Ecotourism in Mahomet

According to a recent story by the group American Rivers: “Across the country, gateway communities have realized connecting the community to local resources by protecting and restoring rivers and streams creates an economic engine for the region.”

And here we sit, ideally perched as a “gateway community” to our Sangamon River.

Of course, Mahomet is already well-known throughout this area for our beautiful Forest Preserve with its lakes, the covered bridge, the Museum of the Grand Prairie, along with great hiking, running and bicycle trails.

But not so much for our Sangamon River.

This was made clear to me when a local resident inquired “so where does the Sangamon go through Mahomet anyway?” I explained that since it goes under 150, Division Street and Interstate 74 and she lives near downtown and works in Champaign, she presumably, if unwittingly, crosses over it twice a day, every day.

But can she really be blamed? Our river, despite winding right through our town and many of its ‘burbs, still doesn’t figure very prominently into Mahomet daily life, if at all.

And I’ll admit that the fact that the river is so tree-shrouded does make it a little hard to know it’s there.  But that also makes it more beautiful from surface-level.

Heck, when we purchased our home, it wasn’t even listed as being on the Sangamon River. Naturally, since I’ve always been a river guy, when I discovered the Sangamon ran right through the backyard, my ability to bargain flew right out the plate glass windows that overlooked the river.

But, hey, that’s just me, right?

…I’m not so sure anymore.

Mahomet, with the Sangamon in its backyard, sits as a potential haven for the latest fad in urban design and development, “eco-tourism.”

Increasingly people seek more and better outdoor opportunities to improve their health, fitness, and just for living a better quality of life. And kayaking, canoeing and fishing are becoming ever more popular.

Walked into Dick’s Sporting Goods at Marketplace Mall lately? Then you’ve run a gauntlet of watercraft ideally suited for what Mahomet’s got.

Putting in at Lake of the Woods, where the road dead ends at the decorative red bridge just beyond the Izaak Walton Cabin, the river will course right through Mahomet and you’ll be amazed at what you’ll find. You’ll follow the twisting, turning Sangamon as it passes over sand bars, a small swift moving shoal, you’ll paddle under the massively impressive (from below, that is) I-74 overpass, through heavily forested woodlands that could make you forget that you’re anywhere near civilization. Then you’ll paddle over where Abe Lincoln forded the Sangamon near our old bicycle bridge, under US 150, past Barber Park, and under the railroad trestle – where perhaps the occasional freight train will cruise by far over your head. Then you can take your boat out at Division Street where – soon, we promise – will be a nice, newly constructed canoe and kayak landing (Mahomet still awaits state funding for that project …so….).

In fairness, I should mention that with the potential for fallen trees blocking your path and creating even larger ‘log jams’, the Sangamon may not be quite ready for prime time, but many of us are working on that.

And the access points to the river, while easy to locate and all on public land (while much of the river is private land – so stay in your watercraft), are poorly developed and sometimes difficult to maneuver on, through or across. But as mentioned, we’re working on that, too.

Though we’re just getting started, there’s lots under way and still more to come, with many ways to be involved!

I personally have a vision for improved river access at various publicly accessible points in our area with signage, maps, distances, warnings and online information including links to area depth gauges with the latest updates. There will also be posted safety rules and rules about staying off private property along the river – which much of it is.  And maybe water safety, canoeing and kayaking courses offered by Mahomet Parks and Rec, too!

And don’t forget about the efforts to clean, monitor and protect the Sangamon River hosted by our own homegrown volunteer group, the Upper Sangamon River Conservancy. These include the annual Riverwatch program, going on during the months of May and June in the Sangamon River and its tributaries. Riverwatch monitors these areas for the macroinvertebrate species that indicate the health (or lack thereof) of a waterway or tributary. Plus there are mussel surveys later this summer, highway and river-based cleanup efforts, regular free float trips on the river and more.

You can find out about the USRC and all of our activities, and really just about anything Sangamon River, including taking your own short (free!) river excursion onto the river in our watercraft this upcoming Saturday, April 22nd (Earth Day) at the Izaak Walton cabin. Visit the USRC website at www.sangamonriver.org for more information about this event and the river, including a map with descriptions to all public access points for the river in our area.

Slowly, people – and the towns and villages they live in – have begun to see their rivers as a community economic asset rather than as a place in their backyard where they can haul their trash out and dump it.  (Which happens far more frequently than some of us might prefer to think).

American Rivers goes on to say “over the past decade, riverside towns across the country have discovered the benefits of being a ‘gateway’ community – hosting visitors as they explore natural areas or access designated launch points for river expeditions.”

Our river is our asset, an asset to be experienced, enjoyed and appreciated by our community. Launch your river expedition soon!

Appeared as Notes from the River, Mahomet Citizen, March 16, 2017, by Scott P. Hays

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