RACINE — The Root River is inextricably bound to Racine’s history and identity, right down to “racine” being the French word for “root.” But many residents don’t appreciate the river, according to Laura Schulz, environmental education director of the University of Wisconsin-Parkside’s Root River Education Center.
To try to remedy that, the Greening Greater Racine organization, the REC Center and Root River Council have been taking local officials on pontoon-boat tours of the river from Reefpoint Marina to just past the bridge at Sixth Street and Kinzie Avenue this summer. The groups aspire to eventually commercialize the tours for the public and to help spark ideas of what could go along the river.
The Journal Times was invited to join a tour Thursday morning along with several Racine County officials: County Executive Jonathan Delagrave, Corporation Counsel Michael Lanzdorf, Human Services Department Director Hope Otto, Deputy HSD Director Kristin Latus and Communications Director Mark Schaaf.
Tia Ricchio, 17, a senior at Horlick High School and employee at the REC Center, led the tour. She gave history lessons on various structures and bridges and spoke of the ecology of the Root River, including invasive species such as garlic mustard, goby fish, orange daylilies and zebra mussels.
“I don’t think a lot of people know it (the Root River) is here,” Ricchio said. “They don’t know the opportunities on the Root River like kayaking. There’s a lot of fun things you can do. I think awareness is important for valuing the waters.”
Delagrave said he was glad he went on the tour and that it made him look at the river from a different perspective, even as a lifelong Racine County resident.
“I really hadn’t realized the potential of the river, not only from a recreation standpoint, but from an economic standpoint as well,” Delagrave said, adding that he would foresee the tour being successful if commercialized and made available to the public.
The tour route goes past the defunct Machinery Row redevelopment area Downtown along Water Street, which is now vacant land after the old buildings were demolished.
Racine’s 9th District Alderman Trevor Jung, who went on one of the other tours, said his “imagination runs wild” thinking of the possibilities of the Water Street land.
“It (the tour) helps people think about what future development could look like along the riverfront,” Jung said.
He advocated for a water taxi running from Reefpoint Marina to future developments along the river.
“I think it’s a great opportunity to a private-public partnership, but those discussions haven’t happened yet,” he said.
Delagrave offered to promote the tours on his office’s website, which is something Schulz said she hopes tour-goers get out of it.
“We’re trying to grab people who we think would like it and help promote it,” Schulz said.
The tour has not yet been made public because the organizations would need to obtain a license and insurance, something Schulz said is “too complex for us to tackle just yet.”
“I really hadn’t realized the potential of the river, not only from a recreation standpoint, but from an economic standpoint as well.” Jonathan Delagrave,
Racine County executive