River merits attention, Heights sets good example

Staff Writer
Woodford Times

The Illinois River is a tremendous resource many of us give little thought.

Luckily, we have organizations, including the Heartland Water Resources Council, The Nature Conservancy, the Tri-County Regional Planning Commission, the Illinois River Bluffs Ecosystem Partnership, the Tri-County Riverfront Action Forum and the Peoria Lakes Basin Alliance, taking an active role in caring for the river.

We were struck by the motto for the Peoria Lakes Basin Alliance. It reads, “A unified voice for the restoration and preservation of the Peoria Lakes.”

A unified voice is what we saw a couple of weeks ago when the Peoria Heights Village Board unanimously approved sending $5,000 to the Heartland Water Resources Council for lobbying the federal government to free up money for silt removal on the Illinois River. 

Peoria Heights joins Peoria, Morton, Washington and East Peoria in devoting municipal funds for this effort. Let us hope more communities in the Tri-County Area and beyond recognize the need for this effort.

Peoria Heights Mayor Mark Allen, who sits on the board of the Heartland Water Resources Council, said it will take millions of dollars at the federal level to impact the silting issue in the river.

Trustee Bryan Harn said municipalities along the river and beyond need to recognize the importance of the river and take steps to be stewards.

Harn said no one else is going to lobby on behalf of the river.

The feds, he said, seem to harbor an attitude that, as long as barges can navigate the river, there is no problem.

“The whole river, except for the channel, is silted in,” Harn said. 

Allen said we all have a huge stake in the river. He is right. Allen conceded the money devoted to lobbying efforts at the federal level carries no guarantees of action. But, he correctly added, without this effort, we know nothing will happen.

As Allen said, the riverfront in Peoria Heights is underutilized. He said, perhaps, in a generation or two, that can change. 

“Right now, most of it is privately owned. But, we have a park down there.” Allen said.  “I’d also like to see a linear park down there in the years to come. That area down there is a diamond in the rough. It needs attention to become a diamond. If we don’t do something, that area will become nothing but a marsh. We won’t attract people to a marsh.”

The park Allen spoke of is seldom visited. But, those who do visit it find a jewel in the rough. It is akin to the Pimiteoui Trail, off Grandview Drive, and Forest Park Nature Center, two other jewels in the rough.

At the park, the river is seen in a natural setting.

To the north is a stand of trees that, when viewed in conjunction with the river, gives one a feeling of what the Indians living here 10,000 years ago must have looked at from that spot.

This is an issue that has been building up for decades.

It will take time to resolve this issue. It is encouraging to see municipal leaders taking steps to be responsible stewards of the river.