by CLIFF AND NANCY HILL
At a recent Rogue River Watershed Council meeting, invited guest Rockford City Manager Michael Young let it be known that Rockford had been extremely fortunate in again receiving a DNR trust fund grant to complete the final phase (III) of the Rogue River Nature Trail.
Envisioned by City planners some 20 years ago, the Rogue River Nature Trail was conceived to provide a beautiful and safe walkable trail along the west side of the Rogue River. More importantly, it was meant to provide a pedestrian pathway connecting the City neighborhoods on the west side of the river to the heart of Rockford’s downtown area.
Two phases have been completed. Phase I, originating at the City’s southern border and continuing a third of a mile to Peppler Memorial Park, was completed in 2005. Inclusive of the first trail segment was the existing Trestle Bridge across the Rogue River and the White Pine Trail, allowing trail users from the City’s southwestern neighborhoods access to downtown and the walkway across the Rogue River Dam.
Phase II, completed in 2008, connected to Phase I in Peppler Memorial Park at the gazebo and continued northward riverside for another third of a mile, ending in the vicinity of Prospect and W. Prospect streets.
Constructed as a boardwalk with railings and lookouts, this beautiful elevated segment was so well conceived that in 2009 it was awarded the “Project of the Year Award—Structures” for projects less than $5 million by the American Public Works Association.
If Phase II had one failing, it was that it terminated at its north end with no direct connection to riverside neighborhoods and the Highlands neighborhoods to the west. As a result, trail users had to make a u-turn and return to Peppler Park.
With the awarding of 2011’s DNR trust fund grant to complete the missing link, Phase III will continue the trail riverside some 700 feet to an already existing sidewalk connector off Chelsea Court in the Riverchase neighborhood.
Eureka! With the completion of this final segment, the Rogue River Nature Trail will open up pathways to all of the neighborhoods, from north to south, on the west side of the river, including the Highlands and Heritage Park. In doing so, this wonderful amenity will allow a natural pedestrian-friendly footpath to connect neighborhood to neighborhood, as well as our vibrant downtown, without ever having to traverse dangerous roadsides where sidewalks oftentimes are not present.
All three segments of the Rogue River Nature Trail were funded in part by grants from the DNR trust fund. In fact, many of the quality-of-life amenities and superior services we take for granted as residents of the City of Rockford were provided as a direct result of grants and matching monies from governmental agencies and private entities, local governments or otherwise.
A little known fact that merits reporting is that, with this latest grant, Rockford has received 24 grants from 1998 to the present. Combined, the projects had a total worth of a whopping $4,350,000 in grants and matching monies. The citizens of the City of Rockford and indeed those of the greater Rockford community owe City Manager Michael Young a debt of gratitude. Without Young’s consummate skills in the art of grant-writing, much of what we enjoy today in the areas of public safety, infrastructure, and parks and recreation, to name a few, would not have been possible.
So, with the final Phase III grant agreement with the DNR, anticipated by late winter or early spring, look for construction to begin on yet another added jewel to the amenities offered by Rockford’s beautiful park system.
“This project has been part of the City’s Master Plan for 20 years. Personally, I’m ever so glad, for all of us, to see it finally come to fruition,” said Young.