Rock River Trail road route passed in both Wisconsin and Illinois

• In Illinois, Stadelman and Jefferson advocate for Rock River Trail Scenic and Historic Route, complete with free fishing

Staff Report

The Wisconsin and Illinois legislatures have passed bills designating the Rock River Trail Scenic and Historic Route on roads adjacent to the 320-mile-long river in both states.

This road route was presented by the Rock River Trail Initiative (RRTI), which also happily received National Water Trail status for the Rock River from the U.S. Department of the Interior and National Park Service March 11.

We are most gratified to have unanimous bi-partisan support from both the Illinois and Wisconsin legislatures,” said Greg Farnham, RRTI coordinator. “I believe this augurs well for the future of our efforts to showcase the beauty of the Rock River Valley with a system of recreational trails on and along the river.”

Frank Schier, founder and coordinator of the RRTI said, “Greg has spearheaded this effort with many, many long hours of studying road maps and contacting our various partners and legislators. Our council members have been very diligent in examining the route in each of their counties and garnering support, and we thank them as well.

We really have had the great experience of having our communities and representatives becoming friends and true advocates for the extensive beauty and cultural history of our Rock River,” Schier said.

In Wisconsin

April 22, the Wisconsin State Senate and Assembly were in session, and each passed unanimously companion bills SB 41 and AB 55 to designate the Rock River Trail Scenic and Historic Route in Wisconsin.

The bill now goes to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) for his signature, at which time the bill will become law.

In Wisconsin, a bill established for the road route rather than via resolution, as is being done in Illinois. A bill is a more formalized legislative product that creates a new section of the statutes, Section 84.10225. After the bill is signed by the governor, the Rock River Trail Scenic and Historic Route will actually be codified in the Wisconsin Statutes.

The recommended legislative method in Illinois is a resolution, which, while not legally binding, does provide a sound basis for action and collaboration by RRTI with state agencies and local communities to establish and maintain the road route.

Wisconsin Rep. John Jagler (R-34) of Watertown was the lead Assembly sponsor of the bill. Sen. Tim Cullen (D-15) of Janesville was the lead Senate sponsor. Farnham said it was “fun and interesting to experience representative democracy in action (on a non-controversial bill)!” The RRTI is looking forward to final action once the Wisconsin governor signs this bill.

In Illinois

May 23, the Illinois Senate unanimously adopted House Joint Resolution 0008 to designate and mark the Rock River Trail Scenic and Historic Route from the Wisconsin-Illinois state line to Sunset Park and Marina near the Rock River-Mississippi River confluence at Rock Island. The resolution has now passed both houses of the Illinois General Assembly.

Especially noteworthy is that all seven state representatives (Reps. Verschoore, Smiddy, Demmer, Sacia, Cabello, Jefferson and Sosnowski) and all four state senators (Sens. Jacobs, Bivins, Syverson and Stadelman) of the Rock River Valley joined as co-sponsors.

This is the same experience the RRTI had in Wisconsin, where all 10 of the Rock River Valley state representatives and all five of the valley senators were co-sponsors of the bills. And, it bears repeating, this support was bi-partisan in nature in both states with Democratic and Republican legislators joining in sponsorship and adoption.

Farnham and Schier both stressed the RRTI Council now can begin work to implement the marking, signing, mapping, promotion and marketing of the Rock River Trail Scenic and Historic Route in Wisconsin and Illinois, along with the National Water Trail on the river itself.

Thank you to all who have been part of this journey! “ Farnham said.

Schier noted that Rockford’s Sen. Steve Stadelman (D-34), the vice-chair of the Illinois Senate Committee on State Government and Veterans Affairs where the bill was first approved unanimously May 23, had called him to promise his strong support for the Rock River Trail Scenic and Historic Route.

Evidently, that is very much the case because the passage of the bill is the headline story on Stadelman’s website, The web site states: “‘The Rock River plays a key historic and economic role in Illinois, and this is an opportunity to highlight it as one of the many tourist attractions in our state,’ Stadelman said.”

Local leaders Winnebago County Board Chairman Scott Christiansen (R), Rockford Park District Director Tim Dimke, Oregon Park District Executive Director Erin Folk, and Rockford Mayor Larry Morrissey (I) Village of Milan Economic Development Director Annette Ernst, Rock Falls Community Development Corporation Executive Director Sandra Henrekin, Henry County Tourism Bureau Executive Director Catherine Foes, Dixon Area Chamber of Commerce President John Thompson wrote urgent letters of support. Morrissey also instructed the city’s lobbyist, Michael Cassidy of McGuireWoods Consulting, to help with the bill.

To increase tourism in northern Illinois, state Rep. Chuck Jefferson, D-Rockford, is co-sponsoring an initiative designed to promote the Rock River Trail Scenic and Historic Route.

The Rock River is a landmark in Rockford — it’s one of our community’s greatest assets,” Jefferson said. “In addition to providing opportunities for fishing, the river also offers many options for appreciating nature, guided boat tours, chances to experience the communities that have settled around it, riverfront festivals and other entertainment activities.”

The Rock River begins in Wisconsin, takes a 155-mile course through northwestern Illinois, ending at the Mississippi River in Rock Island. House Joint Resolution 8 calls for the Illinois Office of Tourism to produce and distribute Rock River Trail Scenic and Historic Route brochures for the public, and instructs the Illinois Department of Transportation to place 47 signs along the trail meant to encourage residents and visitors to explore, appreciate, and enjoy the Rock River and its surrounding areas.

Continuing his efforts to encourage local tourism, Jefferson is also calling attention to Illinois Free Fishing Days, an initiative of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources that is taking place June 7-10 and will allow Illinois residents to fish in designated areas without purchasing a fishing license, salmon stamp or inland trout stamp.

I hope that residents are able to take advantage of this exciting four-day free fishing event,” Jefferson said. “I especially hope that children and those new to fishing will participate so that they can discover a new hobby and grow their appreciation for what nature has to offer close to home.”

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Farnham and Schier contributed to this article.