The Rock River has suffered the impact of urbanization, but many dedicated groups have worked and are working to restore its health. Jon McGinty explores the impact of these efforts, including recognition by the National Park Service.
Article in Northwest Quarterly by Jon McGinty, Wednesday, March 2nd, 2016
Once a waterway of pristine beauty, the Rock River has suffered from the impact of urbanization along its shores. There’s a long history of local groups who have worked to restore and preserve this natural resource, however. Among them is the Rock River Trail Initiative, which recently worked to make our river part of the National Water Trail System. Because of this, our river now has the support of the National Park Service, which relies upon local groups to manage its designated water trails.
The Rock River and the landscape through which it flows is a legacy of the last period of Wisconsin glaciers, which retreated almost 14,000 years ago. For eons the river was home to Native American tribes, who fished, drank and canoed its waters. The Sac and Fox, who inhabited the Rock River Valley through the mid-1800s, called it “Sinnissippi,” meaning “rocky waters.”
Today, the river begins its journey near the village of Brandon in Fond du Lac County, Wisconsin, before drifting into the Horicon Marsh east of Waupun. From there it wends its way more than 300 miles, past forests and farmland, hills and bluffs, villages and towns, across the state line at Beloit, then traverses southwest across northwestern Illinois, finally emptying into the Mississippi River at Rock Island. During that trip, it flows over 23 dams, past 37 municipalities, through five counties in Wisconsin and six in Illinois.