Since the water trails conference at North Eastern University, there have been watershed committees organized and many new meetings held to discuss the implementation of the program. How much progress has been made so far? It depends much on which watershed you look at.
The Overall Picture
The urban section of the Chicago River has had the good fortune of having the interest of the Chicago Park District which has actively pursued the construction of access points in their holdings along the river. The Skokie Park District also has constructed an access along the North Shore Channel, designed more for persons with rowing shells and sculling activity than paddling sports. Lake front access is also being worked on which has been sadly limited in years past. A canoe launch has been constructed in recent years at the Cook County Forest Preserve's Allison Woods at Milwaukee Avenue and the Des Plaines River. A newspaper account of this project quoted a state legislator announcing that canoeists will no longer need to drive all the way to Riverside to launch a canoe at the ramp, ignoring the fact that people have been launching canoes all along the river at places like Dam # 1 just upstream from Allison Woods.
The inland waterways have always been used as water trails by us and we have had little problem finding access. We cannot define a water trail by access alone. The water trail must have an attraction to it that will make people desire to explore and use it. It must be made known to citizens that our waterways are resources that can be utilized with paddle craft without the need to travel far from home for such recreation. It must be emphasized that of all the forms of trails being created in our region, this is the only one that is inexpensive and gentle on the resources. Paddle craft leave no trace of their passing!
Talking About Conservation
What is needed is dialogue and planning on how to develop further use of what we have by means of signage, not a map at the head of the trail, as not everyone starts at the beginning of a trail. By signage, I mean the placing of the universal trail sign used all over showing a canoe with two paddlers in it, in white on a brown background, such as the National Park Service uses. They are inexpensive and by being placed beneath the river identification signs placed on every bridge crossing, advises the traveler that the stream could be explored by him/her. This type of signage is recognized by everyone!
We need a program of maintenance on the more popular water trails. Log jams blocking the smaller streams or piling up against bridge piers forming hazards such as the one that caused the DesPlaines River Canoe Marathon to be shut down last May, the cleaning up of the manmade debris that finds its way into our waterways and detracts from the overall outdoor experience we seek, and the possible removal or redesigning of problem dams on our streams. And looking way into the future, removal or disguising of the unsightly outfalls disgracing some of our prettier waterways and even beginning a program of beautification by planting some of the native flowering species along those streams that make a trip on the waterway during the blooming season such an awesome experience. Let us have no more bridges built across our smaller streams with multiple bridge piers blocking the flow of water and floodborn debris simply because it is less expensive than a single span. It also costs us taxpayer's money to keep cleaning the debris caught on those piers. And let us design bridges that are attractive from a landscape viewpoint, especially those crossing streams in our region's forest preserves.
How You Can Help
Let us get to work! Speak up and let your voice be heard. We cannot expect the various agencies to come up with these ideas for they do not have the experience on the waterways we do. They only have the knowledge and means to implement them. It is up to us!
For more information about our local water trails, contact Ralph Frese at the Chicagoland Canoe base via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.