BENTON — Officials gathered Thursday morning to celebrate Rend Lake’s expansion of recreational opportunities for visitors.
Among them, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which manages Rend Lake, has entered into a partnership with numerous local organizations to build a 40-acre archery complex that is accessible for people with disabilities, as well as a 12-mile mountain bike trail.
Also Thursday, Corps officials and partners celebrated the completion of the first phase of the Pollinator Trail Project. It features a 1,200-foot-long accessible concrete trail that encircles a pond, four accessible fishing piers, a covered bench and a half-mile nature trail that extends through the woods.
Five acres of native pollinator prairie surrounds the pond trail, according to the Corps’ news release. It is presently open and available for use, with plans to expand the project in the future with an additional trail, interpretive exhibits and other features.
Thursday's signing of a partnership agreement for the development of the bike trail and archery complex allows the Corps to move forward with construction, officials said. An opening date has yet to be determined.
Combined, the new projects cost about $200,000, with the Corps picking up a portion of the tab and other partners contributing a mix of funding, labor, equipment and supplies.
St. Louis District Commander Col. Bryan Sizemore called the partnerships that made these projects possible “tremendous.” Without everyone working together, these new assets at the lake would not have been possible, he said Thursday.
“We are an organization that is funded by the federal government. We have limited resources every year,” he said, “and we rely on your contributions to make this lake what it is.”
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The bike trail and archery complex will be built on a portion of the 630-acre North Marcum Multiple Resource Area, which is mainly used for public hunting.
The partners that signed an agreement Thursday with the Corps for the bike trail and archery complex development include Rend Lake College, the Rend Lake Conservancy District, Scholastic 3-D Archery, Union Sportsmen’s Alliance, Rend Lake Bike Club and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
Development of the Pollinator Trail was also a team effort. In total, 14 partners from the region came together to bring it to reality. Among them, local unions prepared the grounds and built the trail. IDNR ensured the trail and piers were constructed as both accessible and user-friendly, and helped stock the fishing pond.
Large equipment was provided by local dealers, while a contractor provided a large quantity of concrete for the trail and assisted with the removal of dead trees. Rend Lake College, Garden Gate Club of Benton, University of Illinois Extension master gardeners, and the Southern Illinois chapter of the Native Plant Society assisted with ground analysis, plating the native pollinator prairie and landscaping around the trail.
Leedle-Houme Bees, of Mulkeytown, has partnered to provide a demonstration hive at the Rend Lake Visitor Center exhibit hall, and will also help with the hives and other educational outreach within the pollinator area.
Jay Williams, IDNR’s disabled outdoor opportunities coordinator, said he's excited to see these expanded options for Southern Illinois' citizens, including people with disabilities, to enjoy.
Also Thursday, Col. Sizemore recognized the “heroic behavior and professionalism” of two Franklin County Sheriff’s deputies — Brice Shaffer and Nick Sullivan — who rescued a woman with apparent suicidal intent from the frigid waters of the Rend Lake Spillway Recreation Area on Feb. 21. Sizemore applauded the men for their work that day, and thanked the sheriff's office for its ongoing assistance in protecting the public at Rend Lake.
Congress authorized the building of Rend Lake near Benton in 1962 in response to a three-year drought that left many people without access to drinking water. Today, Rend Lake supplies more than 15 million gallons of water to about 300,000 people across 60 Southern Illinois communities. As an added benefit, Rend Lake has enhanced recreational opportunities and the tourism economy for Franklin County and the surrounding region in the decades since it was constructed.