Beloit to soon host Rock River Trail grand opening event

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BELOIT- The grand opening on the Rock River Trail will be celebrated on June 3 after the last of the eight trail elements was completed late last year. The grand opening ceremony, complete with a ribbon cutting and guest speakers from both Illinois and Wisconsin, will be from 10-11 a.m. on June 3 at the Rotary River Center, 1160 S. Riverside Drive, Beloit. Grand opening events and activities will be held in both Beloit and South Beloit as well as at other locations along the trail.

"It'll be the perfect time for families to come out and enjoy the river as well as all of the other elements and activities that we have planned," said Greg Farnham, coordinator for the Rock River Trail Initiative.

The Rock River Trail brings in headwaters above Horicon Marsh in Wisconsin to where the Rock River flows into the Mississippi River at Rock Island, Illinois. Beloit was selected for the grand opening location because it's located at the halfway point of the 320-mile trail. The trail spans two states, 11 counties and encompasses 41 communities.

To encourage trail exploration, the Rock River Trail Initiative has established a 320-Mile Award for individuals who have hiked, biked, paddled or drove along the entire trail over any period of time and have kept records using self-reporting. Five paddlers will be awarded their 320-Mile patches at the grand opening ceremony.

Gary Meier and Perry Folts, of Beloit, will launch a Rock River kayak journey on June 3 from Beloit to the Mississippi River in Rock Island, Illinois as a way to commemorate the grand opening. The 163-mile journey will take approximately seven days with overnight stops at camping areas that have been established along the water trail.

Folts started kayaking eight years ago and said this is a preparation trip with his friend Meier. Upon retirement, he plans on taking another trip the same route, then following the Mississippi River and traveling all the way to New Orleans.

"I think it's going to be a fun little adventure for us," Folts said.

Farnham said the initiative was established in 2010, and the water trail was completed in September 2012. In March of 2013, the Rock River water trail was designated into the National Park Service's water trail system.

The scenic and historic driving route was established in July 2013. From then on biking and hiking routes were added. An air route linking the 10 airports from the Quad Cities to Juneau, Wisconsin, was added.

Farnham said then the initiative added an art route that documents all of the artwork and sculptures along the trail.

"We were all very hungry after all that work, so we said what would be better than a chocolate trail?" Farnham joked.

The final element was therefore the Rock River Chocolate Trail, which documents all of the chocolate shops in the cities along the river trails.

Details on all of the elements as well as more information on the grand opening activities are available by visiting www.rockrivertrail.com.

Farnham said historically, buildings were constructed so the entrance faced the street and the back faced the river, traditionally making the rivers a waste dump. He said Frank Schier, the founder and visionary behind the Rock River Trail, wanted to make sure residents were stewards, not polluters, of the river.

"We would like to increase public awareness of the Rock River not only as a recreational resource but as a natural resource we have to take care of and enjoy," Farnham said.

Schier passed away at the beginning of 2017, and Farnham said the grand opening activities will help to honor Schier's legacy and vision of the Rock River's beauty.

Here is a list of all of the June 3 grand opening events area events, which are free unless otherwise stated:

• 7-11 a.m. - Fly/Drive-In Pancake Breakfast at the Beloit Airport hosted by EAA Chapter 60. For $7, residents may enjoy a pancake breakfast and view classic cars and airplanes.

• 9 a.m. - An adult community bike ride is planned from the Beloit Airport to the Rotary River Center.

• 9 a.m. - Residents may paddle from Armstrong Eddy Park to the grand opening ceremony. Residents must have their own kayak or canoe.

• 9 a.m.-noon - The fur trader re-enactor and voyager canoe exhibit will be open.

• 1:30 p.m. - Rocktown Adventures will host Fur Traders River Run launching at Nature At the Confluence in South Beloit. The price is $50 for kayak rental, but is free with your own boat and transportation. Pre-registration is required.

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