We are the USRC

We are the USRC. The Upper Sangamon River Conservancy, that is. Our mission is to “preserve, maintain, monitor, and promote public use and awareness of the Sangamon River.”

The Sangamon was made for you and me; the Sangamon is our community’s river. Many surrounding Central Illinois communities sorely lack such a beautiful amenity coursing right through the middle of their town.

For example, on a Saturday in just a few weeks, over 500 Chambana residents will get out and help clean up the puny, nearly lifeless, unpaddle-able, urban watercourse they call “Boneyard Creek”. What can you say? It’s all they’ve got, the poor dears.

I mean, it’s a nice enough little waterway and they’re doing a lot with it. For example, they constructed the elaborate, concrete-enhanced, natural-appearing, 100% man-made “Second Street Basin”. If you haven’t visited there, you should probably stop by. It’s fairly attractive in an engineered man-made-natural-area sort of way. And some interesting natural creatures do occasionally stop by too

On the other hand, Mahomet has the Sangamon. A naturally “biologically diverse stream” that – in this writer’s humble opinion – dwarfs the natural beauty of our neighbors’ “Boneyard Creek”.

So incidentally, right after Boneyard Day that Saturday, from 1 to 5 pm on April 23rd, the USRC is hosting the First Annual Upper Sangamon River Conservancy Showcase at the Izaak Walton Cabin in Lake of the Woods Forest Preserve.

This event gives you the opportunity to learn more about our Sangamon River and the USRC. Here’s an overview:

Naturally, the Sangamon River is populated by fish, but you’ll probably be as amazed as we have often been to discover the diverse array of species in the Sangamon that Trent Thomas of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources will share with us.

While we’re on the subject of creatures in the Sangamon, one of the most interesting things we do every year is our Annual Mussel Survey, and again, you’ll be amazed at the Sangamon’s diverse mussels that come in an impressive array of colors, textures and sizes. We’ll have plenty of mussel shells on display and kids can even do some sample musseling.

The USRC participates every year in the Riverwatch program where we sample the river for “macroinvertebrate species” (basically, small bugs) which are a scientific indicator of the Sangamon River’s health and the health of its tributaries. You can learn all about the health of our river (amazingly good!) and what we do to monitor it and maybe even do some microscopic invertebrate identification yourself.

There’s another trail in the works, this one tentatively called the “Sangamon Greenway Trail”, starting at the end of the current trail in Barber Park and heading downriver – crossing it with a proposed new bike/footbridge – and ending at Division Street. Come on down and learn about this new initiative in our area and how you can help make it happen.

You may have seen the signs for the USRC’s “Adopt a Highway” on Highway 47 just north of the Interstate, but you may not realize just how much trash we pull out of that area, trash that won’t be flowing downstream and into the nearby Sangamon River. After visiting this exhibit, you too may want to strap on an attractive lime green vest and help out!

Every fall (and to some extent on pretty much every trip we take) our River Cleanup takes tons (literally) of garbage and debris out of our waterway, all by kayak and canoe. Come by and see many of the more fascinating things we find.

The USRC has taken over stewardship and maintenance of the site of the historic Hazen Bridge, the only structure in our area on the National Register of Historic Places. Every year, we cleanup and maintain this beautiful 5 acre mostly natural site along the river just north of Mahomet.

On the land surrounding the river, we’ve been trying to attract more native species with bird nest boxes. We continue to install Eastern bluebird boxes at the edge of open areas near the river and a few years back we worked with an Eagle Scout to install a number of wood duck boxes.

And speaking of ducks, we can’t leave out the Annual Sangamon River Duck Race as part of the Sangamon River Music Festival (6pm, Saturday night of the festival). At our showcase, kids can even try their hand picking a winning duck for a prize.

Last but not least are our regularly scheduled and free float trips down the Sangamon River, typically twice a month.  And – who knows – if river and weather conditions are good on the 23rd, we’ll bring the canoes down to the launch site just down from the Izaak Walton cabin and take guests out for short 15 or 20 minute guided excursions on the river.

Finally, while the First Annual USRC Showcase is completely free and open to everyone from our community and the surrounding area, we’ll have our donation can out for those who would like to help out in other ways. And tax-deductible donations can always be made through our partnership with the Community Foundation of East-Central Illinois.

We hope to see everyone there!

Appeared as Notes from the River, Mahomet Citizen, April 7, 2016, by Scott Hays

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