeeded in so doing. The Ogle County Prairie Preservation Society recently purchased an 83 acre parcel of sand prairie from him.
The Friends of the Fox River website: friendsofthefoxriver.org.