Thursday, September 15, 2005

The Importance of Rivers and “It’s Our River Day”

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"It's Our River Day"

2005 Vermilion River Paddling Festival

Celebrate the Sangamon! River Clean-up
City of Monticello - 217.762.2583 or Prairie Rivers Network - 217.344.2371

It’s easy enough to live in our part of Illinois without thinking too much about rivers. They are numerous here, but small and heavily altered, and most of us encounter them only as we drive over bridges. But stop to dip your toes in one and you are connected to a system that makes life here possible.

Statewide, Illinois boasts thirty-three thousand miles of permanently flowing rivers and streams. If you lined them all up they would stretch the length of the state from north to south eighty-five times.

We ask a lot of these waterways. More than seven and a half million people in Illinois get their tap water from rivers or other surface water sources, including reservoirs. We hunt and fish and boat and birdwatch on rivers.

We also depend heavily on rivers for taking water away. Cities and industry combine to discharge millions of gallons of treated wastewater a day into Illinois rivers and streams. These waterways are also essential for carrying off storm water, making it possible for people to live and farm in areas that would otherwise remain too wet for such purposes.

Human uses aside, Illinois rivers and streams are home to amazingly diverse aquatic animal communities, including a hundred eighty-eight species of fish, fifty-seven species of mussels, and hundreds of species of insects. These aquatic communities are, in turn, interwoven with the wider community of animals that inhabits river corridors, everything from painted turtles and tiger salamanders, to otters, osprey, bald eagles, and herons. Indeed, river corridors account for nearly all of the high quality wildlife habitat that remains in east central Illinois.

All of this is a long way of encouraging you to participate in “It’s Our River day,” this Saturday, September 17th. This statewide celebration, championed by Illinois Lieutenant Governor Pat Quinn and the Illinois River Coordinating Council, calls attention to the roles rivers play in our lives, and encourages citizens to get involved with river conservation.

In Monticello, a number of groups including the city and Prairie Rivers Network will sponsor a clean-up to “Celebrate the Sangamon!” You are invited to paddle the river in a canoe or walk the banks to help remove debris. This clean-up is scheduled for 8:30 a.m. to noon, with check-in at the Monticello City Building.

In Danville, there is a clean-up on the Salt Fork River scheduled from 10 am to 3 pm on Saturday, in connection with the Vermilion River Fall Festival at Ellsworth Park. The festival, which runs Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, also includes canoe and kayak rides, along with conservation, education, and recreation booths.

Other “It’s Our River Day” events include clean-ups on the Kankakee and the Mackinaw, and at various sites on the Illinois River. Details and web links for these events and others are available on the
Lieutenant Governor’s website.

So if you’ve got the time, Saturday promises to be a great day on the water.