A Visit to the River

I like it when people come to visit me.

So it was particularly nice when – a couple weeks ago – a group of people came for a visit. They started out north of Mahomet at the Sangamon River Forest Preserve – nine of them, in four canoes and a kayak. They arrived a little after 9 in the morning and were welcomed by a small horde of mosquitos.

But a little bug spray (well, a lot actually), always a good idea this time of year, took care of that problem. So no big deal.

Some of them had visited before, but I particularly liked the fact that three of them had never been for a visit, so that was pretty special. I certainly hoped they’d have a good time.

They started out uneventfully enough, although the put-in spot the Forest Preserve District created is muddy and not just a little bit awkward. Still, by way of access points, it’s not too bad. I do really wish it could be better. I think more people might come to visit if it were.

Conditions were good, but the sky threatened rain. I was actually surprised they forged ahead, but they were really set on having a good trip.

It was good to see that they brought some big garbage bags and grabbers to do some cleaning up along the way, too. My philosophy is that when anyone comes to visit, they should always leave things cleaner than it was when they arrived.

So they chatted as they took some time to pick up bits of styrofoam, cans and plastic bottles.

The forest closed in as they casually paddled downstream and they encountered their first fallen tree not far into their trip. But they were able to pass under and around with a minimum of hassle. Just enough to make it interesting.

Not much farther along, one of them spotted a tire stuck on a fallen log along the shore. I’m glad they took the time to paddle over and pull the tire off the log and load it into their canoe. Even though the tire was still on the rim!

I really do wonder how these tires and rims get here. I mean, a discarded old tire is one thing, but the rim too? It still befuddles me the way people behave toward their rivers sometimes. I just don’t understand. But I like these visitors, and I’d like to see lots more people like them who truly do care.

Anyway, not far after that, they came upon a major blockage. That’s always disappointing to me, especially with newcomers along that I like to try and impress. But that’s just the way things go. They had to drag their canoes out of the water and up and around, but not before pulling out lots more trash and even another tire – on the rim again – and loading it into another canoe.

I really like one of the next things this group came upon. Here, a landowner constructed an impressive suspension bridge extending from a high bluff over to a platform built up high in a sycamore with platforms and ladders to get down. It’s private property of course, but it’s an impressive sight to see and I for one would like to see more structures like these along the river.

Further along, I like to show off one of the nicer things to see along this route, a major rookery of great blue herons.

The herons make their nests high in the tops of sycamore trees and by this time of year, they’re really hard to see, but they still were able to see a few, enough to sense the wonder that birds this large choose to build their homes so high up in the tops of sycamore trees.

The great blue heron is the mascot of the Upper Sangamon River Conservancy, a group I like very much. And these visitors were part of that group and were being guided by one of the guys that got that group started.

Not long after, they crossed under one of my favorite spots along the river, the Hazen Bridge. While bridges replace old shallow fords and keep people up and out of the river, I think bridges make people appreciate rivers just a little more and can see the river as a benign thing of beauty instead of a formidable barrier to be forded.

Especially bridges made like the Hazen. Although long since closed to traffic, the Hazen was a single lane bridge, a bridge that was made for proceeding slowly, and a bridge with excellent river views, too! Not like the newer concrete ones like the one right beside it.

Along the way, the intrepid group of visitors did get rained on and thunder and lightning loomed in the Northern sky. They bypassed another blockage by taking a narrow side channel that had challenges of its own. But they had a good trip overall, ending at the home of the guy I mentioned earlier.

I wanted to point out that along their way, they passed a spot where a guy built a huge mansion and at one point was trying to sell it for $15 million.

I’d like to think that I had something to do with making that place just a little more special and maybe even a little more valuable. I’d like to do what I can to be sure it – and it’s nearly a mile of riverfront – sells to somebody who really cares about me and truly sees me for the valuable treasure I am.

You see, I’m a river. A river that flows through an area where it seems like lots of people may have forgotten about me. Just put me out of their minds and barely even think of me as they now zoom across me on their high speed bridges of concrete; bridges that you can barely tell from the roadways leading up to them.

As a river, I don’t ask for much, just for people to like me. For people who care. For people who think of me as more than just a drainage ditch, or as a place in their backyards where they can toss their old tires, televisions, and washers.

So as I end the tale of my recent visitors, I’d like to invite you too to come on out for a visit! You’ll undoubtedly be glad you did. I’m full of surprises, delights, and yes, even challenges.

And besides, I really do like it when people come and visit me.

Appeared as Notes from the River, Mahomet Citizen, June 18, 2015, by Scott Hays

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