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Article updated: 2/25/2014 9:37 AM

New plan calls for white water rafting, floating gardens in Fox River

That’s included in plan to get more out of the river

John Rabchuk, of the St. Charles River Corridor Foundation, presented a plan to the St. Charles City Council Monday night to put city residents and tourists on the river, around the river, over the river and in the river.

John Rabchuk, of the St. Charles River Corridor Foundation, presented a plan to the St. Charles City Council Monday night to put city residents and tourists on the river, around the river, over the river and in the river.

 

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There's a drawing in the 2002 vision for the future use of the Fox River that's seemed more like a fantasy than a goal for the past decade.

You can see the river churning as it runs under the bridge at Main and First streets. There is no dam stretching from city hall to the Hotel Baker, as currently exists. The water looks foamy, vibrant and invitingly fun.

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"When I saw this (drawing) in 2002, I said, ‘Whose pipe dream is that? It will never happen in St. Charles,'" Alderman Jim Martin said Monday night.

But by the end of John Rabchuk's presentation, Martin became a believer.

Rabchuk, of the St. Charles River Corridor Foundation, presented a plan to put city residents and tourists on the river, around the river, over the river and in the river.

"The Fox (River) is an aesthetic wonder," Rabchuk said. "And it's our most underutilized asset. The river should be a centerpiece for the city."

The foundation's vision would create floating botanical gardens on top of the river. The plant roots would help purify the water while the blooms would increase the aesthetics and foot traffic along the waterway.

Boating and rowing clubs would use a new NCAA-level course. Bike and pedestrian bridges over the water would draw in cyclists, walkers and joggers.

Splash pads and interactive water features, like those at Chicago's Millennium Park, would draw in families.

But perhaps the most ambitious aspect of the plan involves making St. Charles a local magnet for fans of white water rafting.

That part of the plan involves moving the downtown dam back by the railroad tracks, speeding up the flow of the water and adding boulders to make a white water course.

Communities as close as Yorkville and as distant as Denver, Colo., have created similar courses on rivers flowing through their communities with great success, Rabchuk said. A community in Iowa saw a $1 million return on investment in the first year of its white water course.

"It's not changing the level of the water at all," Rabchuk said. "And this water has got a lot more oxygen in it, and, because of the velocity, we're clearing out a lot of the silt."

Rabchuk said that would improve fishing in the river as well. And the idea may already be an economic spur for the city.

Rabchuk said two businesses have already contacted the foundation to see how quickly they could make the white water course a reality so they could set up shop.

The answer to that depends on the buy-in from several local taxing bodies. Rabchuk said the foundation and the St. Charles Park District have already committed to providing some funding. Now they want the city and Kane County Forest Preserve District to lend a hand.

The foundation plans to form a task force to study the plan more intensely in the next couple of months. Then the task force will invite the public to a series of meetings for comment.

By the end of 2014, consultants would be hired to determine the actual costs of the plans, the potential profits and where the construction money should come from.

If all goes according to plan, St. Charles could be soliciting construction bids to build the white water course and/or other aspects of the vision by next February, Rabchuk said.

"Maybe this isn't so far-fetched as I thought it was," Martin said about the plan. His fellow aldermen agreed in casting votes supporting the foundation moving forward. No funding will be committed until Rabchuk determines whether or not the forest preserve district is on board and community input sessions occur.

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