Advocate: Hennepin Canal at risk

City still considering annexing waterway

ROCK FALLS – State budget cuts have meant less maintenance of the Hennepin Feeder Canal.

“The Hennepin Canal is in danger of dewatering because the locks are leaking,” said David Druen, a local resident who advocates for the Rock River and the Hennepin. “Trees are falling in the canal. There’s nothing being done to make the canal better. If we don’t get help, we’ll have some real problems soon.”

The canal is the jurisdiction of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, which has seen its workforce dwindle by half amid state financial problems over the past decade. 

Now, only a few employees maintain more than 100 miles of the Hennepin.

Last year, then-Rock Falls Mayor David Blanton proposed annexing the Hennepin, which is not inside city limits.

Under such an arrangement, the city would lease the scenic 2.2-mile waterway that leads to the main canal. IDNR has said it is on board with such a plan, saying it would be happy to have the city take over maintenance.

Mayor Bill Wescott, who took the helm in May, said he is open to annexation of the canal, but would have to know more about the city’s costs and responsibilities of maintaining it.

This year, Western Illinois University developed a survey on the Hennepin, which the city sent out with its utility bills. A city committee has been reviewing the results, Wescott said.

Many people responded that they wanted the city to annex the canal, but the mayor is not sure whether they knew what annexation would entail.

“The committee is going through all of that, then we will make a report,” Wescott said. “The question that has come up is, What exactly will be the city’s costs short-term and long-term for maintenance?”

Rock River action urged

ROCK FALLS – David Druen, who is pushing an effort to promote the Rock River, wants a greater sense of urgency from local leaders. 

Area officials pledged their support months ago, but Druen said he and others are struggling to get action. 

The Rockford-based Rock River Trail Initiative seeks to make the river more inviting to navigate with a canoe or kayak, which it says would draw more tourists. 

One of the goals is to create more convenient portages for each of the river’s dams, two of which are in Sterling and Rock Falls. Portages are where canoers and kayakers take their boats around dams.

Druen is a coordinator with the initiative, but he said he wasn't speaking on the group's behalf. He said locals leaders need to spotlight the effort, so the initiative can attract more volunteers.

"We need people to raise money, making the community aware of these efforts," he said. 

For instance, Druen said, the initiative would like to get a campground along the river in Sterling-Rock Falls. That would require a place to set up a tent, a boat launch area and possibly restrooms. 

Druen pointed to Lawrence Park or Oppold Marina as a possibility. 

"It doesn't take much to make a campground," he said. "It's a really simple process."

Rockford already has done so, he said. 

Rock Falls Mayor Bill Wescott said the Rock River Trail Initiative has been working hard to promote the river. 

"We support all these efforts," he said.