The Illinois River Road National Scenic Byway kicked off its new status and logo with a two-part caravan of sightseeing and news conferences.
All Illinois River roads led to Peoria Wednesday — and well-heeled tourists may be right behind.
The Illinois River Road National Scenic Byway kicked off its new status and logo with a two-part caravan of sightseeing and news conferences. One group of officials traced the northern end of the new byway from Ottawa to Princeton to East Peoria; the other motored north from Havana to Canton to Pekin. Both started and ended here.
A small celebration was held at Veterans Park in Princeton, welcoming the caravan that was bringing the new River Road sign.
"This is a great day for Princeton, and a great opportunity for the community," said Mayor Keith Cain. "We have a lot of history in our community, and the added tourism brings more money to our economy."
In Canton, about three dozen people came to Jones Park to get a look at the new sign and hear comments from officials.
Though it isn’t actually on the river, Canton is one of seven gateway communities for the project, said Brad McMillan, a byway board vice chairman.
"This is one of the best examples of community collaboration that I’ve ever seen," he said.
The caravan also stopped at Havana’s Riverfront Park.
"This kind of helps put Havana on the map," said the Rev. Bill Liebmann of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Havana. " It helps people here realized that we live in a community that is vibrant."
"Nature tourism is the fastest-growing tourism in the United States right now," Byway Director Anaise Berry told the two groups when they rejoined at the Gateway Building in Peoria. "Nature tourists also spend more money, and that’s what this is all about."
There are just 126 nationally designated byways in the America’s Byways program of the U.S. Department of Transportation. The Illinois River Road Byway is now eligible for special resources and support, including national and international marketing programs. It has received $289,000 in state and federal grants for maps, a Web site, signage, and kiosks to help people find nearly 100 sites of interest along its paths.
To be designated, byways must have at least one of six intrinsic values — nature, recreation, scenery, culture, history and archaeology. Byway backers would argue the Illinois River has all of these, but nature is the primary focus. That means everything from the Emiquon nature preserve on the southern end to Starved Rock State Park on the north.
"This is an opportunity to highlight the beauty of America. This is an opportunity to highlight the beauty of the world we live in," said U.S. Rep. Ray LaHood, R-Peoria. "For people who want to get off the interstate, to get off the clutter, this will give them an opportunity to do this."
He was cited as one key to the byway, along with U.S. Rep. Jerry Weller, R-Morris. There are 10 counties and 40 communities involved in the byway. Supporting players included The Nature Conservancy, the Tri-County Regional Planning Commission, Peoria Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, Illinois Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn’s office, the Illinois River Coordinating Council, the North Central Illinois Council of Governments, Community Foundation of Central Illinois and the Heartland Partnership.
"We really have a great story to tell," concluded McMillan, a former LaHood aide. "This scenic byway will help us do that."
Terry Bibo can be reached at (309) 686-3189 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Ann Weeks, Fitzgerald M. Doubet and Brenda Rothert contributed to this story.