Rivers seem to be in the news lately. Caterpillar announced a large grant to help preserve rivers around the world, and the state recently announced some money would go toward improving the Illinois River.
It's getting difficult to pick up a newspaper and not read a story about what communities along the Illinois River are doing, planning, or hoping. "Eco tourism" is the key phrase these days. We're told that more than ever, vacationers are looking for parks, history, and/or culture as they plan their travels. The Peoria Area Convention and Visitors Bureau (PACVB) is hard at work promoting us as "Illinois River Country" so potential visitors are aware of what we have to offer.
We're part of the Illinois River Country Nature Trail (easily accessible from Peoria.org), a 140-mile stretch that meanders from Ottawa to Havana. Communities along the path are on board with activities and sites available in their respective part of the trail. PACVB has made sure vacation planners know what's available locally.
The bureau is also playing a key role in seeking designation as a National Scenic Byway. If that happens, the entire area will be eligible for grants-and the resulting publicity won't hurt, either. Thirty-nine communities in nine counties are participating in applying for the $25,000 federal grant program.
The Nature Conservancy sponsored a recent Peoria Symphony Orchestra concert entitled "The River." Great Rivers Regional Board members were invited guests for the event-not only to enjoy the concert, but to hear and see first-hand the excitement of area promoters for nature tourism in central Illinois.
"Never though have people impacted the river so significantly until this century, when her waters were polluted and then confined to a narrow shipping channel-prevented from reaching the floodplain so essential to life and abundance. All that is changing. The people of the Illinois River valley today know a lot more about how to ensure that ecological bounty thrives alongside economic prosperity. A new spirit of restoration now infuses the Illinois' slow-moving waters"-from The Story of the Illinois River.
And just wait until the downtown museums and East Peoria's Riverfront Park are up and running. The quality of those attractions-along with our choice location along the Trail-will serve us well.
We're all familiar with the numerous festivals and activities that stretch from spring to fall along the river in the Peoria area. They're fun, and they just seem to get better each year. Most of us have our favorites, but maybe this is the year we make a promise to try one we haven't attended before.
And while we're making vows to gain a greater appreciation for what we have along the river, how about planning at least a couple of visits to just…well, to just visit the river?
Pack a picnic and take the family out Route 24 to Banner Marsh. No matter how many trips you make there, you'll never tire of the natural beauty.
Put aside the garage straightening or the lawn mowing for a couple hours on a Saturday afternoon, and plan to visit one of the many establishments along the river for a sandwich and a cool drink. It's relaxing just to sit there and watch the boats-and the river-go by.
Pick a place-from Pekin to Chillicothe. I have a favorite, but this year I've made a vow to try a couple places I haven't visited before. Grab your calendar, and write in "River" on a couple of Saturdays. For that matter, what are you doing this Saturday that you couldn't take a couple of hours for yourself?
Hey, the bridge may be closed this summer, but the river isn't.
Promoting this area is a job that involves all of us. And the more we appreciate what we have, the easier and more fun that job becomes. IBI