ROCK FALLS – The Rock River Trail has received a new designation that will bring benefits to communities along the entire waterway.
The trail, which includes the historic Hennepin Feeder Canal in Rock Falls, has been designated part of the National Water Trail System.
The designation means sites along the trail are eligible for federal grants to make improvements, said Greg Farnham, Rock River Trail coordinator.
If an access point isn't handicapped-accessible, for example, organizers can apply for federal grants and establish accessibility, he said.
It also means local organizers will have a powerful new partner when it comes to promoting and marketing the trail as a tourist destination – the National Park Service.
The 300-mile route runs through 11 counties from the Rock River’s source in Fond du Lac, Wis., to the Mississippi River in Rock Island.
The goal of the Rock River Trail Initiative is to provide better access to the river’s natural resources, recreational opportunities, scenic beauty, and historic and cultural assets.
"It's not strictly up to local tourism agencies [anymore]," Farnham said. "Now we have the benefit of the National Park Service promoting its trails."
To be named a National Water Trail, a trail must meet four criteria: to be open to public use and designed according to best management practices; to be in compliance with applicable land use plans; to be open for public use for at least 10 consecutive years after the designation; and to be supported by landowners at access points.
It will be up to local leaders and entrepreneurs to further maximize the new designation, Farnham said.
He hopes it will help to promote the river's recreational opportunities, local architecture, and historical landmarks.
"This whole project will come together when all river communities are sharing a common focus in terms of highlighting a local community."