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Canoe and kayak trail open

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The new Illinois River Canoe & Kayak Trail, built through a joint effort of union volunteers and a charitable foundation, opened Thursday.

The Union Sportsmen’s Alliance, armed with a grant from American Water Charitable Foundation’s Building Better Communities initiative, used local union volunteers through its Work Boots on the Ground conservation program to complete the project. The project was opened with a ribbon cutting in Pekin that was co-sponsored by the Sportsmen’s Alliance, Illinois American Water and the Greater Peoria Economic Development Council.

American Water, parent of Illinois American Water, gave the Sportsmen’s Alliance $25,000 for three conservation projects to improve public access to water-based recreation. The other projects are in Tennessee and West Virginia.

“Our partnership with American Water is unique and beneficial to everyone involved,” said Fred Myers, USA CEO and executive director. “By pairing the grant with Work Boots on the Ground, project funding makes a greater impact because superior work from skilled union members is performed on a volunteer basis. This allows grant funds to cover materials, equipment and other project expenses.”

According to a joint news release, the project came to USA and Illinois American Water via award-winning storyteller and author Brian "Fox" Ellis through his work on Greater Peoria Economic Development Council’s Water Resource Team’s Tourism and Recreation committee.  

“The Water Resource Team’s vision for the Illinois River is to raise awareness that this rich wildlife corridor is like a grand Central Park for the entire Midwest to enjoy,” Ellis said. “By linking the towns along the river via a canoe trail we are creating tourist activities and recreation opportunities. This collaboration is an important step toward realizing our vision of getting people out on the water so they can connect with the inherent value of this gorgeous river.”

The Illinois River Road Canoe Trail provides 12 scenic stations for paddlers to use as launch points or rest stops, with flood-resistant benches and commemorative signs with attached eyelets for tethering small watercraft. The ability to stop and rest will help people tackle longer, safer voyages and make it easier for young paddlers to enjoy the river. 

After getting the grant, the Sportsmen’s Alliance organized skilled union volunteers from the West Central Illinois Building and Construction Trades Council to complete Ellis’ vision, the release said.

"Partnering with Illinois American Water, the Greater Peoria Economic Development Council and the Union Sportsmen's Alliance to complete the water trail was a great experience,” said Marty Helfers, executive director of the West Central Illinois Building and Construction Trades Council. “The Carpenters Apprenticeship School built the benches, and union members from nearly every trade donated their time to install the benches and signs along our amazing river, which will showcase the union building trades’ commitment to the community and put our value on display every day."

The USA’s mission to unite the union community through conservation to preserve North America’s outdoor heritage goes hand-in-hand with American Water Charitable Foundation’s ongoing commitment to being a good neighbor in the communities it serves, the release said. This sort of alignment makes the partnership successful and paves the way for more collaborative projects ahead.

“Our employees in union-represented jobs are among the most talented and skilled professionals in the nation, and we are very excited to provide support to Work Boots on the Ground projects that will enhance the outdoor experience of our customers, our employees and their families,” said Darlene Williams, American Water Charitable Foundation president.