Meet the Neighbors Conference a success

For the second time in history, all 11 counties along the Rock River were represented Thursday, April 28, for the Rock River Trail Meet the Neighbors Conference, held at the Clock Tower Resort.

After an opening ceremony by Terry “Standing Buffalo” Reynolds and Dennis “White Bear” Dillard of the Native American Awareness Committee, host Frank Schier, who founded the Rock River Trail in 2010, introduced a dozen speakers who gave updates on ongoing improvements to the river and future developments of the trail. Schier also gave presentations about Rock River campsites and dams, and presented the 50 in attendance with an overview of accomplishments since last year’s Creating the Rock River Trail conference.

Since founding the trail, Schier and partners of the Rock River Trail Initiative have championed the trail to several lawmakers to push for national recognition. In February, U.S. Reps. Don Manzullo (R-16), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and Bobby Schilling (R-17) participated in a legislative briefing on the Rock River Trail. Each saw tremendous value in the project, which aims to bring historic, economic and recreational awareness along the 285 miles of the Rock River.

Earlier this month, Schier hand-delivered 10,000 oak saplings along the river. Each county received 910 trees. Among the saplings were bur oak, white oak, red oak and swamp oak. Those who took advantage of the giveaway agreed to plant the trees within sight of the Rock River.

“We all have 10,000 new trees along our river,” Schier said during the morning session.

Other morning speakers included Burpee Natural History Museum Executive Director Dr. Alan Brown, Lake Sinissippi (Wis.) Commissioner Greg Farnham and University of Wisconsin Extension’s Rock River Basin Educator Suzanne Wade. Each shared information about how their respective efforts will help improve the Rock River Trail vision of developing far-reaching partnerships to preserve the region.

Winnebago County Board Chairman Scott Christiansen (R) welcomed afternoon speakers. Presenters included Nathan Hill from the Rockford Park District, who gave updates about area dam maintenance and fish passages; Winnebago County Highway Department Engineer Joe Vanderwerff, who presented the importance of Illinois House Bill HJR 27 and how it will play a part in Rock River Trail signage; and City of Rockford Capital Program Manager Pat Zuroske, who is a point person on the Rockford Riverwalk. The Riverwalk, a brainchild of Rockford Mayor Larry Morrissey (I), will be a walking path stretching from Burpee Museum to Klehm Arboretum, as it winds through downtown along the banks of the Rock River.

“This isn’t something we have on the shelf,” Zuroske said. “We have been actively working on this project, and it will become a reality.”

Construction on the Rockford Riverwalk is slated to begin in July and be completed next year.

The event concluded with a presentation of the Mississippi River Coordinating Council, presented by Dorothy Oliver, senior policy adviser to Illinois Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon and a closing prayer by Mac “Spotted Horse” MacVenn from the Native American Awareness Committee.

More information about the Rock River Trail is at rockrivertrail.com. Renderings and construction schedules for the Rockford Riverwalk are at ci.rockford.il.us.

From the May 4-10, 2011 issue of The Rock River Times