Summer Dreams

As the mercury drops into the twenties and teens, it’s a great time to think about paddling the Sangamon River.

Think about it that is, but not actually do it. Not yet. Gazing out at leafless trees standing silently on the powder sugar dusted forest floor along the banks of the Sangamon while mini icebergs float lazily downstream, inspires dreams of summer.

And for this summer, the Upper Sangamon River Conservancy has been dreaming up another sultry Sangamon season. 

The USRC is a community volunteer group of local river rats such as myself who enjoy spending a good part of their spring, summer and fall in, on and around the Sangamon River in our area. And full disclosure: this year I happen to be USRC President.

The summer schedule kicks off right after the beginning of Spring on March 23 for a bird watching trip to view the Great Blue Heron rookery north of the Hazen Bridge (before the trees leaf out).  The next trip heads downstream to Lake of the Woods on Sunday, April 7. Then on May 5, the USRC will host an “Introduction to the Sangamon” paddle for new members. This will be the shortest and easiest trip right through the heart of Mahomet. Designed for the beginner, this trip starts at Barber Park and takes out at the Sangamon Greenway by the Division Street bridge. This trip should be good for everyone.

We’ll also have longer, more adventurous day length trips down into Piatt County and Allerton Park, and trips exploring the upper reaches of the Sangamon River near where it leaves Champaign County in the northwest corner and looks more like Sangamon creek. And many other trips, too.

For those who want to make a more meaningful contribution, the USRC is hosting our annual river cleanup event on “It’s Our River Day”, Saturday, September 14. This is a great opportunity for the community to participate in cleaning up our river and to appreciate the importance of not dumping so much garbage into it in the first place.

The summer season is not only about paddling the river, either. You can become a “Citizen Scientist” and help out with our Riverwatch program where we monitor the invertebrate creatures in the Sangamon River and its tributaries as a way to monitor the quality and health of our river.  Sampling for invertebrates takes place in May and June.

The USRC also conducts an annual mussel survey where we get out in the water to document the Sangamon River’s mussel populations, scheduled this year for Saturday, August 10. Community volunteer participants are always amazed by the diversity in colors and species that populate our river and keep its water healthy.

If you want to help the river without getting your feet wet, our first highway cleanup along the USRC stretch of highway just north of Mahomet on IL 47 is Saturday, May 4, with three more scheduled throughout the year. Remember, trash flows downhill and downstream.

For those who prefer to swing a hammer, leverage a crowbar, haul timbers, or wield a chainsaw we also schedule work days to maintain and improve the Sangamon River’s historic Hazen Bridge north of Mahomet at CR 2600N. This historic bridge, listed in the National Register of Historic Places, is always in need of maintenance and repair, and USRC volunteers are always ready to grab their tools and help out.

And of course, don’t forget about the Third Annual Sangamon River Duck Race, set for the Sangamon River Music Festival on Saturday, August 24. Ducks are a bargain at 5 bucks a duck and first prize is $500 with at least a dozen other prizes from area shops. Ducks can be purchased online or at many sales booths and right up through Riverfest. Or do it one better, join the group and help out with sales or get out on the river on Race Day!

And don’t forget that these opportunities are frequently accompanied by picnics, cookouts and camaraderie. We’re not just about paddling and working.  We have a great time together!

Anyone from anywhere can join the USRC anytime and begin their own Sangamon River adventure right here in Mahomet‘s backyard. Membership forms are online and your $20 annual family (any way you prefer to think of it) dues is your gateway to participate in all USRC activities, including unlimited (but first come, first serve) use of USRC watercraft. 

Even when it’s in the teens outside, you can still pay a visit to the USRC’s website at View the video, check the calendar, study the online map with public access points, join the USRC listserv to become a ‘Friend of the River’ (free, for occasional email updates about the river) or do it one better, print the member flyer and mail it in with your twenty bucks to have your whole family join the USRC so you can be a part of the USRC!

You can also ‘Like” us on Facebook to see a more extensive photo gallery of the river and its environs. And you can come by our next February 18 monthly meeting at the Mahomet Library at 7 p,m. to learn more about the group and meet the other river rats.

So as you’re stuck inside with little more than your dreams of summer and wondering what you can do, let your mind drift down to the Sangamon River and to your own sultry river experience.

Think about it. Dream about it.

Appeared as Notes from the River, Mahomet Citizen, February 7, 2012, by Scott Hays

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