Cruising for Visions

By Gary Mechanic, Executive Director

Following the recent solar eclipse, Friends of the Fox River’s President Gary Swick drew a parallel in his monthly newsletter article between the ancient anxiety caused by the temporary darkness of an eclipse, and the depressing darkness that many of us feel about the temporary (we hope) rollback of federal environmental protections. One way to deal with this kind of darkness is by envisioning a brighter future, sharing the vision, and engaging everyone’s enduring hope for a healthier river, watershed, and world.

In hopes of lighting some lights, Friends of the Fox River rented one of the St. Charles Paddlewheel boats, invited speakers from governments, our environmental partners, sub-watershed groups, recreational user groups, and local citizens and visionaries like Charlie Zine from Aurora. We boarded the boat and set off on the evening of Saturday, September 23rd to share our speaker’s visions for the future of the Fox River.

We also hoped that by “crowd-sourcing” and sharing visions from a broad variety of viewpoints throughout the Fox Valley, from the headwaters to the confluence, we could inspire a larger agreement about what the river needs, and find new ways to work together toward a common vision for a healthier watershed and a cleaner, more vibrant river.

The unusual heat of those early fall days is nearly forgotten now, but by the time we boarded the “Queen of the Fox River” around 6 P.M., the temperature was almost comfortable. Still, once the more than 50 passengers got a cool beverage and some snacks, everyone headed for the breezes and beautiful views of the river on the upper deck.

A dozen speakers spoke about their organization’s work and future plans to improve access, preserve, protect and expand habitat, increase recreational use, enhance the fish populations, attract more visitors, manage and reduce stormwater, and educate the general public about our relationship with, and impacts on the natural world.

Karen Ann Miller, Executive Planner in Kane County’s Development Department, shared the vision of a continuous National Recreational Water Trail from Waukesha to Ottawa for the quiet and environmentally friendly use of human powered watercraft. Karen had to raise her voice a bit to be heard over the combined roars of the powerboats and jet skis powering up and down the river on a warm Saturday evening.

Gary Swick read FOFR founder Pat Reece’s brief but inspiring “founding vision” for our organization from Pat’s 400-page tome on the creation of FOFR. This is an excerpt from Pat’s vision:

“Our vision was predicated on two principles: First, the Fox River itself belongs to all the people—held in trust by the two states— and should be valued and protected as a sanctuary for wildlife and people like a national park, “for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.”

Second, we understood that any dying river ecosystem can only be restored successfully on a watershed scale. We believed an uncoordinated, piecemeal approach to river conservation work—with just a few enlightened organizations and agencies participating—would not even come close to doing the job. It will take all of us.

We all live downstream and all citizens and jurisdictions must step up to the plate and be on the same page at the same time to stop the decline and restore our dying river. Each state, county, and community must work in harmony from the same restoration management plan to bring our river system back to life—which can only occur through the leadership and coordination of a companion watershed council or an Interstate Fox River Restoration Commission.”

Jeff Mengler from the Fox River Ecosystem Partnership made essentially the same point. While there is an “alphabet soup” of environmental organizations on the Fox River….FOFR, FREP, FSG, CF, etc., we are all working on parts of the same problem and only through a larger partnership, across all sectors of society, can we reverse the degradation of our river and this ecosystem.

The sun had set and it was dark as we returned to the St. Charles Paddlewheel Boat dock. But somehow the world seemed just a bit brighter than when we left.