A Publication of WTVP

New development projects can help restore our river and provide economic opportunity.

It seems to me the Peoria area sits at a precipice in time. If we use our water resources sustainably and responsibly, it can act not only as a benefit, but as a catalyst to grow our local economy by way of new business, new recreation and new citizens. So, what specifically might I be talking about?

For example, a linked system of green spaces—be they parks or canoe and boat docks leading to riverfront restaurants and businesses—could be established. I’m not talking about “no development” here—I’m talking about development that incorporates the river into the design and promotes its use. I’m talking about starting new industries that can help restore our river and provide new economic opportunity. For far too long, we’ve failed to use the river for what it could be: a source of strength for our quality of life and economy. It’s what sets us apart from so many other places in the world. Why not connect with it?

The Greater Peoria Economic Development Council’s Water Resources Team is working with other water-related organizations, agencies and citizen groups to help identify and spread the word about local projects that may need additional attention, and to connect those groups together for the sake of the greater good: our local economy and our local water resources. It is fairly easy to understand how the two are vitally linked, and therefore, why it is important to foster one in order to foster both.

An example of such a partnership occurred last summer that involved the creation of a water trail project for canoeing and kayaking along the Illinois River from Henry to Creve Coeur. The project consisted of identifying and marking 12 river access sites linked to the Illinois River Road National Scenic Byway. Flood-resistant signs and benches were placed at entrances on the waterfront and along nearby roadways marking out the access ramps. These signs have a couple of extra-large eye bolts screwed into the posts to make them suitable as “hitching posts,” should paddlers wish to secure their canoe or kayak temporarily with a bicycle cable while venturing off for a short hike or restroom stop. Flood-resistant benches with acknowledgement signage were constructed overlooking the river to provide paddlers an aesthetic place to rest, pack their gear and launch. The benches could also be used by fishermen and other outdoor recreationists.

The project was the result of a joint effort between Union Sportsmen’s Alliance (USA) Work Boots on the Ground volunteer conservation program and the American Water Charitable Foundation’s Building Better Communities initiative, which awarded the USA a $25,000 grant to support three conservation projects that improve public access to water-based recreation activities. Local union employees, including those from Illinois American Water, provided the sweat equity to get the work done, and local historian and storyteller Brian “Fox” Ellis identified and marked the sites. This project is just one example of what can happen when individuals and groups work together to identify opportunities and leverage resources for the benefit of Greater Peoria. iBi

If you are interested in helping with these efforts, consider joining the Greater Peoria EDC Water Resource Team. Contact Jennifer Daly at [email protected] for more information.