Rock River Trail gains National Water Trails status! April 4, 2013

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, DC.

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.

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 Frank Schier of Rockford, Ill., founder and coordinator of the Rock River Trail Initiative.

“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 WIN-GIS for their continuing contributions on mapping.  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.”

Information on the National Water Trails System is available at