A Whitewater Park in Rockford?
Maybe, But We Gotta Help…..
By Erik Sprenne
UPDATE:See the Rockford TV spot from the Rock River paddle! download now (note this is a wmv file- you may need windows media player).
Imagine being able to drive to Rockford to jump either into a playhole or on a surfing wave when most midwestern rivers are too low to run. A pipe dream? Maybe not - Rockford is in the planning stages of revitalizing its downtown area, and one of the ideas on the table is to convert an old ComEd dam/property on the Rock River into a whitewater park. We, the paddling community, need to help make this a reality by writing letters of support to the Rockford city fathers. Please help (details below)!
Rockford was founded in the early 1800s by settlers traveling up the Rock River from the west, who settled where there was a rocky ford in the river – and it was this river feature which ultimately gave the city its name. As such, the river has always been Rockford’s centerpiece, with the downtown area being developed adjacent to the river.
As in many larger cities, the downtown area has decayed over the decades, but a 2003 revitalization plan has the river as the centerpiece of the revitalization efforts – with recreational amenities playing a big part in the new downtown Rockford. Pages 20-21 of the revitalization plan mention possible creation of a paddling park on the east shore below the dam, just beyond the fence in the picture below (another image and description of the Fordham dam is available in the Chicago Paddling and Fishing Pages):
The possibility of constructing a whitewater park apparently was not publicly discussed until November 2005, when several local paddlers saw the first article mentioned below in the Rockford Register Star newspaper, and passed the news on to the paddling community. A few days later Sigrid Pilgrim, president of the Illinois Paddling Council, initiated discussions with the former president of Rockford’s River District Association, and published one of the early ‘calls to action’ for a letter-writing campaign to Rockford officials.
The Rockford Mayor and City Administrator are both excited about this project, and the city has retained a consultant to work on whitewater park issues. The city fathers are aware of the existence of other whitewater parks, as described here, and are also aware of an Oct. 2005 conference on whitewater parks (250-300 attendees, proceedings to be published soon), which is briefly described here. As such, they already have access to both historical case study and current best-practice information.
Below is a chronological list of articles, editorials, and letters that have been published in the Rockford Register Star newspaper:
- Nov 4, 2005 First public discussion of potential for a whitewater park
- Nov 13 Followup editorial to Nov. 2 article
- Dec 2 Letter to editor in support of WW park
- Dec 16 Letter to editor in support of WW park
- Dec 18 Letter to editor in support of WW park
- Dec 25 Letter to editor in support of WW park
- Dec 29 Article announcing WW cuts of seed money for WW park
- Jan 1, 2006 Political commentary, different story about seed money
- Jan 4 Budget passed, some funds left for downtown studies
- Jan 8 Opinion column by president of River District Association
- Jan 8 Article on water quality in Rock River
- Jan 15 Letter to editor in support of WW park
- Jan 24 Budget article mentions discussions about 2016 Olympics
- Jan 26 Article about possible Rockford connection with 2016 Olympics
- Jan 26 Letter to editor about WW park seed money cuts
- Jan 29 Editorial about 2016 Olympics and Rockford
- Feb 1 Followup article on Rock River water quality
- Feb 3 Reports on River District annual meeting, election of new president
- Feb 9 Article about new president of River District Association
- Feb 10 Article about retirement of Rockford tourism official
- Feb 11 Letter to editor supporting WW park
- Mar 9 Text of the Mayor’s ‘State of the City’ Speech (see 3rd “R”)
- Apr 25 Morrisey defends riverfront lobby bid
- July 2 Letter to the editor in support of WW park
- Sept 29 Local News article about 2016 Olympics (contains an error about the slalom venue, which other sources suggest might be at South Bend - unless Rockford does something soon)
- Oct 11 Regatta shows river, Rockford at their sparkling best
- Oct 30 Article – Illinois Paddling Council trip on Rock River
- Nov 12 Letter to editor
- Dec 8 Article – Cost of required dam studies
- Dec 13 Article - Dam study not discussed in committee meeting
- Dec 15 Article - Alderman asks Com Ed to fund dam study
- Dec 16 Letter to editor
- Dec 18 Editorial about WW course, asking for paddler ‘partnership”
- Dec 19 Article – City Council funds dam study
Even though the above links show that there has been some positive press for building the whitewater park, the city still needs to justify spending the $$$, at least part of which has to be taxpayer dollars, required to take control of and modify an old existing dam, with its inherent potential liabilities, to create the whitewater park. One of the concerns is that there is not a readily-identifiable concentration of whitewater paddlers in Northern Illinois, as one might expect in areas that have geographies (read: natural gradient) more conducive to whitewater paddling. Since the Midwest, and maybe Illinois in particular, is so geographically challenged, letters from individual paddlers stating something to the effect of "build it and I will come" are needed to help convince Rockford officials that there is a significant and passionate paddling population in the Midwest. Letters will help convince officials that a paddling venue would be a regional draw that is good for the local economy, and may also help address the concerns of local taxpayers who may object to spending their tax dollars on a facility that they will never use.
A sample letter is purposefully not included here due to the simple reality that form letters do not have the same impact as letters penned by concerned individuals. Having said that, it is suggested that letters might include comments about the likelihood of driving to Rockford (rather than to more distant places) to paddle, likes/dislikes of other man-made/enhanced WW courses, discussions about $$ left in the local economy (personal and general), what features are desired in an artificial WW course, and any other ideas that might help justify the construction of a paddling course/park. The letters already written - and linked to above - can be used as models, but the key thing is to continue sending letters to help convince Rockford city officials that spending money on a whitewater course is a good thing.
Who To Send Letters To:
Mayor Larry Morrissey
425 East State Street
Rockford, IL 61104
Rockford City Administrator
425 East State Street
Rockford, IL 61104
Rockford 3rd District Alderman
425 East State Street
Rockford, IL 61104
President, River District Association
P.O. Box 4331
Rockford, IL 61110
Rockford Register Star
99 E. State Street
Rockford, IL 61104
(Letters to the editor should be 200 words or less, because of space limitations, and preference is given to typed, concise letters. All letters are subject to editing for length or clarity. Writers are limited to one published letter per month. Letters must include the writer’s name, address and a daytime phone number for confirmation. Letters to the editor, opinion and editorial columns and articles submitted to the Rockford Register Star may be published in print, electronic or other forms. E-mail: email@example.com )
The same letter can be sent/emailed to all government officials listed above, though letters to the editor should conform to the listed guidelines. Letters can also be submitted to the city’s web site. Please be sure to also send copies of letters to Sigrid Pilgrim (2750 Bernard Place, Evanston, IL 60201, or sigpilgr[at]comcast.net), so the paddling community has a file of all letters sent, which might be of value in future discussions.
Technical Information:At Rockford, the Rock River has an upstream drainage area of more than 6000 square miles. This is greater than the drainage areas for both South Bend’s St. Joseph River and Wausau’s Wisconsin River (3500 and 2760 sq. mi., respectively). With a larger drainage area, average flows throughout the year are greater than those found at the South Bend and Wausau whitewater courses, meaning that the course designers may have more design options with the greater average flows. The plot below compares average flows for the three rivers close to the sites of the whitewater courses:
Detailed information about the dam is not available from public FERC archives because of its age, though the dam is reported to be 15 feet tall. Those with high-speed internet access can use Google-Earth to obtain satellite imagery of Rockford, which shows that the river is pretty wide at the dam site.
To be fair to all viewpoints, there has been discussion about water quality on the forum of the Badger State Boating Society (BSBS1 and BSBS2 ), but it should also be noted that responses to the questions have been posted by a Rockford city official (which further underscores the city’s interest in this project).
Much of the information above has already been posted on midwestern paddling message boards. Besides the BSBS board, many posts can also be found on the Team Dirt Clod message board – TDC1, TDC2, TDC3, TDC4, TDC5 , TDC6 .
This article was originally written for publication in the Dec. 2005 issue of the Chicago Whitewater Association’s newsletter, but is here to serve as a single-site summary of information on the potential Rockford WW park – and contains updated newspaper links that are no longer active on the message boards. Paddlers have helped the city stay interested in the WW course with their letters, and the Illinois Paddling Council October 2006 trip helped raise further awareness for the proposed Rockford WW park. It has been suggested that there will be one or more public meetings to discuss the whitewater park at some point, and news of those will be passed on as it becomes known.
Please write letters, stay tuned, and contact Perry Weatherford (local Rockford WW enthusiast, wxhead[at]insightbb.com), Sigrid Pilgrim (President of IL Paddling Council, sigpilgr[at]comcast.net), or me (sprenne[at]netnitco.net) to discuss any of the above.
(last update Oct 27, 2006)