Jenni Schiavone had canoed sparingly along the Fox River before deciding she would travel the entire 200-mile length this year to promote “It’s Our Fox River Day.”
For Schiavone, who lives in Algonquin, the journey is more than just a way for her to fulfill what she says has been a longtime goal to traverse the Fox; the adventure is a way to raise awareness about the need to maintain and improve the river even as people enjoy it, Schiavone said.
“I wanted to know this river, so I can teach and talk about it,” Schiavone said. “I wanted that ‘river context’ of where the greatest needs are for cleanups. I think awareness is growing every day, and caring for the environment is becoming a more regular thing.”
The fourth annual “It’s Our Fox River Day,” was on Sept. 17, and was initiated by Dundee Township-based Friends of the Fox River, for which Schiavone is staff educator.
The organization’s president, Gary Swick, was actually Schiavone’s environmental science teacher at Dundee-Crown High School, Schiavone said.
The trek, which began Sept. 8, ended Sunday. On Sept. 16, Schiavone was just south of Yorkville. She started out at the Fox’s headwaters, near Waukesha, and will end in Ottawa, where the river feeds into the Illinois River.
During that time, between carrying her canoe overnight along the riverbank and navigating strong winds and a storm earlier this week, Schiavone said she’s seen plenty of wildlife – and plenty of litter.
Traversing the Fox showcases its diverse landscape, Schiavone said, including boating communities in the Chain O’ Lakes, more populated – and dammed – central portions between McHenry and Elgin, and the more rural southern stretch.
Along the way, Schiavone has paddled with her two daughters, Greta and Scarlet, as well as her dad.
“It looks totally different from along the river,” Schiavone said. “You’re lower on the landscape. There are new angles. There’s never a dull moment. Wildlife is constantly soaring or splashing.”
Saturday’s events for “It’s Our Fox River Day” include several cleanups along the river, and Schiavone said she has been collecting trash like beverage containers and fishlines throughout her journey. At one point, near McHenry, Schiavone noted a dead goose that was hanging upside down entangled in fishing line.
Litter can accumulate in what are called “snags,” areas where trees have fallen and impeded river flow, Schiavone said, or accumulate directly in “hot spots,” parks and fishing spots that get active use along the shoreline. In addition, agricultural runoff, which is more of a problem in the southern portions, can also affect water quality and wildlife along the river, Schiavone said.
While the endless trash and occasional dead animals can be upsetting, Schiavone said she’s had much more positive wildlife encounters with birds, fish, turtles and even some bald eagles during her journey.
“This has been the best trip of my life,” Schiavone said. “We are extremely excited about what is going to unfold this weekend.”
There are more than 100 events scheduled for Saturday along the Fox River, Swick said.
Details on individual events can be found at friendsofthefoxriver.org/its-our-fox-river-day.