By Anonymous
Star Courier
Posted Jul 24, 2008 @ 08:05 PM
Sheffield, Ill. —

Friends of the Hennepin Canal is among four organizations to receive Volunteer of the Year awards from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR).

The awards go each year to individuals and organizations for exceptional volunteer service to the department and the people of Illinois.

IDNR officials said the award for the Friends of the Canal was for their work on observing the centennial of the canal last year.

“It appeared not much would be celebrated until a group of volunteers stepped forward,” according to an IDNR news release.

The release gave this account of the work of the Friends of the Canal:

“The Friends of the Hennepin Canal, a passionate group of canal advocates who joined forces some 10 years ago for a common cause, wanted something special to commemorate the centennial year. They have continually carried out being dedicated to preservation, recreation, history and education of the Hennepin Canal. They were already promoting awareness by coordinating monthly hikes along the 96-mile corridor and sponsoring an annual trails activity appreciation day, called Hikemabika, in October.

“But in this special year-long celebration they wanted to encompass as many communities, groups, and activities as possible. The kickoff for this effort was a noon luncheon, sponsored by the Friends, where 30-plus different representatives from communities and interest groups all along the canal were invited and encouraged to celebrate and coordinate the 100-year party.

“Examples of those who participated in the celebration are the communities of Colona and Wyanet who made the Hennepin Canal their main theme for their annual festivities; the city of Rock Falls added to their list of events, an equestrian group that promoted an enduro horse competition (that ended up drawing contestants from three states); a number of volks- marchers set up a series of registered hikes; another community planned a kids fishing tournament; and the Quad City Camera Club sponsored a centennial photo contest (the winning photo is now on display at the Hennepin Canal Visitors Center near Sheffield).

“The list of festivities and enthusiasm began to grow and the anniversary was becoming a season long event. The centennial year would bring something special and unique to the group’s annual October festival. The day centered around a 40-minute play on a floating stage anchored in the marina of the canal’s main complex behind the Visitor’s Center. (The Locktender play, a quality production, is presently being professionally edited and will soon be preserved on a DVD). “Complementing the play was a day full of activities in the main area including a 100K bicycle ride along the canal, a book signing, voyager canoe rides, a youth fishing tournament, self-guided interpretive trail hikes, three types of live music including a glass harpist, some art and photographic displays, old canal artifacts and photos by local historical societies and various antique collectors, and as a finale after the play – cake and ice cream for all. “Over 3,000 people took part in the canal’s birthday party. The Friends of the Hennepin Canal actively promote the site with their monthly hikes, annual special events, and power point programs, but they support the site with a monetary presence as well, donating a digital camera and funding a reprint of 20,000 trail brochures. They recently secured a grant to republish another round of trail friendly brochures. The 100th anniversary celebration never would have happened without the Friends of Hennepin Canal.”

Other organizations receiving awards were the Rock Falls Convention and Visitors Bureau; Kickapoo Mountain Bike Club, Champaign; and Big Island Soil and Water Preservation Association, Milan.  Volunteers were Wendell Stritzel of Marion, Dagmar Rutzen of DesPlaines, Mary Mitchell of Clinton, Wendell Kurr of Freeport and Marjorie Jessen of Rend Lake.