Our Community’s River

So, you may not have caught on yet, but the Sangamon River is Our Community’s River.

Seriously, somebody should write a book about Mahomet and title it: “A River Runs Through It”. Then – after it becomes a best seller – it could become a feature film directed and narrated by Robert Redford and starring Brad Pitt and win an Academy Award for best cinematography.

I mean, if you had paddled the Sangamon just from Lake of the Woods down to Highway 47, you’d realize that there’s a genuine outdoor river experience snaking right through our town. And if you go farther, well…

Y’know, I’ve actually met people here in Mahomet who, while they know there’s a river here somewhere, aren’t even sure where it is. Yeah, a while back a woman was curious to find out exactly where the Sangamon is in Mahomet. I politely pointed out that she crosses it every day on 150 going to work and back.

This is not totally surprising since modern highway construction – and in particular, modern bridge construction – has emphasized smoothness, speed and seamlessness where highways cross waterways. So a person could easily be forgiven (albeit, not by me) for being unaware they are crossing over a 240 mile river where Abraham Lincoln once paddled. I mean, gone is the steel overhead trusswork, the uneven pavement, and the minimalist guardrails of highway bridges of yore that made no mistake of the fact that your roadway was crossing a waterway. Once upon a time crossing a river was an experience you couldn’t miss. Today, not so much.

Now try getting a good view of the Sangamon as you drive over it on 150 or Division Street, much less I-74. Even driving across the covered bridge at Lake of the Woods doesn’t actually afford a decent scenic Sangamon view.

But truly the Sangamon is Our Community’s River. Let’s face it, it’s the only one we’ve got so we may as well make the most of it. I mean, other small towns our size would kill for a beautiful natural amenity like a scenic river snaking all through it.

Which brings me to May the Fourth. Not as in “May the Fourth be with you” (my Star Wars geek comes out), but as in the Fourth Annual Sangamon River Showcase, sponsored by the Upper Sangamon River Conservancy.

The Sangamon River Showcase is our annual event where the USRC features all things Sangamon River. It is your opportunity to learn about the river and all that it offers us and all that the USRC does, and even have the opportunity to experience the river first-hand.

The USRC, a group I and many others helped to kick off in our community, has been at it for going on ten years now: promoting, protecting, monitoring, and just plain experiencing the Sangamon River.  We have our canoes and kayaks for people to use for FREE when they join us on river float trips, we lead groups of citizen scientists in efforts to monitor invertebrate species in the river and its tributaries and identifying, counting and measuring the Sangamon River’s impressively numerous, diverse and quite beautiful mussel species.

The USRC takes care of our community’s river with an active Adopt-a-Highway effort to clean up Highway 47 and frequently the 47/74 interchange area as well. This keeps human detritus from flowing down the banks and straight into the Sangamon. Recently we even found $123.00 in cash money laying along the highway. It certainly would have been a shame to see that go floating off down the river (we deposited it all in the USRC treasury, which always needs money).

And then every fall, we host our Annual Community River Clean up event, where tons of volunteers come out, hop in canoes and kayaks and spend the day giving a stretch of the river a good scouring. We take out styrofoam containers, beer cans, plastic water bottles, broken glass bottles, construction debris, bicycles, empty motor oil containers, bags that once held fertilizer, pesticides and herbicides, and tires – Oh, so many tires!

All (well, a sample) of this trash you can find on helpful visual display at the Annual Sangamon Showcase. We like to show this to demonstrate how some people still think of Our Community’s River: as something that makes their garbage disappear. Take my word for it: it doesn’t.

Other than that, there are many great and wonderful things on display at the Annual Sangamon Showcase. We have samples of the invertebrates from the river for you to examine, Citizen Scientist-style through the microscope, real and photographic samples of the Sangamon’s diverse mussels, and then there’s the fish.

Every year, a guy from IDNR comes out, spends the morning literally “shocking” the river, which stuns it’s fish and brings them to the surface, then they net them and put them in a tank where he shows this great variety of live, but probably still seriously stunned, fish to groups of people who come to the Showcase.  Then he puts them all back.

Another guy comes the Illinois Natural History survey and brings a huge table filled with lots of sand, and then he spends the morning making an impressive scenic winding river vista, complete with flowing water and tiny little houses and little trees and little rocks and little fences. Then, slowly, he erodes it all away, ending with a massive flood that washes it all downriver. Impressive! But really, the point is to show how different river management efforts can actually reduce and prevent the bank erosion that – while inevitable – can be reduced in many ways.

We have activities for kids including a mussel search and identify experience, practice casting and other experiences. And we have canoes and kayaks – lots or ‘em – there for you to take out on the river for a while – for FREE.

And last but not least, while the event and everything at it is all FREE (have I mentioned that yet?), we also have a small table for anyone who would like to make a generous-at-any-level donation to help support the efforts of the USRC to “preserve, maintain, monitor, and promote public use and awareness of the Sangamon River.” Our Community’s River.

The Sangamon Showcase will be held May 4th from 11am to 3pm at the Izaak Walton Cabin at Lake of the Woods Forest Preserve. Please check our website for more details and other information about the Sangamon River. www.sangamonriver.org And May the Fourth be with you.

Appeared as Rivers and Roads, Mahomet Citizen, by Scott Hays, April 25, 2019

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