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A facelift for the canal

MINERAL — The Phase 1 study into possible rehabilitation work along a 50-mile stretch of the Hennepin Canal is nearing completion.

On Monday, Friends of the Hennepin Canal Publicity Director Cathy Foes said there are three basic options for the 50-mile stretch, which runs from Rock Falls to Geneseo. Those options include a simple maintenance program, a rehabilitation project to make the canal and locks workable, and then a complete restoration program.

The Friends of the Hennepin Canal and the Renaissance Hennepin Committee has hired the Johnson Lasky Architects firm to do the historic structure condition study, which includes a history of the canal, a preservation plan, existing conditions, material analysis, treatment recommendations, an itemized cost estimate and prioritized phasing recommendations.

The fact-finding study and report is about 90 percent complete with core sampling of the canal’s cement to be completed in the coming weeks, Foes said. Hopefully, the entire report will be completed and given to the Friends of the Hennepin Canal and the Renaissance Hennepin Committee in April. The group will then study the report for the best options for the canal and will hopefully have a recommendation on how to proceed to the IDNR by this fall. Any project at the canal will not be accomplished without the partnership of the IDNR, she said.

Phase 2 of the project will then be fundraising for the rehabilitation of the locks and working with the municipalities along the 50-mile stretch of the Hennepin Canal, Foes said.

Based on last summer’s study of the 2004-09 visitor statistics to state parks in Illinois, visitorship to the Hennepin Canal is up 2 percent, while visitorship to other state parks is down by 1.25 percent, Foes said.

Having the multi-purpose trail completed in 2004 along the Hennepin Canal has given the canal an identity which has drawn people to the canal. If the canal is rehabilitated to allow for cruising along the canal, that opportunity would give the canal another firm experience which would draw more people to the canal, she said.

Looking at the economic impact of the 50-mile rehabilitation project, Foes said studies have estimated $32 million will be generated in revenue and more than 900 jobs created in that first year of operation. Among the area industries which would be impacted by the project would include those in travel accommodations, food and beverage, auto repair and leasing, auto repairs, gas stations, and retail businesses. The impact will be felt not just by the communities along that 50-mile corridor, but by neighboring communities like Princeton as well.

Though the journey toward the rehabilitation project may be long and challenging, she’s still excited about the potential, Foes said. After all. challenges bring opportunities, she’s been told.

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