“Nature at the Confluence” A Project for 2020
Beloit 2020, organized in 1989, has focused its redevelopments plans for Greater Beloit on the Rock River corridor as it flows through the City Center shared by Beloit and South Beloit. At its June 2011 annual meeting Beloit 2020 made a commitment to concentrate attention on the portions of City Center joining the cities of Beloit and South Beloit. A major plan, Connections, was commissioned with the support of both Beloit and South Beloit and the Greater Beloit Economic Development Corporation. This plan outlined several opportunities for making connections.
Beloit 2020, at its June 2013 annual meeting, decided to develop a leverage fund for Nature at the Confluence. This fund will be used to begin the process of transforming the area centered on the Confluence of the Rock River and Turtle Creek from a liability into an asset. At present, the Confluence is surrounded by considerable blight and contamination; all within a flood plain. The working boundaries of this project are west of Blackhawk Boulevard to the Rock River and between Charles Street on the South to Shirland Avenue on the North. Most of the project area is in the City of South Beloit, however, the effects of the blight and contamination extend throughout the Stateline region.
The project area has a long history as stated by Bill Green, Director of the Beloit College Logan Museum:
“The higher ground around the confluence, especially on the south side of Turtle Creek, could have served as habitation sites for native people going as far back as the Ice Age, 13,000 years ago. Until the Ho-Chunk occupation of the 1820s-30s, probably the heaviest use of the area was by people we call “Late Woodland,” between about A.D. 400 and 1100. These people built most of the mounds in the region. They lived in small villages and had a diverse economy that involved hunting, fishing, gathering, plant cultivation, seasonal movements, and trade with neighbors.”
The Confluence also served as the site where Joseph Thibault sold his “three looks of land” to Caleb Blodgett. In turn Blodgett sold 1/3 of the property to the New England Emigrating Company, in 1837, which platted and founded Beloit.
This history of the varied uses of the spaces along the banks of the Turtle and the Rock make the Confluence an appropriate site to tell a very important story about urban ecology. It has the potential to serve as a wonderful outdoor education classroom for area students of all ages. It has the potential to serve as a place for outdoor recreation and adventure for areas families. The location of the Confluence, a few 100 yards from two City Halls and a transit center, makes it easily accessible to local residents. It is within easy walking distances from Beloit College, major employers and public schools, and is accessible to volunteers with an interest in outdoor education and recreation. Finally, the Confluence is at the center of the recently designated Rock River Trail and has considerable potential to become a visitor attraction.
Nature at the Confluence: Vision to Reality
The implementation process for turning the current liabilities into an asset will require planning, patience and persistence and most important, partnerships. A three phase process is outlined below for moving Nature at the Confluence from its current status as an idea- to plan- to implementation strategy- to reality. An important point to note is that these steps are not necessarily sequential; several of them will move along parallel tracks.
Phase 1 – Pre-Design accumulation of information and resources
- Leverage fund – Beloit 2020 has committed to raising a “leverage fund” to provide funds to allow Nature at the Confluence to proceed. This initial fund is not designed as a building fund or to fund an organization. The leverage fund is for exercising options, environmental site assessment, plan development and development agreements.
- Optioning key parcels. Obtaining options on parcels opens the way for broad based discussion and planning without fear of “holdouts”. Currently all property (Dairy Ripple and Subway excepted) south of Shirland, north of Charles and west of the RR tracks are under public ownership or optioned by B-2020.
- Environmental assessments – With key parcels in either public ownership or optioned the nature of the environmental liabilities and floodplain impact can be determined including the scale and cost of remediation.
- Identification of the ecological and historic assets. While much of the pre- settlement natural resources and evidence of early settlement at the Confluence has been removed, remaining assets of vegetation, wildlife, endangered species and drainage patterns should be documented… In addition the Native American and early European settlement pattern and stories should be identified and documented.
- Partner recruitment. Existing organizations may want to play a role in the vision development as a prelude to playing a role in funding, maintaining or operating an arboretum, preserve, outdoor classroom, outdoor adventure space, urban ecology center. Potential partners could include; YMCA, Public Schools, Beloit and South Beloit Library, Boys&Girls Club, Welty Center, Natural Land Institute, Beloit College, Rotary Club, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, Winnebago County Park District and Forest Preserve, Nee Hollister Bird Club, Illinois DNR. Other potential partners need to be identified.
- Regulatory agency meetings. Meet with state DNRs and public agencies with jurisdiction over the project.
- Conversations with the railroad. Access to the Confluence, from the east, requires crossing the rail corridor. Getting agreements from RR require long time frames.
- Monitor the homeless encampments
Phase 2 – Plan Development
- Visioning the Potential. This step involves generating a programmatic and mental image of how the Confluence area could be transformed from a liability to an asset. The potential for Confluence had its origin in several past design plans: Life at the Center, Connections I and Connections II which contained ideas for the Confluence. The ideas from these plans will be assessed and discussed. (e.g. arboretum, nature preserve, outdoor classroom, outdoor adventure space, urban ecology center, etc.). The October 14, 2013 site visit to the Urban Ecology Center was one element of developing a shared vision for Nature at the Confluence. Learning from other places and programs is a vital part of this step. Engaging potential partners and residents in developing a design program and the vision plan development is a key component.
- Visitation planning. The Confluence has great potential for active adventure and as an outdoor classroom. Potential users and advocates need to be identified and recruited to pay a visit to the site. Selective clearing of the project area to allow for safe and easy access to the site should continue. ( a tentative June13/14 event at the Confluence is planned)
- Assess the value of the property at 306 Dickop St. as a short/intermediate term facility to house programs. ( AYA has provided a sketch plan)
- Master Plan. The master plan for the site will articulate the vision and program for the Confluence in plan and design illustration form. The plan will also identify project partner roles, operation and maintenance requirements, project phasing and costs.
Phase 3- Plan Implementation
- Action plan. Develop a listing of action steps to be completed, time line and responsibility for those actions.
- Development agreements with partners. Flowing from the development plans will be development agreements between the various partners. Projects between public and private entities need to be clear and detailed with regard to expectations and responsibilities.
- Funding sources. Develop funding sources and grants
- Blight and contamination remediation. Demolition and remediation plans need to be developed, funding secured and projects managed.
- Facility development. This step will have at least two phases. The first “make do” with an inexpensive place to conduct programs. A second phase to consider the development of a new facility to house programs.
Some small progress has been made on these implementation steps to date; too fully transform the project area into an asset will take many years; 2020 is just around the corner.