Illinois hunting and fishing

Paddling enthusiasts want to rededicate a section of the Sangamon River as the Lincoln Heritage Canoe Trail. Photos by Chris Young

Rededicating Abe’s river: advocates say a cleaner Sangamon would attract visitors

August 27, 2011 at 03:54 PM

There’s nothing like the threat of company coming to get the house cleaned up.

Paddling enthusiasts hope someday to rededicate a section of the Sangamon River as an historic water trail – promoting the opportunity to canoe and kayak the same river navigated by a young Abraham Lincoln.

Advocates for the water trail hope it also instills pride in the Sangamon River so those who use it and live on its banks will better care for the resource.

The water trail already exists. In 1965, Gov. Otto Kerner dedicated the Lincoln Heritage Canoe Trail from Lincoln Trail Homestead State Park near Decatur—where Lincoln first lived in Illinois—to Lincoln’s New Salem State Historic Site outside Petersburg.

Scott Hewitt of Lincoln’s New Salem Canoe and Kayak Rental in Petersburg said the Sangamon River is a different kind of Lincoln site.

Lincoln traveled the river in a canoe before his famous trip on the flatboat that got stuck at New Salem in 1831.

Illinois hunting and fishing

Scott Hewitt picks up trash along the shores of the Sangamon River Thursday.

“Most of the sites, with the exception of New Salem, are inside,” Hewitt said. “Wouldn’t it be great if we could tell visitors from other countries the Great Emancipator’s river is still as pristine as when Lincoln paddled it?”

But before the rejuvenated water trail becomes a reality, details have to be ironed out, including securing safe places for people to park and launch canoes.

“There is access in Riverton and Springfield, then there is a big gap all the way to New Salem and Petersburg,” said Dick Westfall, greenways and trails section manager for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

“There are unofficial access points, but they are not managed and identified as public access,” he said. “Someone would have to be responsible for it, so (paddlers) could safely access the river without trespassing.”

Parking would have to be available, along with trash receptacles.

“Outside of the Springfield Park District and Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, you are asking rural counties or townships to take on a job they don’t normally do.”

There are other safety concerns, such as remnants of former dams that can surface when the river is low.

Westfall said DNR staff members are in the process of setting up a meeting with Hewitt and other interested parties.

“We want to get together with the paddling folks, so we can assess, ‘What are our options?’ ” he said.

In northern Illinois, there are forest preserve districts and other government entities to help shoulder the load.

“Up north, there is access every few miles,” Westfall said. “There are lots of agencies to divide up the responsibilities. It’s more difficult downstate.”

For the water trail to be a success, the river has to be kept clean, Hewitt said.

“People have to have a good experience,” he said. “If they hop out and cut their foot on a piece of glass, that’s not going to be a good memory to take back to another country. That’s for sure.”


The Sangamon River

Length: About 250 miles

Watershed: 3.7 million acres

Tributaries: Salt Creek and South Fork are the largest

Water quality: All stream miles rated “fair” by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency.

Sangamon River Cleanup

The annual river cleanup will be held Sept. 17 as part of “It’s Our River Day” statewide.

This year’s cleanup will cover from Irwin Bridge to New Salem, but will be broken into sections.

“With low water, it’s going to take too long to cover the whole thing,” said organizer Scott Hewitt. “Irwin Bridge to Gudgel Road takes 2 1/2 hours. The whole trip takes at least five.”

A dumpster will be available at the takeout at Lincoln’s New Salem State Historic Site.

For more information, call Hewitt at 494-3957 or visit:

Illinois hunting and fishing

Volunteers roll an old tire up the boat ramp at Lincoln’s New Salem during last year’s cleanup.