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Presentation highlights benefits of Hennepin Canal

Council also continues discussions on possible Feeder Canal annexation, lease agreement

ROCK FALLS – City Council members learned Monday night the potential economic benefits of canal cruising the length of the Hennepin Canal.

The council also continued discussions about annexing, then leasing, the 2.2-mile Hennepin Feeder Canal, which is in Rock Falls.

Cathy Brunner, executive director of Rock Falls Tourism, attended a meeting last week in Geneseo on the Renaissance Hennepin Canal project. Renaissance Hennepin Canal is a nonprofit group working to restore three locks on the canal, between Rock Falls and Geneseo.

The Friends of Hennepin Canal and Henry County Tourism Bureau commissioned a study on the restored canal’s potential, and Brunner presented the findings at the special council meeting.

The study, done by Western Illinois University, paints a bright picture.

According to the report, canal cruising could be a huge economic boon to cities along the 96-mile waterway.

If canal cruising is enabled, it could generate $31.8 million to $42.7 million during its first year, and create 959 to 1,284 full-time jobs, mostly in the hospitality and retail sectors, the study found.

Friends of the Hennepin Canal believes that “facilitating boat travel in the [Hennepin Canal Parkway State] Park would further strengthen the park’s ability to attract visitors.”

Rock Falls recently formed a Hennepin Canal committee to work with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources to annex the feeder canal, a move both sides say would benefit the state and the city.

The IDNR owns and is responsible for maintaining the canal.

Discussion turned to how the two agencies would share management duties. George Bellovics with the IDNR said his agency would take care of locks, water, major tree issues and historic buildings.

The city would be responsible for general maintenance, minor trail patching and seasonal mowing, as well as benches, kiosks and fishing piers, if it builds such amenities.

One woman in attendance asked if the city already has decided to go ahead with the annexation. Alderman Jim Schuneman, chairman of the Hennepin Canal Committee, said that was the purpose of the meeting – to elicit input from the public.

Mayor David Blanton suggested members of the Rock River Development Authority and other residents in attendance come up with a list of their expectations for annexation and leasing.

Schuneman said the committee would be taking “baby steps” as it moves through the process of reaching a possible agreement.

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