Rock River Trail Initiative: An update for September 2011

Rock River Trail Initiative: An update for September 2011

By Greg Farnham
RRTI Coordinator
and Frank Schier
RTTI Founder and Coordinator and Editor & Publisher of The Rock River Times

Hello, everyone!

We hope all is well. We’ve been very busy, and we’re glad to say the members and date of the first Rock River Trail Initiative (RRTI) Council meeting will be announced in our October update. We have just a few folks to confirm.

The Rock River Trail Initiative was presented to the Village Board of Hustisford in Dodge County on Aug. 8, and we received a letter of support from Dennis Uecker, village president. Dennis indicated that the river water trail and scenic road route will benefit river communities such as Hustisford and provide recreational opportunities for local residents and tourists alike.

The next day, the initiative was reviewed with representatives of the Dodge Jefferson Healthier Community Partnership in Watertown through the courtesy of Carol Quest, Jodi Langfeldt and Gail Scott, public health officials for the City of Watertown, Dodge County and Jefferson County, respectively. Gail invited us to share details of the proposed recreational water trail with the Jefferson County Board of Health in September.

On the 11th, a meeting was held in Madison with Kevin Connors, director of Dane County Land & Water Resources Department, and his parks, planning and watershed management staff. The department is supportive of the trail initiative and shared information about the Yahara Waterways that will be helpful in planning for the Rock River Water Trail.

The same day, we received word from Joleen Stinson of Rock County Parks that the Rock County Board of Supervisors adopted a support resolution that had been approved earlier by the county Public Works Committee and Parks Advisory Committee. Also, we heard later that day from Sheila De Forest in Beloit, Wis., that the city’s Parks, Recreation and Conservation Commission approved a resolution of support for the trail initiative. The resolution will move to the city Planning Commission and full city council for hoped-for adoption. Aug. 11 was a productive day for the initiative, and our thanks to Joleen, Sheila, Lori Williams, director of Rock County Parks, and Brian Ramsey, director of Beloit Parks and Leisure Services!

John Wilmet, city manager of Fort Atkinson,Wis., provided an important endorsement of our efforts by presenting information on the trail initiative to the city council and recommending adoption of a support resolution, which was enacted Aug. 16. Thank you, John!

Aug. 29 the trail initiative was presented to mayor Jim Grigg and the City Council of Horicon. The council is supportive of the initiative, and Jim indicated that a letter of support will be on the agenda of the next council meeting. The next day in Janesville, a meeting was held with Tom Presny, parks director, and Rebecca Smith, management assistant, of the city. Tom and Rebecca are interested in the trail initiative and have wonderful ideas that will help planning efforts. Tom has arranged for our review of the initiative with the city’s Leisure Services Advisory Committee on Sept. 13. Tom also shared the exciting news that Janesville was selected to host the inaugural World Show Ski Tournament Sept. 15-16, 2012, on the Rock River at Traxler Park.

After leaving Janesville, we traveled to Beloit and met with Brian Ramsey. Brian took time to share the impressive riverfront development in the city, including the John Rose Canoe & Kayak Launch on the Rock River next to Paddle and Trail outfitters. The Beloit bike path connects at the launch site. There are wonderful recreational opportunities for hiking, biking and paddling in Beloit!

In Illinois, Joe Vanderwerff, county engineer of Winnebago County, organized a meeting of highway commissioners and planners of the six counties through which the river flows to finalize highway selection for the Rock River Scenic Route in Illinois. On May 31, the Illinois House of Representatives and Senate adopted Joint Resolution No. 27 designating the Rock River Scenic Route, as offered by state representatives Dave Winters and Patrick Verschoore. The route will take the traveler from the state line at Shirland Avenue and South Bluff Road in Winnebago County along 150 miles of the scenic and historic Rock River corridor to the Mississippi River at Rock Island, where it will connect with the Great River Road National Scenic Byway.

A meeting is planned to reaffirm all the details of this route with all the highway engineers and greenways planner for each county in Illinois on the Rock River. Ogle County Planning & Zoning Administrator Michael Reibel said he’d help to facilitate the meeting. Funding, location and composition of signage for the route will also be discussed at the meeting. Illinois Rep. Dave Winters, who sponsored the bill, said if any changes are required, he’d put the amendments before the legislature in February.

Planners and highway engineers in each of the five Wisconsin counties have volunteered time to review maps and select a set of connecting public highways from the terminus of the Rock River Scenic Route in Illinois at the state line in Beloit to the river headwaters in Fond du Lac and Dodge counties. The recommended highways will form the basis of a proposed scenic and historic Rock River Route in Wisconsin; the proposed route will be reviewed at a series of public informational meetings this fall. We want to thank Paul Benjamin and Rich Cannon of Rock County; Bob Soltau of State Line Area Transportation Study; Bill Kern and Joe Nehmer of Jefferson County; Greg Petersen of Dane County; Josh Prescher, Joyce Fiacco, Bill Ehlenbeck, Brian Field and Pete Thompson of Dodge County; and Sam Tobias and Dick Flynn of Waupun County for their capable assistance with suggested layouts of the road route. Everyone will have an opportunity to offer constructive criticism and recommendations as the project moves forward.

Rich Bernstein of Wisconsin Historical Society offered important information for development of the scenic and historic road route along the river. The websites of the Wisconsin and Illinois historical societies have comprehensive lists of state historic markers and a database of properties listed in the National Register that can be sorted by county. A plan for the road route will have an inventory of existing historic markers and registered properties within the Rock River Valley, and the society websites will be valuable resources. If someone would like to help in the historic inventory search, please let us know. We also learned that new historic markers can be obtained through an application process with the societies. Please keep this in mind as plans develop for the scenic and historic road route. There may be a number of historically-significant assets in municipalities within the river corridor that are worthy of historical recognition and signed with state markers. These efforts will enhance the interest and attractiveness of the Rock River Valley for travelers and tourists.

The trail initiative was reviewed with John Shutske, associate dean of UW-Madison College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and John Petty, division administrator of Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection. Both gentlemen expressed interest to assist with the historic road route through the river corridor by developing an inventory of people, places and events in the Rock River Valley with significance to Wisconsin agriculture. We plan to approach the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the Illinois Department of Agriculture for similar assistance.

Future information meetings are scheduled in Wisconsin with the City of Watertown Parks, Recreation and Forestry Commission; City Council of Jefferson; Village Board of Theresa; Village Board of Kekoskee; Village Board of Johnson Creek; City of Janesville Leisure Services Advisory Committee; Jefferson County Board of Health; City Council of Watertown; Rock Koshkonong Lake District and City Council of Mayville, and in Illinois with the Ogle County Board, all county engineers and greenways planners and the Illinois DNR Greenways and Trails Council.

Sept. 17 and 18, the RRTI was one of the vendors at Rockford’s Greenwich Village Art Fair.

RRTI Council member Dave Druen of the Rock Falls Canal Trail Blazer Volunteers is arranging a RRTI presentation with the Sterling/Rock Falls Hennepin Canal and community development groups.

Also, in Illinois, Chad Pregracke and his Living Lands & Waters Million Trees Program has donated another 10,000 oak trees for distribution in the 11 counties of the Rock River next spring! That will make 20,000 oaks we have planted!

Further planning meetings need to be scheduled with the Illinois and Wisconsin departments of Natural Resources and National Park Service-Chicago and Milwaukee offices.

We welcome your support, recommendations and assistance. If you have questions or comments, please let us know.

Thanks on behalf of the Rock River Trail Initiative Council.