Am I biased? You bet, and mighty proud of it. I'm a Hennepin Canal supporter — always have been and always will be. |
"The Canal" as I'll call her, is a perfect picture of longevity and tranquility. Plus, she offers a host of high-quality outdoors recreational amenities. She's a 105-year-old local and national treasure that connects the Illinois, Mississippi and Rock Rivers and a number of adjacent communities across northwestern Illinois. Withstanding a few bumps and bruises along the way, she has survived the toughest test of all —the test of time.
My biasness comes from family and personal association with the old girl that spans five Groene generations. While I can't put my finger on exactly when that may have started, I have a treasured photo of my dad, Bob, swimming in the canal with his good friend, Paul Varner, that was taken in 1940. No doubt, my grandpa, Fred, born in 1890, fished and ice skated there long before that.
Grandpa took me fishing at the canal scores of times early in my life — mostly to the stretch along Big Island. On one of those adventures, my cousin, Dick Groene, showed up with his bride to be, Bernice, for swimming fun during their courtship.
These days the old girl is a frequent bass and panfish destination for me and/or my son, Rob, and his daughter, Lauren; angling both open water and through the ice. While fishing areas away from busy roads, often the only sounds heard are chirping birds, bullfrogs croaking and the purr of diesel engines powering tractors or combines on adjacent tilled fields.
So when "Friends of the Hennepin — Renaissance Hennepin Canal'' announced a fundraising gala, I was quick to order a ticket.
The Friends group was formed in 1998 with the goal of working alongside the Illinois DNR (Hennepin Canal Parkway is a state park) to restore and preserve the canal. Renaissance Hennepin was announced in the fall of 2010 with the ambitious goal of restoring three locks east of Geneseo to original working order, creating a 50-mile stretch of continuous navigated waterway. Borrowing a successful idea from both Europe and Canada where canal cruising is a valuable tourist pursuit.
"Our gala was a tremendous success," said event organizer Cathy Foes, who Co-chairs the Renaissance group. "It was our first major fundraiser and we will have more. We raised over $6,000 which brings us close to the $80,000 needed for the professional study that will tell us exactly what will need to be done to completely restore three locks to working condition and how much it will cost.
"This is just the beginning of a big project. Our Friends-Renaissance group has lots of support and gets more all the time. Next for us is a meeting with the DNR to get the Historical Report going. A Canal clean-up day is planned for April 22. Folks interested in any of our activities can call (309) 787-3972 or visit friends.hennepin.canal.org for more information. New members are always welcome."
Bob Groene is outdoors writer for The Dispatch and The Rock Island Argus, he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
The ``Friends of the Hennepin — Renaissance Hennepin Canal'' held a fundraising gala for work on the canal that included a play performed by Richmond Hill Players. It was chock full of historic Hennepin Canal data:
- Planning started in 1834
- Construction started in 1892, with funding from Congress
- Construction completed in 1907
- Construction included first-time use of concrete (in lieu of cut stone) for locks and utility poles/fence posts (in lieu of wood) — much of which still exists
- Workers were paid 75-cents per day
- Constructed from east to west
- Capt. Marshall (Corps of Engineers) who was in charge of construction, designed a new lock system powered by water, that carries his name — The Marshall Gate
- Canal was constructed to be 80-feet wide and seven-feet deep
- Total cost was under $7 million
- Upon completion, lock tenders were provided a house and were paid $90 per month
- Due to declining use, the Canal was declared obsolete and all operations suspended in 1951
- In 1978, the Canal was placed on the National Register of Historic Places
- In 1970, the 75-mile long canal from the Illinois River at Hennepin to the Mississippi River at Rock Island and its 30-mile long feeder canal from the Rock River at Sterling to the approximate mid-point of the main canal became a state park