On a whim, we drove out to an area north and east of Mahomet to check out a real estate listing for a home described as “nestled in the heart of Mother Nature”. We lived then in a nice old home in the middle of the peaceful and quaint town of Philo, so we weren’t really on the market. Nonetheless…
Then I saw it. Three heavily forested acres on the Sangamon River abounding with white oaks, pin oaks, hickory and walnut trees, an all-wood home set on the edge of a ravine that looked like a vacation cabin with high vaulted ceilings, a large, central brick fireplace and on either end, two 12 foot tall, picture windows, one with a view downriver of the Sangamon, the other looking up the Crooked Creek ravine. It was the kind of home set in the kind of place I’d always wanted.
Thus began my family’s new life on the Sangamon River.
I knew little of the Sangamon River, Mahomet, or much else of this area except that the schools were supposed to be pretty good, so that was a plus.
So I bought a new kayak, put it in the river in my backyard and began to explore. The Central Illinois landscape I had known in Philo seemed far, far away as the Sangamon River twisted and turned through heavily wooded native forest, sycamore, silver maple, and other trees forming a nearly complete canopy over the entire route. By the time I stepped out, I was definitely hooked.
I’ve been in a canoe since I was 5, canoeing the Broward and St. John’s river behind the house I grew up in, the Suwanee River and the Okefenokee Swamp. And even – once when I was a teenager – the Atlantic Ocean before an approaching hurricane (bad idea). While in Southern Illinois, I canoed the Current and Eleven Point Rivers in Southern Missouri, and in Philo I canoed Sugar Creek at Turkey Run, the Middle Fork, and Homer Lake. Comparatively, the Sangamon was perfect. And all the better for being in the backyard of our new Illinois home.
I continued to explore the Sangamon, upriver and down from my place every chance I could and found wonders around every turn. It wasn’t always easy, in some places the river was blocked by fallen trees creating ‘logjams’ and sometimes the river spread out across shoals that I had to drag my boat through. I worked on my property to clear junk out to the river and to improve my river access with steps down the steep and muddy bank.
Our place on the river has a nice sand bar area where at low water we can walk out onto the river. We were out there frequently, sitting in chairs, swimming the river and sometimes anchoring air mattresses to the bottom and relaxing and floating under the treetops gently blowing in the summer breeze. We even ice-skating on the frozen river in the winter!
I loved my experience of the Sangamon River so much I just had to share it.
So I went to Mahomet Area Planning Project meetings where we talked about rivertrails along the river. I went to the opening of the Sangamon River Forest Preserve where then Director Jerry Pagac talked about water trails. I went to County Land Use Planning meetings. I even ran for Champaign County Board where I took people down the river as a campaign event (I lost). I talked to people and I met fellow travelers.
By and by several fellow travelers and I came together to form the Upper Sangamon River Conservancy by 2009.
Fast forward to 2018.
The USRC has been in place now since 2009, hosting float trips (led by me), participating in Riverwatch, Mussel Surveys and other projects in the River’s riparian corridor, river cleanups, highway cleanups and, in partnership with Mahomet Parks and Rec, our Annual Duck Race on the Sangamon River.
I have served as President of the USRC for several years, currently serving as its secretary, and now I have helped to found the Sangamon River Alliance, a group linking groups up and down the Sangamon River all the way to Springfield. I am on the board of the Illinois Paddling Council, serving as the statewide Advocacy Chair. I also serve as one of five Commissioners on the Champaign County Forest Preserve District Board, which has four properties on the Sangamon River (Riverbend, Lake of the Woods, Riverview Retreat Center and the Sangamon River Forest Preserve), among others.
But I’m most satisfied with the opportunity I’ve had to write columns on the Sangamon River for the Mahomet Citizen. Starting with Notes from the River, which recently transitioned to “Lincoln’s River” (all columns available on the USRC’s website: sangamonriver.org).
Now I begin this newer, broader adventure, Rivers and Roads. Where we’ll continue to cover the past, present, and future of all things Sangamon River, but also consider other goings on involving the rivers and other outdoor places throughout our area and sometimes – where relevant – beyond. I’ll share information based on my experience as a Forest Preserve Commissioner, a member of the Sangamon River Alliance and the Illinois Paddling Council, and I may share stories from Prairie Rivers Network, where my wife Carol now serves as Executive Director.
I’ll certainly share stories of living, playing, kayaking and canoeing the Sangamon River. All in hopes that you’ll join me and people like me in spending more time outdoors and in making Mahomet’s Sangamon River as much a part of your lives as it is of mine.
Now we move forward along life’s Rivers and Roads.