Rivers of Illinois: Mississippi, Illinois, Wabash and Ohio Tourism Impacts on Local Communities The rivers in Illinois greatly impact communities around them, especially through tourism. While all of the rivers appeal to visitors for their natural beauty, they each have their own unique attractions that bring in visitors to these local river communities. Illinois River Tourism The Illinois River starts where the Des Plaines River meets the Kankakee River. It flows in a southwesterly direction and ends near Grafton, Illinois, when it joins the Mississippi River. There are many places for tourists to visit and activities available to take part in along the river. Let’s look at a few of them. Our journey starts at Starved Rock State Park, near the town of Utica. Visitors to the park can enjoy scenic river overlooks and waterfalls along some of its hiking trails. There is plenty of wildlife to be enjoyed in the park, including watching bald eagles (Haliaeettus leucocephalus). The lodge has great views of the river and has the largest two-sided stone fireplace in the state. A trolley goes from the park to downtown Utica where tourists can visit the many shops and dining establishments. La Salle County offers other options, too. Take canyon and paddle boat tours or go horseback riding, rent a jet ski or go fishing or boating. A little downriver in La Salle, you’ll find the Illinois and Michigan Canal. This canal provided the first complete water route from the east coast to the Gulf of Mexico by connecting Lake Michigan to the Mississippi River. The canal was completed in 1848. It ran for 96 miles from the South Branch of the Chicago River to the Illinois River at La Salle. It was originally 60 feet wide and 6 feet deep. Barges were pulled by mules or horses walking on towpaths. In 1933, the Illinois and Michigan Canal was closed to navigation. Since then, the canal has been developed for recreation. The Illinois and Michigan Canal Trail runs along the canal for 61 continuous miles and is ideal for hiking, biking and snowmobiling. The Lock 16 Visitors’ Center is a restored building that was once home to horse buggy maker and now is the starting point for one–hour rides on a replica canal boat. Also close by is the Hegeler Carus Mansion where people can take tours of a Victorian- era mansion and the La Salle Speedway for stock car enthusiasts. The Peoria area has many attractions for tourists. The Par-A-Dice hotel and casino in East Peoria are on the river front. Art galleries, museums, musical venues, shops, restaurants and studios are available to entertain visitors along the river front in Peoria. Another highlight of the city is the Spirit of Peoria river boat. This turn of-the-century paddle wheeler was built in 1988 and is used for sightseeing, themed cruises, private parties and multiple-day excursions. The boat can carry 487 people on its four levels and cruises as far up river as Starved Rock State Park and down river to St. Louis. Pere Marquette State Park is one of the largest state parks in Illinois and is located by the meeting place of the Illinois and Mississippi rivers in Grafton. It has 8,000 acres of forested bluffs and expansive views of this confluence region. Twelve miles of hiking trails wind through the site and are perfect for both experienced hikers and beginners. Other activities include biking, canoeing, horseback-riding, kayaking and bird-watching. The visitors’ center has displays and exhibits about the river, wildlife habitats, local history and geology. It also has a bald eagle camera that plays live footage of an eagle nest in the area. The lobby of the lodge and conference center in the park has a stone fireplace that is 50 feet high and weighs 700 hundred tons. Mississippi River Tourism At the extreme northwest corner of the Illinois is Chestnut Mountain Resort. It is built on a wooded palisade overlooking Mississippi River. This premier Midwest ski destination has 19 trails and a 475-foot vertical drop. Besides being a great place to ski or snowboard in the winter, Chestnut Mountain has miniature golf courses, an alpine slide and cruises on the river. Just off the mountain people can visit the home of Ulysses S. Grant. Down the river in Savanna, near the confluence of the Apple and Mississippi rivers, is 2,500 acres of land rich in Native American history. Mississippi Palisades State Park has a 15-mile trail system where visitors can walk the same paths trod by Native Americans almost a thousand years ago. “Palisades” is defined as a line of lofty, steep cliffs, and as the park’s name suggests, that is what this area is made of. There are overlooks along the river that highlight the area’s beauty. The park contains many caves, sink holes, wooded ravines and intriguing rock formations like Indian Head and Twin Sisters. Similar to the other parks in Illinois, visitors enjoy camping, hiking and fishing, which tends to yield catfish and carp. A three-day firearm deer season and lots of wild turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo) are great reasons for hunters to visit the park. In Nauvoo, Illinois, the Nauvoo Temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sits on a high bluff facing west and overlooking the river. This 150-foot tall building has 54,000 square feet. This site was one of the first settlements of the Mormon people. The Temple is a reproduction of the original temple from the 1840s which was destroyed by arson fire in 1848 and tornado-strength winds in 1850. Beautiful hand-painted murals decorate the main rooms. The town of Nauvoo also has 60 restored historic sites, cultural museums and three visitors’ centers. Illinois’ oldest winery is in Nauvoo as well. Nauvoo State Park hosts an annual grape festival. The Lewis and Clark State Historic Site is in Hartford, Illinois. This site was the winter camp area during the Lewis and Clark Expedition in 1803. It is the first site of the Lewis and Clark Heritage Trail, established by Congress in 1978. The trail goes from Hartford to the mouth of the Colombia River in the northwestern United States. At the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers, the site is known as Camp River Dubois and hosts demonstrations of what life was like when Lewis and Clark were there. Exhibits discuss information known about the land west of the Mississippi before they left, their plans, expectations and worries for their expedition. Close to the river in Collinsville are the remains of the most sophisticated prehistoric native civilization north of Mexico, Cahokia Mounds. The Native American community that lived here along the river was larger than London in the year AD 1250. At its peak between 1050 and 1200 the city had 10,000-20,000 people. This 2,200-acre area was the central station of this ancient settlement. The way of life and culture of the Native Americans who lived here is today known as Mississippian culture, and tourists and field trip groups come here year round to learn about it. Close to the famous mounds is East St. Louis, home of Frank Holten State Park, the Greater St. Louis Air and Space Museum and the Metro East Park and Recreation District. Also in East St. Louis is the Casino Queen, a river boat with gambling, restaurants and other features. In southwestern Illinois along the river are several small historic towns. The Great River Road is a scenic drive that follows the Mississippi River for 550 miles through many of these towns. This National Scenic Byway offers great views of the river, bluffs and woodlands. One of these towns is Chester, Illinois, known for being the birthplace of Elzie C. Segar, the creator of the comic character, Popeye. Each September Chester holds its Popeye Picnic. Ohio River Tourism Cave-In-Rock State Park is one of the Ohio River’s most visited sites. It is a 55-foot wide cave that was carved out of the limestone rock by water thousands of years ago. The park has trails within its 204 acres that curve along the river bank and offer views of the river and rock formations. There are 60-foot high hills and steep bluffs that many plants and animals call home. This park adjoins the Shawnee National Forest. The Shawnee National Forest consists of 280,000 acres of land in southern Illinois. It is managed by the U.S. Forest Service. The forest has more than 500 species of wildlife. One of the forest’s most popular sites is the Garden of the Gods. This area of the park has extraordinary sandstone rock formations that were shaped by wind and rain hundreds of millions of years ago. While hiking the area one can see why these rock sculptures and the natural forests are said to have been shaped specifically for men by the Gods. Across the river in Paducah, Kentucky, visitors flock to the National Quilt Museum. The museum displays contemporary, miniature and antique quilts and holds workshops for the public regularly. The American Quilter’s Society holds its annual quilt show and contest here every April. Paducah is also known for its thriving art district and fine dining. Continuing its route to the Mississippi River, the Ohio River flows by Fort Massac State Park in Metropolis. Fort Massac today is a replica of the 1802 American fort that once stood in the same site. Originally the French built a fort here to protect their supply and communication lines on the Ohio River. Later the Americans rebuilt a fort in the same location to be used by settlers moving into Illinois. This location became the first state park in Illinois in 1908. Fort Massac has two barracks, three block houses, officer quarters, a stockade and a fraise fence. It also has the archaeological outline of the 1757 French Fort. Each October the Fort Massac Encampment is held for two days. It is a reenactment of the late 1700s lifestyle and hundreds of thousands people come to the event. Metropolis is also home to Superman, who is honored with a statue in Superman Square and the Superman Days festival. Another prominent attraction is the riverfront casino, providing gambling and entertainment. Wabash River Tourism The Wabash River is unique in that it is the only one of these four rivers without commercial navigation, and there is no system of locks and dams to control its flow. In this respect it flows freely and is more natural than the others rivers discussed here. Fishing is a major attraction. Catfish, bass, crappie, bluegill, freshwater drum and sauger are all commonly found in this river. Public boat ramps are located in towns all along the river. The Wabash Valley Wine Trail attracts tourists to the Wabash River valley, joining five wineries in the region. Travelers of this trail can also see a few historical sites on their trip, like the George Rogers Clark Memorial in Vincennes, Indiana, as well shop in local art and antique shops. Beall Woods, near Keensburg, is one of the few remaining tracts of virgin timber east of the Mississippi River. There are 329 acres of old-growth forest that were dedicated as Illinois’ fourteenth nature preserve in 1966. Trees that are 120 feet tall and have a diameter larger than three feet attract visitors from all over. The visitors’ center has educational displays on the history and natural heritage of the woods and houses a variety of nature programs led by the park interpreter. New Harmony, Indiana, is an historic town on the Wabash River. It began as a religious settlement and later became a haven for other educational and cultural pursuits. Today New Harmony is known for its many gardens and public areas intended for spiritual contemplation. Restored historic buildings, antique shops, restaurants and art galleries line the streets of downtown. The Atheneum was designed by Richard Meier and is used as a visitors’ center. This building is named for the Greek goddess Athena and its ultra-modern style represents the town’s progressive spirit. The Tourism Industry A study by the Illinois Bureau of Tourism from 2012 shows the major economic impact of tourism on the state. Domestic travelers in Illinois spent $33.5 billion, and travel expenditures directly generated 298.7 thousand jobs in the state. The wages and salaries paid by Illinois travel-related firms amounted to $8.9 billion. In addition to being many local citizens’ source of livelihood, the tourism in industry has a great economic impact on local governments. Illinois, domestic travelers’ spending generated $6 billion in total tax revenue in 2012. Local governments directly benefited from the travel industry earing $757 million in sales and property taxes. People from all over the state, country and world come to see the natural beauty of the rivers in Illinois and all the great attractions that surround them. Visitors can experience wildlife, history and entertainment while supporting the economy of many local communities.