Watertrails!

“Mahomet nets funds for park upgrades” Mahomet Citizen, 10/18/18

Last week’s Citizen headline was certainly a long time coming. The story goes back at least 10 years to a citizen input meeting for the “Mahomet Area Planning Project.”

I was at that meeting in 2008, among a group of citizens volunteering to serve on a “Rivertrail” subcommittee. I had moved to the area not long before, mainly for the Sangamon River (good schools were a definite plus though). I had already come to see the Sangamon River as an area treasure.

The committee was energized because the state was issuing a $100,000 bike trail grant with only a 20% match required from the Village. Mahomet however wouldn’t commit to the match and took a pass on the grant.

Disappointed and disillusioned, I remember thinking that a return of $80,000 for a $20,000 investment is a pretty good ROI. Nonetheless, I and several others remained committed and energized and continued to move ahead. A short while later, the Champaign County Forest Preserve District opened Sangamon River Forest Preserve with promises of watertrail development on the Sangamon River between that preserve near Fisher and Riverbend, south of Mahomet.

Our little ‘rivertrail’ subcommittee continued to meet and expanded its boundaries beyond Mahomet to include the Forest Preserve District properties on the Sangamon River. Soon, this group decided a more permanent community group organized around the Sangamon was needed and in 2009, the Upper Sangamon River Conservancy was born.

In 2013, Mahomet formed another “Rivertrail Committee” of citizens and Village officials to create a rivertrail plan. My wife Carol chaired that committee with members including Dan Waldinger of the Parks and Rec department, Mayor Sean Widener, Administrator Pat Brown, Trustee Bruce Colravy and others. With the help of Champaign County’s Regional Planning Commission, this committee created the first Rivertrail Plan. That plan included the launch site at the Sangamon Greenway.

In the Fall of 2014, to begin to realize that plan, Dan applied for a $100,000 “Boat Access Area Development” (BAAD) grant from IDNR. This grant required a match similar to the one from 2008, but this time, the new Village government funded the match.

With the guidance outlined in the Rivertrail Plan (according to the IDNR), the Village was awarded the BAAD grant in early 2015. But then our state elected officials quickly lost any sense of reason, or at least any ability to play nice together in the sandbox.

And so the entire state budget process flopped, leaving 2 and a half years’ worth of potential state budgets tossed onto the ash heap of history. In the course of this, the Village’s BAAD grant funds were “swept” before they were doled out. Which is a polite way of saying ‘what the state of Illinois giveth, the state of Illinois can taketh away.’

Disappointed and disillusioned, Dan finally gave up on the BAAD grant program, applying to the Recreational Trails Program instead. With a nod to this great strategic choice by Dan, we come to last week’s Citizen headline.

I say all this only to say that a small on-the-fold headline can sometimes require years of effort and the time and commitment of many volunteers and staff to bring to reality. I truly appreciate the vision and leadership of the Village, in particular Dan Waldinger, Mayor Widener, Administrator Brown and Trustee Bruce Colravy.

I’m very enthusiastic about this new project, and heck, it’s not even built yet, and won’t be for another year (and that’s if the weather holds). But patience seems to be a virtue in dealing with such things.

In the meantime, other exciting things are happening. The Village has used the Rivertrail Plan to apply for funding from the Illinois Trail Enhancement Program (ITEP) to extend our bicycle trail along the tree line by the river in Barber Park and then across the Sangamon near the railroad trestle, under the tracks and up through the Sangamon Greenway to meet the new river access point. When funded, this scenic bike trail will link south Mahomet to Barber Park, downtown Mahomet, Lake of the Woods and beyond.

Exciting new plans under development for Barber Park include a river edge ‘treehouse outdoor education classroom’ along the Sangamon River to be used by our schools, the park district and others  The USRC will soon be seeking donations to help build this one, so stay tuned!

The BAAD grant program is set to reopen in 2019 after a five year hiatus, and we’ll be there with funding applications for the Sangamon River, including access points in the Village and our Forest Preserves at Riverbend, Lake of the Woods and Sangamon River Forest Preserve. And yes, the Rivertrail Committee will continue working with citizen volunteers to make these riverine dreams a reality.

Stay tuned, it’s going to get interesting. And believe me when I say that all of these efforts can use your input and help as plans continue to develop and unfold. Be a part of it! Send me an email anytime if you’re interested – sphays12@gmail.com. Let me know what kind of role you’d like to play and I’ll help to connect you.

And the public is always invited to the monthly meetings of the USRC on the first Monday at the Mahomet Public Library, always 7pm. Except December – we take a holiday break.

Get out there! Get outside! Get involved! And help make some headlines happen!

And maybe the next rivertrail headline won’t take another ten years.

 

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