Let’s Be Friends with the Fox River

Otter Creek Elementary School friends take a break from
FOTFR field studies at Stony Creek.

What is a friend?

Someone with whom you have a bond of mutual affection and support is a friend. As each party learns about each other, the relationship develops over time, which creates a feeling of respect that grows into affection. Such a relationship has give and take and tangible reasons for the camaraderie.

Sustenance to Profit Motives

For the first people to befriend the Fox River, it was a matter of providing essential resources like water and food. Later, the river offered a transportation route to gather resources and trade for other commodities. Some of those resources like pelts and pearls brought great wealth to a few but resulted in wildlife population pressures. Sometimes we betray our friend when greed blurs our relationship. Prioritizing the market resulted in devastation to both beavers and mussels – in just four years.

Rainbow mussel. Extirpated in Illinois and Endangered species in Wisconsin.

Improving Friendships

When towns were established, the Fox River offered drinking water, a wastewater disposal system for humans and industry, and mechanical power by sacrificing the free-flowing water for dams. At this point the friendship was severely tested and sadly, it got worse before it got better. But for the last 50 years, the friends on the shore have grown in numbers and impact. The water quality of the Fox River, its wildlife, and recreational opportunities for humans has greatly improved. The friendships are growing too.

elgin kimballstdam linke
Elgin’s Kimball Street Dam

The Trail

The conversion of a railroad bed to a paved trail along the river’s edge brings walkers, cyclists, and even running races. These experiences are not a direct connection, but the shared joy of how recreating by the river unites us. Often and extensively, the trail to shore areas is the site of litter creation by some, resulting in removal by others. Those who participate in individual and organized cleanups have a kinship with the Fox River. A more direct connection comes with nature enthusiasts. Whether folks enjoy botany, collect fungi (it was a good morel year), watch birds, listen to frogs, or capture nature in photos, the Fox River shares its abundance as a gesture to those who appreciate it.

Shore Fishing

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Just Fishin – a photo captured by Britta McKenna.

An interesting friendship involves the river’s bountiful fishery. Some folks enjoy the experience even without a single catch. Some enjoy just watching others fishing. Family memories are made here. Food is harvested, sport is practiced, and an intimate relationship is nurtured. However, not all anglers are respectful of the river and the litter cleanup folks have work to do. The threat to wildlife from discarded hooks and line is real because the selfish acts of leaving a mess is a test of the friendship to our river. Some friends are better than others and most anglers do respect their shoreline spots, but not all.

One With the Water

kayak friends
Friends paddling the Fox River.

Being physically supported in a floating position is partly a feeling of vulnerability, but also one of being cared for. From the earliest days, canoes carried people and their goods with the help and at the mercy of the river. Canoes are very versatile and a good camping vehicle. Though limited in cargo capacity, the kayak is easier to transport and offers the individual an opportunity to maneuver more easily. Paddle boards are an even leaner version of the “one with the water” relationship.

gary and marco
Gary Swick and Marco paddleboarding

Everyday Friendship

Every day 300,000 residents rely on the Fox River as a drinking water source. Nearly all of us along the watershed depend on it for accepting our wastewater and stormwater runoff. Having a river run through your community is becoming much more highly valued. Folks come from outside of our watershed to recreate with our river. They’re drawn to the tranquility and associated beauty. We have a very good friend in our Fox River.

How can we demonstrate our friendship? Save the Date!

iofrd 2023 logo final

The 2023 It’s Our Fox River Day (IOFRD) is September 16, 2023. It is a day of celebration of our relationship with our friend, the Fox River. It’s a day to demonstrate unity of spirit and stewardship for our 200-mile-long river. Please reflect on how you are a friend to the Fox River. Do you fish, boat, paddle, use the trail, explore, collect litter, or find other ways to appreciate your relationship with the Fox River? Consider how you can share that activity with others by creating an IOFRD event. Contemplate a gathering of family, friends, colleagues, or even the public. Just about any form of celebration for our friend the Fox River qualifies.

Join Others For IOFRD ‘23

Check out FOTFR’s website for a review of last year’s IOFRD, inspiration for this year’s events, and the registration page. Maybe your registered event will inspire others. The Fox River needs more friends, and your event or participation in someone else’s event, will help grow our Fox River’s friends.