While hundreds of runners, some as young as 13, raced for the finish line of the eighth Bob Leonard River Run/Walk, an enthusiastic group of Fox River fans kept a different sort of finish line in mind.
Just outside the Pottawatomie Park Grand Pavilion in St. Charles stood two signs with a before-and-after theme displaying a vision of how the St. Charles' shores can be more than a great fishing spot or scenic route for running and cycling. The photos, and an accompanying video inside the pavilion, depicted white water rafting, decorative pedestrian bridges over the water, floating gardens, splash pads for kids and rowing clubs for teens and adults.
John Rabchuk first presented that vision to St. Charles aldermen in February. Now he and his fellow river fans are on the verge of taking the next step toward making that vision a reality. But first comes funding. The team is awaiting word on a possible grant from Kane County's riverboat funds. The grant would fund further study of the nuts, bolts and engineering it would take to create rapids and gardens and the other features.
But it's not clear if that grant will come through. County officials have already announced the number of external grants from riverboat gambling proceeds will shrink this year, somewhere along the lines of 8 percent. The reduction is in line with the dwindling profits from the Grand Victoria Casino in Elgin, which fuels the county's grants.
Rabchuk was helping man the informational display at the race Saturday. He hasn't received any indication if his team's grant application will be successful. He said the backup plan if the grant fails would be to seek money through the Illinois Department of Natural Resources or private donors. St. Charles officials have expressed interest in helping with funds, but only if their is a full community buy-in of the idea, including other outside money.
"We are determined to maximize our most underutilized natural asset," Rabchuk said. "It would sure change our downtown in St. Charles. When I mention this plan to young people, they tell me it could be enough of a draw to bring them here instead of staying out in (Chicago's) Lincoln Park. But there's many hurdles ahead before we get to that point."
Rabchuk said he'd like to approach Geneva and Batavia as his team gets further into the process. The ultimate vision would be to enhance river use as an economic draw throughout the Tri-Cities area.
"If they want to join in and make it a 10-mile stretch of the river that we can get people interested in, then that would be fantastic from our standpoint."
Kane County Board members are set to announce the recipients of the external riverboat grants by the end of this month.