Members of Beloit 2020 are working to develop Nature on the Confluence, located near the area where the Rock River and Turtle Creek District meet in South Beloit. The natural area is set to feature prairie areas, nature trails and an education center.
"There’s considerable amount of industrial byproducts in this space. It’s a matter of managing them and capping them," said Jeff Adams of Beloit 2020. "There were a lot of automobile rehab places and auto shops that kind of left behind environmental liabilities. This is not a preservation project. This is a restoration project."
Organizers have planned a variety of opportunities to show the community the slow but steady transformation.
In June, an event called Meet Me at the Confluence included native plant restorations, kayaking and tours of the area.
About 4,000 prairie plants were planted, and last year, Beloit 2020 purchased the former Dahlman Muffler Shop, 306 Dickop St., to be converted into a nature learning center.
Adams said he hopes to have the center open by next June.
Residents will have another chance to use the area during the Fur Traders River Run that will be held from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 12, as part of the Heritage Days festivities. Kayaks will launch at the developing nature learning center.
"It follows the old fur trader route between Beloit and Rockton," said Therese Oldenburg, program coordinator. "It’s a free event, and people are welcome to come."
In the early 1800s, the Confluence area was the location of a Ho-Chunk village called Ke-Chunk, which means "turtle village."
"We don’t know the exact area of the village," Oldenburg said. "In the early 1800s, it was the original Turtle Village located at the confluence. It’s been used so much by industry and there’s a lot of industrial fill. It was one of the larger villages in the Illinois and Wisconsin area at the time. About 600 people lived there."
South Beloit Mayor Ted Rehl says the Confluence is a gateway for travelers heading north as well as coming south.
"Improving that corridor is important because it is the entrance to South Beloit from Wisconsin as well as to Beloit from Illinois," Rehl said. "It’s crucial both ways."
Rehl said the restoration is as much about building the image of South Beloit as it is about reclaiming an important natural resource.
"We’re not waiting for industry to come, we want to keep the industry we have," he said. "It’s so easy to lose them to the north with all the giveaways, but if we can keep what we have it makes it an attractive place for everyone."
Rehl says this is a real opportunity and a personal passion of his and fits into his family’s lifestyle. However, his greater motivation is to make South Beloit a great place to live.
He’s not alone.
He’s been joined by a variety of local organizations and school groups that have volunteered to help clean up the area.
"The area has been abused. There’s about a hundred years of industry that has depleted (the area)," Oldenburg said. "We’re working to restore the land. We’ve grown prairie plants and trees. It’s just a smaller part of the cleanup. School groups have come to help us clean it up."
"It will be a space where organizations can come and do presentations on environmental learning," Adams said. "It also will be a place to store the butterfly nets and fishing poles and kayaks. Once that’s been accomplished as a starting point -- a place to get started -- we are hopeful that our fundraising efforts will be successful and we can more intensely develop that area for a variety of environmental uses... It will likely not be completed (by June 2016), but we would like to invite people to come in to see it and potentially use it."
Other projects planned for the Confluence include outdoor pavilions, walking trails, prairie areas and urban gardens.
"You need some indoor learning space and then you need an outdoor learning space," Adams said. "There’s a lot of interests and potential users."
The Confluence also will be located in the center of the Rock River Trail.
"We think (the trail) might be one of the nice attributes of the Confluence," Adams said. "It’s near the halfway point of the Rock River Trail."
Adams said the Confluence is located near residential areas, which will make it accessible for people to view the nature areas and participate in the programs.
"Children can get there relatively easy, as opposed to other non-urban environmental areas where it’s hard to get to...," Adams said. "With the YMCA’s decision to move to the Ironworks building, that will bring hundreds and hundreds of kids within 500 feet of the confluence, so they can walk to the Confluence. So, that’s a wonderful benefit of having the ‘Y’ move near the river."
Oldenburg said the Confluence will provide South Beloit residents with easier access to the Rock River for recreational activities.
"South Beloit will now have a place where you can access the Rock River," she said. "(People) can now go on the path and go to the confluence. Four years ago, that would’ve been impossible. Now, they can walk down and see the area. I hope it will bring new life to the area and restore the area and make it an asset for Beloit, South Beloit and the Stateline area."
Adams said the confluence also will help reduce flooding in the area.
"Most of Turtle Creek is in Wisconsin, but the last 100 yards is in Illinois. That’s where you can get out of your kayak or canoe, but it’s also where it floods," Adams said. "What you do with the excess water also is an important part of this story. South Beloit has flooding issues, which start in Wisconsin. The water builds up in the north and comes down and floods the south, so we really need to reduce the water flow coming from Wisconsin, so it makes it easier to use this space for Illinois."
Adams said he hopes the Confluence becomes an ongoing project.
"There is no endpoint," Adams said. "Hopefully by 2020, there will be some significant developments."