The 104.5 mile Hennepin Canal provides a gentle gateway to nature at a slower pace. This rustic old waterway, flowing through five counties of farmland and prairie, passes a dozen or more nearby rural villages and towns. Its grass-lined tow path and the recreational trail provide opportunities to fish, bird watch, boat, bicycle, picnic, ride horseback, walk and commune with nature.
Imagine enjoying all this while traveling by boat, easily passing through vintage locks, from Rock Falls to Geneseo and back. The idea of having a navigable Hennepin Canal, with working locks, has motivated Friends since organizing in1998. By restoring only three locks, (L.22, L.23, 24) boaters may travel without portage through three rural counties and leisurely cruise fifty miles of quiet countryside.
Just as restored canals are economic resources in Europe and Canada, canal cruising on the Hennepin can become an equally valuable tourist pursuit that is unique in the United States and especially to the Midwest.
The Friends have taken the initial steps in what we call Renaissance Hennepin Canal. We have established a working relationship with the IDNR and conduct ourselves under that state agency’s guidance. With the IDNR’s assistance, we have sought an engineering feasibility study, technically called a Historic Structure and Condition Report (HSCR), and have selected an architectural and engineering firm to conduct this work. Recently, the Internal Revenue Service granted the Friends 501c3 status, which means all monetary support given to this project is tax-deductible.
The lock restoration will be privately funded, using donations and grants. These efforts will be conducted by the Friends of the Hennepin Canal organization. There are no plans to use tax-generated funds.
The Hennepin Canal is one of the best kept secrets in the United States. It offers history, beauty, recreation and even romance. As the voice said in Field of Dreams, “build it and they will come”. The Friends have the vision and plan for building.
.Identify an architectural/engineering firm to perform a HSCR. (completed)
.Fundraise for HSCR Report (has begun)
.Review of HSCR with IDNR and the Friends of the Hennepin Canal Board
.Fundraise for total restoration to the locks.
Geneseo, Ill. — With a little renovation, Hennepin Canal supporters envision the man-made waterway becoming a popular tourism destination.
Members of the volunteer organization Friends of the Hennepin Canal are working with Illinois Department of Natural Resources officials to restore three locks on the canal.
Once restored to working order, pleasure boats will be able to cruise the canal.
“Our models are the highly successful canal systems of England and others parts of Europe,” said Friends of the Hennepin Canal president Gary Wagle.
“Our canal is old and fragile. If it breaks, it will probably be gone forever. We don’t want that to happen. We want a renaissance, a rebirth of sorts, to make the canal an important community asset,” said Wagle.
Slated for renovation as part of a Renaissance Hennepin Canal project are Locks 22, 23 and 24. The three locks represent a small portion of the 29 locks on the canal, but encompass a 50-mile stretch between Sterling/Rock Falls and Geneseo.
“That’s 50 miles of countryside, leisurely travel,” said Wagle. “An entire tourist industry could blossom along this corridor.”
Renovating each lock could cost between $350,000 and $650,000 per lock, said Todd Sieben, a member of the Renaissance Hennepin Canal project’s steering committee.
The group hopes to raise an initial $80,000 to cover the cost of creating a historic structure report/engineering feasibility study and administrative costs.
The services of Johnson-Lasky Architects have been retained to generate a historic structure report.
Johnson-Lasky Architects specializes in historical work, said company owner Walker Johnson.
At a press conference near Lock 24 in Geneseo on Oct. 12, canal supporters spoke of plans for the century-old waterway.
“Recreational tourism means dollars and jobs. There’s a bright future here with this,” said State Rep. Donald Moffitt.
“This is one of the most exciting projects I’ve been involved with in my lifetime,” said Sieben. “The
potential here is huge. People want this type of canal experience.”
Leslie Sgro, deputy director of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, told the crowd of 35 her department supports the project. “This is a wonderful idea for a true reinvention of this canal,” she said. “With this vision, the canal will be an even better tourism and economic tool for this region.
“You have a renewed and constant commitment from the IDNR to work with you and be a good partner,” said Sgro.
Friends of the Hennepin Canal has received 501(c)(3) designation in order to allow all donations to be tax deductible.
“We’re at a critical point in the canal’s history. We want to make this so generations can enjoy the canal for another century,” said Wagle. “Consider donating. No amount is too small.”
Click the following link to donate http://www.friends-hennepin-canal.org/renaissance-project/donate/
Geneseo, Ill. —The Friends of the Canal, a volunteer organization that works to maintain Hennepin Canal, announced a partnership of support with Illinois Department of Natural Resources for the “Renaissance Hennepin Canal Restoration Project” this week at Lock 24 at Geneseo.
The Friends would like to make the canal a major commercial asset to the community. The restoration project” would restore locks 22, 23 and 24 with the hopes of reopening 50 miles of the canal as an operating waterway. That stretch would begin in Rock Falls at Lock 33 and end at Lock 24 in Geneseo.
“The inspiration behind the renaissance Hennepin Canal project is a result from the outpouring of support for the canal during the 2007 centennial celebration and the threat of 2008 state park closures,” said Gary Wagle, president of the Friends of the Hennepin Canal.
“Due to declining resources and despite the efforts of an overworked IDNR staff, our fragile canal has eroded to the point that once again its future is in jeopardy,” said Wagle.
“Our canal is old and fragile. If it breaks, the canal will be gone forever. We do not want that to happen,” he continued.
An entire tourist industry could blossom with the project, including bed and breakfasts, farms, restaurants, boat and bike rentals, and other entrepreneurs that would join those that already exist, proponents of the project said. With operating locks in its west-central portion, Hennepin Canal would have a resource unique to the Midwest that would attract tourists possibly from all over the United States, according to Wagle.
“I think with this vision it will be even better that we can return the canal to what it was supposed to be, which is a tourism and economic development source for this region. I think with the help of The Friends of the Canal we are well on our way to making that a reality,” said Leslie Sgro, DNR deputy director.
The Hennepin Canal can draw users from a large area, and tourism means dollars into our community, proponents say.
“There is a bright future here with this,” said state Rep. Don Moffitt (R-Galesburg).
According to a Friends press release, phase one of the restoration includes creating a “Historic Structure Report and Condition of the Hennepin Canal Waterway.” The cost of the report is $80,000, and the Friends organization has hired Johnson Lasky Architects from Chicago to provide the assessment of costs and repair work to realize the Renaissance Hennepin Canal Restoration Project goal.
“We are hoping to raise funds by May and as soon as the funds are raised it will take about three months to complete the study, and we are hoping by next fall that we have another report,” said Cathy Foes, publicity director.
“If we have the spirit to pursue Renaissance Hennepin Canal, generations may benefit and enjoy this treasure for another century,” Wagle said. “If we lose water, we lose this canal.”
Goldie Currie can be reached at (815) 879-5200 or firstname.lastname@example.org
For complete information on the Renaissance project go to www.friends-hennepin-canal.org or call Friends publicity director Cathy Foes (309) 751-7209.