It’s election season again! Yes, this April 7, we’ll all head to the voting booth (well 12% of us will, on average) and vote in municipal elections including Mahomet Seymour School Board, Mahomet Village Board, and Cornbelt Fire Protection District.
So it was that on a recent Thursday evening at 7pm, Carol and I and a few (a disappointingly few) fellow citizens convened at the Mahomet Public Library for a candidate forum.
By this time you may be wondering: is there some relevant connection between a column about the Sangamon River and the upcoming municipal elections? But bear with me.
Three current School Board candidates – Jenny Park, Cheryl Melchi and Ken Keefe – took their seats up front. The three are, musical chairs-like, competing for two seats in the non-Mahomet Township area; the only locally contested election.
A key issue that came up again and again is the strength, quality and draw power of our M-S public schools, recently ranked 25th in the state. In fact, on every side, all agreed that our schools were a significant draw for anyone who considers making this area their home. Which is why this election is important.
Candidates also agreed with host Mike Kessel from the Mahomet Chamber that the Village needs to attract more business and commercial development to share some of the tax burden borne by residents for these strong, quality and highly ranked schools.
This kind of discussion continued through the Village Board portion of the candidate forum, at which point three current Village Board members took their seats at the table. These three candidates, Bruce Colravy, Bill Oliger and Don Lynn are running for three seats. So while the elections are not contested, it was good to see these three Village Trustees participating in this public forum.
The idea of attracting people and business to Mahomet continued, with all acknowledging the role and importance of our local schools.
And then things got even more interesting (for me), as our host, Mike Kessel of the Mahomet Chamber of Commerce pointed out many of Mahomet’s other amenities. Such as our amazing “Quality of Life”.
These included the fact that, unlike most of the rest of Champaign County, we have hills. Small ones to be sure, but we do have some of the more interesting terrain in our County.
We also have not one, not two, but three major Champaign County Forest Preserve facilities very nearby.
And the Village also has an excellent Parks and Recreation Department headed up by the seemingly tireless yet endlessly positive Dan Waldinger.
But – wait for it – most importantly of all (in this writer’s humble opinion) those present also acknowledged the importance of our very own Sangamon River in contributing to Mahomet’s renowned quality of life.
Heck I’ve known that for years. In fact, we could be among the few people who actually didn’t (necessarily) come here for the schools, but to move to our home on the Sangamon River. In fact, it was technically my daughter who picked the area for the schools, with her favorite choice being “anywhere but” the junior high where she was.
This area is uniquely blessed with multiple natural resources that we who live here had little, if anything to do with bringing about (unless someone around here has some powers which I’m not currently aware of). And when it comes to natural resources, all we have to do is to draw attention to them and raise local awareness.
And, as was gratefully acknowledged at the Village candidate forum, the USRC is doing all we can to do just that.
The USRC, begun in 2009, has grown to become an integral part of the Mahomet community, which brings me to the connection to the School Board race. One of my first experiences getting to know one of the candidates – Ken Keefe – was on a canoe trip with his lovely wife Jen on the Sangamon River on a trip from the Sangamon River Forest Preserve down to the Hazen Bridge.
Since 2011, the USRC has put on a joint fundraiser with the Mahomet Parks and Recreation Department with USRC member and Parks and Rec Director Dan Waldinger as emcee of the race.
One of our previous School Board reps, Val Boero, who occupied the seat Ken is currently vying for, is also a USRC member. Val has paddled the Sangamon River with her fellow USRC members (including me) on numerous occasions.
USRC Board members also include Mike Daab of the Champaign County Forest Preserve District as their representative and Forest Preserve Executive Director Dan Olson is also a member and avid fan. I first met Dan on a Sangamon River canoe trip from the SRFP down to Lake of the Woods.
In addition, my wife Carol is chairing Mahomet’s Rivertrails Committee (a part of the Village’s Park and Rec Department) which is actively working to complete Mahomet’s system of bicycle trails. The proposed “river trail” will begin from the trail’s current terminus under the 150 bridge at Barber Park, head downriver, then cross the river to the Sangamon Greenway bringing the trail up to Division Street.
This trail project was recently picked up by Champaign County First as one of only four County-wide projects that they will actively seek state and federal support for during the coming months.
And Village Board member Bruce Colravy, sitting up front with the others at the candidate forum, is a founding USRC Board member and current USRC President who heads up the groups’ environmental sciences activities.
And as for this columnist, while I may not be on the School Board or Village Board (I live outside Village limits anyway), I am on the USRC Board and have served as its President for several years. I currently head up the USRC’s river activities and personally coordinate and lead all USRC float trips down the river.
So as this election campaign season heats up, think about how critical Mahomet’s schools are for the quality of life in our community. And think about how our schools enhance the growth and attractiveness of this area, both for new families and for potential new businesses.
But also, don’t forget about our very own Sangamon River and how the USRC is also out there working with our community officials to promote our river to improve our quality of life and to make our area a great place to visit, to work and to sink your roots.
Appeared as Notes from the River, Mahomet Citizen, March 26, 2015 by Scott Hays