A Publication of WTVP

Don't it always seem to go
That you don't know what you've got
Till it's gone

-Joni Mitchell

Can you beat the Peoria area in July? Oh sure, throw out the three hot and humid days we'll have, and the rest is pretty good.

Like thousands of others, I'm drawn to the riverfront for the annual "sky concert" (I remember when they called it "fireworks"). Outside of some historic places and harbors out east, I can't think of a more perfect location for the annual event. Not a bad seat anywhere, and who doesn't envy the folks viewing from their boats anchored on the Illinois River?

It's a good time to reflect on the river and its value to the area. It truly is a gem we need to appreciate more. Certainly, we can picture the river when we read the state tourism advertisements touting Illinois as a state where there are miles of rivers and hiking trails, where you can sit perfectly still, where the air is silent, etc.

Those visitors will come here to incorporate nature experiences as secondary activities in their annual vacation plans. They'll look for both natural and cultural experiences.

Fortunately, there's good news about the river lately. Work by groups such as the Heartland Water Resources Council of Central Illinois, The Nature Conservancy, and the Audubon Society, to name a few, deserve more notice and applause. Preserving the river, its wetlands, and its wildlife should be a high priority-eco-tourism or not.

More good river news comes from the novel "mud to meadow" program that sent 70 barges of Peoria Lake silt to Chicago. While that's a win-win situation for all involved, it still amounts to treating the symptom. We'd like to see the next $2 million spent-make that "invested"-on the cause. Maybe money could come from steep fines on those whose projects or land use causes the erosion and run off of soil into the river and its tributaries.

With all these things going on, we're virtually guaranteed the ability to enjoy the river for years to come. We can hope the same will be true for the treasured buildings and businesses downtown and along the river. Some great minds-with the greatest of visions for the city-are working to save the Pere Marquette Hotel. We wish them God speed.

But a few weeks back came a warning from developer Pat Sullivan. Some of the warehouses near downtown are being stripped for wood and brick.

The development southwest of downtown is a real bright spot. Shops, restaurants, lofts, the Peoria Chiefs, you name it. Time spent in the neighborhood is a real delight. And who hasn't wondered, perhaps with a tinge of envy, how interesting it would be to live there?

It's alarming to think the very character of some of the buildings is threatened. It's a tightrope when private ownership and public good meet on the same piece of property, but it's one worth walking.

High on the list of threats to the public good in the area is the future of the Peoria Illinois Air National Guard facility. Another round of base closings is in progress, and there's concern the airport-based unit could be in the crosshairs. That means jobs and a $200 million-per-year impact on the area.

The state has hired two (yes, two) lobbyist firms to work on keeping the few bases that remain in the state, and a local group hired its own firm to help save the Peoria and Springfield units. Other municipalities are doing the same thing.

It's a worthwhile expense here, and we commend the Chamber for its role. The organizations that have contributed to this effort-and the others preserving and improving our quality of life-deserve a heartfelt thank you from everyone. IBI