One of the nice things about living in a democracy is that citizens are free to speak up and offer their ideas about how things should function in their locality, state and nation.
A not-for-profit agency, the Blackhawk Hills Regional Council, looks to harness citizen ideas for its next 5-year Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy that covers northwestern Illinois (Whiteside, Lee, Carroll, Ogle, Jo Davies and Stephenson counties).
To gather ideas, Blackhawk Hills has conducted 2-hour forums in five of its counties, with Whiteside’s forum still to be held.
Participants get an overview of Blackhawk Hills, are invited to discuss the region’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, and have the opportunity to propose possible goals for the next 5 years to boost the economy, preserve resources, and support quality of life.
For example, when the 2014-19 plan was drafted, one goal was established to find good uses for the $69 million iFiber broadband project that serves the region.
What about for the next 5 years? SVM’s Editorial Board kicked around some ideas and thought we would share them with you.
In the style of the successful Whiteside County Barn Tour, which took existing resources – barns – and turned them into a well-attended 2-day progressive-style tour each July, more such tours on other topics could be organized.
Possible topics: a Statue and Sculpture Tour (Oregon, Dixon, Sterling and Tampico have statues and sculptures); an Artistic Tour (art shops, artistic studios and destinations, places where people could watch artists working on their projects); a Museum Tour (a la the Dixon Area Museum Alliance but on a larger scale); a Mural Tour (Sterling has 20 of them); or a Lincoln Tour, to link various Lincoln sites in the Sauk Valley for travelers to visit, with special events planned at each one.
We note that the Rock Falls Chamber of Commerce website promotes several self-guided tours of places in the region. Taking the concept a step further could turn self-guided tours into major organized attractions, such as the aforementioned Barn Tour.
Some counties in western Illinois have what they call “scenic drives” in the autumn, where activities are planned throughout a region, and motorists travel from place to place on specific days, sampling what the region has to offer. The Sauk Valley could do something like that.
We recall that the late former mayor of Sterling, Ted Aggen, wanted to promote the region’s manufacturing heritage. He was on to something then, and the idea still has merit.
Just as some people flock to see barns, others who have never been inside a factory might flock to see one (or more than one). A Factory Tour? Don’t laugh. They would have laughed at the Whiteside County Barn Tour a generation or two ago, but look how successful it is today.
Could more recreational activities be planned along the Rock River? Boat rides, excursion boats and Wisconsin Dells-style “ducks” might help to leverage the resource that is the “Hudson of the West.”
Could the Nachusa Grasslands hold “Bison Days,” in addition to Autum on the Prairie, to attract more visitors to the region?
Could our area’s historic courthouses be opened for tours on specific days? Mount Carroll’s was built in 1858, Oregon’s in 1891 and Dixon’s in 1901. Some people might find it very interesting to take tours of these historic structures.
What about a progressive garage sale, similar to the More on 34 garage sale along U.S. Route 34 on Father’s Day weekend?
People who want to suggest their own ideas can contact Blackhawk Hills at 815-625-3854 or go to blackhawkhills.com for more information.
Two heads are better than one, and the wisdom of the crowd is better than only a few heads. Congrats to Blackhawk Hills for seeking out that wisdom.