Local Group Hoping to Bring Whitewater Park to Rockford

By: Mark Lindner
By: Mark Lindner

As we reported late last month, Rockford's Olympic dreams are currently on life support after Chicago turned in its official bid for the 2016 Games and left the Rock River out. Chicago's bid currently involves building a white water park in the Wicker Park neighborhood on the city's north side. However, the Illinois Paddling Council believes that if we build one on our river, the games will come.

Tom Lindblade was just one of many paddlers on the Rock River who hasn't given up the dream of seeing at least part of the Olympics come to Rockford.

"If its built in Rockford, its fairly unlikely that they would actually build one of their own if its not that far away," says Lindblade, who serves as the Vice President of the Illinois Paddling Council.

"The thing about Chicago, they're gonna have to have trouble with traffic anyways so what's an hour outside of Chicago as opposed to sitting in traffic in Chicago?" adds Heidi Haas, a whitewater rafter.

Those paddlers gathered on the Rock River Sunday morning to send a simple message to the city of Rockford.

"We need something close to Chicago so all of us Chicagoans can come out and the locals can come out," Haas says.

"I'm really looking forward to a whitewater park in Rockford so I don't have to drive four to eight hours on a Sunday to only paddle three hours," says whitewater rafter Diana Kittleton.

Those paddlers say the proposed park impacts more than just their community.

"It would bring in a lot of different kinds of people that would not normally come to the River District," says Tom Lindblade.

"If they can develop it into something meaningful, they should be able to make some money off of it," adds kayaker Joe Ginger.

"It'll bring people in and they'll start to come to Rockford and spend their money there," Heidi Haas says.

"It would promote some of the restaurants there. Its also possible that other businesses like places that would sell kayaks and canoes would be there," Lindblade adds.

In addition to helping local businesses, building the park could also usher in a new generation of paddlers.

"There's not many places you can go and kayak and canoe, there's not many places you can do either one and its fun to do them," says 12-year-old Ty Champlin, an avid kayaker.

"It helps with their confidence level, getting out and playing actually and learning how to use their body in a boat," adds Kittleton.

City leaders are still working to get Rockford included in any future Olympic plans. If built, the park would go in near the Ingersoll property.

The city is still discussing any possible plans to bring the park to Rockford. If approved, construction would start in the next three years.


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