501(c)(3) Not-for-Profit Corporation
"Rock River Sweep.org is a grass roots,
not-for-profit organization dedicated to preserving
the health and ecosystem of the Rock River and
its tributaries in Wisconsin and Illinois by partnering
the communities along its banks into a unified, volunteer
effort of river revitalization and annual clean-ups"

Founder’s Corner

Long Journey Ahead

Frank Masterman
June 13, 2012

This is a story of a tree… And how it relates to the Great Rock River Sweep

In the spring of 2009, a river sweep was born, a river sweep that had begun germinating in my mind some time before. The birth of this river sweep took place in Oregon, Illinois as an enthusiastic group of volunteers came together to form a catalyst of sorts, a catalyst that, in a short time, would carry this idea well beyond the boundaries of our city. Yes, well beyond the limits of our little city, to the upper and lower stretches of the flow of our great Rock River. And little did any of our volunteers know at the time what the future would bring.

In the spring of 2009, as only nature would have it, a tree was born, an Oak tree, whose seed had begun to germinate some time before, and it took root in the very soil that lies above the banks of our Rock River. Emerging in my garden in Oregon, Illinois, this small oak tree had a natural inclination, a natural inclination to grow, to grow large, to grow strong, strong enough to weather the storms, the drought, the heat, the cold, the ice, the snow, and the wind that would daily batter it.

As nutrients from the sun, the air, the soil, and the water from the sky provided for the growth of this seedling tree, energy from volunteers and community support provided the necessary ingredients for this seedling of a river sweep to take root, to take root and demand growth opportunities beyond its present boundaries.

After being stepped on at least once in my garden (and surviving), in 2010 I transplanted this seedling Oak to a larger area, where it would be allowed the opportunities it so strongly needed for growth. In 2010 also, after surviving near-record flooding, the Oregon Rock River Sweep was transformed into a much larger area of coverage, also allowing it opportunities for growth.

When I transplanted this seedling, I knew life would be tough for it at times, and so they were. That year, as the leaves were multiplying on this infant trunk, I got too close with the weed whacker and took the leaves right off this little guy. Oh crud, I thought. Will this seedling survive? Then I answered my own question: Yes, this young seedling will survive. Why? Because it has the natural will to survive, that’s why. I just knew it. It will not only survive, but it will continue to grow, grow large, grow strong, and become an icon in its own right.

When I made the decision to go public with my plans to transform the seedling Oregon River Sweep into something with more potential, I also knew that it would not be easy. As a matter of fact, I knew right off that any endeavor of this magnitude would have to weather some storms of its own.

It was at this point that I realized the inherent similarities of these two seedling entities. And it was at this point that I quietly dedicated this Oak tree as a living symbol of how such a small thing, with the aid of necessary nutrients and a natural instinct for survival, can grow into something grand and mighty; Grand and mighty, like the mature Oak tree shown in the background of this photo.

As the seedling Oak gets its necessary ingredients for survival and strong growth from the soil, the air, the sun, and the water, this seedling Rock River Sweep gets its necessary ingredients from volunteers, supporters, and contributors. And just as the Oak requires more of each ingredient each year to grow larger and stronger, this Great Rock River Sweep will require more volunteers, supporters, and contributors each year to assure its survival and growth into the mighty action I envisioned at the start.

So yes, to continue the story of the seedling tree, it did survive the 2010 weed whacking, just as the river sweep survived yet another year of its challenges. Both got through 2011 with no major catastrophes, and have entered 2012 healthy and growing. The seedling Oak stands no taller than a mature Oak leaf and the Great Rock River Sweep is yet small, but growing nonetheless.

The story doesn’t end here however. While I’ve been cultivating the ground around the seedling oak, pulling weeds, and assuring adequate sunlight for continued strong growth, we at Rock River Sweep.org have been working diligently on providing for the continued growth of this organization. We are presently awaiting approval of our application for 501(c)(3), Not-for Profit status, and we have been steadily working on our web-site to make it user-friendly for our Section Coordinators and to provide each and every one of you with the cleanest, most comprehensive, yet concise information gathering experience we possibly can.

I want to personally thank each and every one of you for your continued support and all of the hard works you have contributed toward making my vision become a reality.

We have a Long Journey Ahead, so this story is…
-To be continued-

A New Year… An Old Vision

Frank Masterman
March 31, 2011

As I look out over the Rock River this fine yet brisk spring morning, the sun warms my face and the frost dissipates from the picnic table close by. And as this frost disappears right in front of my eyes, my thoughts are carried back to last year, when trash, litter, and debris disappeared from this same river right in front of my eyes.

As the sun reflects off the water’s surface, my mind reflects on the journey I’ve subjected myself to for the last couple of years. A wonderfully fulfilling journey it has been with its twists and turns. Like a stream or river that is being navigated for the first time, not knowing what challenges or gratifications await around each bend, this river sweep journey has held my mind and my heart somewhat spellbound.

As I’ve subjected myself to this cause, I’ve also invited you, the many folks up and down this river corridor to subject yourselves to the same challenges, with the same gratifications in reach. Many of you have accepted the invitation, and without you there would be no Rock River Sweep. I’m confident that all of you have experienced a similar feeling of satisfaction that I’ve felt, knowing that you made a difference, knowing that your Rock River is cleaner and healthier because you shared my vision and had the courage to step forward. Whether you stepped forward as a Section Coordinator or as a volunteer river-sweeper on clean-up day, you made a difference.

As my thoughts this morning toss and tumble like whitewater rapids, and as my sight-line is sometimes obstructed with the overwhelming list of tasks to be completed, my vision remains clear. My vision for a cleaner and healthier Rock River for future generations to enjoy is never blurred, always clear… Clear as the water that once flowed through these same channels many, many years ago. My vision of rallying together hundreds, no, thousands of people like you and me, all along the river for an annual one-day river sweep event remains clear.

As the sometimes overwhelming list of tasks grew, the number of supporters grew. A number of these supporters have reached out, much as the helping hands of onlookers reach out to help a boater or paddler in need of assistance. These helping hands came forth just as I had hoped, and together we are getting our organizational ‘ducks-in-a-row’ as they say.

As the year 2011 unfolds and as we plan together for our 2nd Annual Great Rock River Sweep, my vision, no, ‘our vision’ stands solid. Your vision, my vision, ‘our vision’ for a cleaner and healthier Rock River for our use and that of future generations continues to be clear in our minds every day. Let us work together as worthy stream stewards toward this end.

As a new year goes forward… An old vision stands firm.
“Together, we make a difference”

(A river clean-up)

Frank Masterman
July 3, 2009

As I ponder the results of our recent community riverbank clean-up, and as I near completing my reading of Chad Pregracke's book "From the Bottom Up", I am reassured that my vision for a cleaner Rock River 'can and will' become reality.

This feeling comes about following nearly twenty years of dreaming of such an endeavor. Over these years I have talked to many people about organizing a river clean-up in and around Oregon, Illinois and I found only one person interested in such an idea and his response was "Call me if you get something organized".

Recently a community revitalization group called "Forward Oregon" was formed in our little city. This group, being represented by many, if not all of the various groups and organizations in town consists of members from the city, park district, school district, chamber of commerce, art groups, library, churches, members of the business community, and residents, etc. The purpose of "Forward Oregon" is to band the community together to revitalize and breathe new life into it.

Since a similar thought pattern has been planted in my mind for a number of years now, I figured maybe I should attend a meeting to see what was going on. Upon attending the first meeting of the "Tourism Committee", I was quite impressed and excited to see the enthusiasm in the room that day. Among the many subjects brought up during that first meeting, was an idea for a 'riverbank clean-up'. This idea was lightly brushed over and since I have run into so many dead-ends over the years, I decided to note this interest and await the right time to address the subject.

The next meeting I attended was the "Forward Oregon General Meeting". Of the many exciting and interesting topics mentioned that day, one was of a riverbank clean-up. It just so happened that over this past winter, I had been in touch with the national organization called American Rivers to get information about setting up a river clean-up, and so it was that I had in my field bag that day, a couple of copies of the American Rivers river clean-up 'Organizer's handbook'. I've never been one to resist an opportunity to embarrass myself by speaking out at the wrong time or in the wrong place or about an unpopular subject, so I reached in my bag and pulled a copy out, and as I raised it in the air over my head I began to express my desire to attention this subject and show that with American Rivers help, and armed with their handbook, we could do a clean-up in our city.

After all these years of dead-ends, I was quite surprised at the positive response from people in the room and in particular, when our "Community Improvement" committee chair, asked to see me about this following the meeting. Upon meeting Mr. Tom Mahoney, I was impressed with his enthusiasm regarding a clean-up and before I knew it, a follow-up meeting was scheduled for a river clean-up committee. This meeting was attended by Mr. Mahoney (Tom), Mrs. Mahoney (Angela), Mr. Mark Nehrkorn, and me.

I wished to get a clean-up organized in conjunction with "National Rivers Month" so we didn't have but about four weeks to plan and execute this. This group of people I met with turned out to be quite creative, well organized, enthusiastic, and very energetic toward this end and in about four weeks we had organized a river clean-up in Oregon, IL, registered it with American Rivers, received support, t-shirts, snacks, and plastic trash bags from them. Many gracious thanks to Heather Hamilton and Caitlin Jennings at American Rivers for all their help in bringing this clean-up to fruition.

On June 27, 2009, the day awakened with gorgeous sunshine, perfect temperatures, a light breeze rising, and with the aid of a local businessman allowing us to use his property near the dam, two local banks and a local apparel company providing t-shirts at no cost to us, Captain Greg Hunter of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources joining with us to give a briefing on river safety and patrolling above the dam, the Oregon Volunteer Fire Department assisting with their rescue boat and some volunteer firefighters below the dam, the local news media on hand for what turned out to be superb coverage, three local tire dealers agreeing to accept any recovered tires for disposal on a complimentary basis, our local park district providing port-a-potties for the registration/sorting area as well as trash hauling and disposal, and with the help of about seventy organizers and volunteers our clean-up was flawlessly executed.

This effort relieved our riverbank of 1-bicycle, 1-lawn chair, 1-sleeping bag, 5 tires (one on rim), and about 75 bags (approx 350#) of trash, in spite of torrential rains a week prior, causing a closure of the river by the IDNR, a major fish-kill, and a no-wake order within one week of the event. The river was re-opened and the no-wake order was lifted just in time for the clean-up.

Although our clean-up effort didn't cover near the area I had hoped for, and our boating participation was a long way from what I had hoped for, I was very pleased with the results… "The Rock River was cleaner!"

My thoughts during the planning stage of this clean-up effort were that next year would be bigger and better. Maybe my long-time dream of a clean-up from Oregon, IL to Grand Detour, IL would be possible. As planning and organizing progressed, I was made aware of "The Mississippi River Garbageman" Chad Pregracke, and upon researching Chad on the internet, I learned about Chad's organization, "Living Lands & Waters" and that he had written a book about his river clean-up adventures on the Mississippi River, the Illinois River, the Ohio River, and others. Immediately I ordered two copies of his book, one for me and one to share on display at our clean-up registration table.

I have been accused of being a big dreamer at times and of course, this time turned out to be no exception, as my dreams for a clean-up next year grew to maybe include Dixon, IL and see if maybe that community would like to join the effort and work upriver to Grand Detour and meet our crews there. Well, one thing led to another inside this thick skull of mine and an expansion to include Byron, IL, upriver from Oregon began to form on the horizon. All this time we were organizing our local event and as community involvement grew, my hopes and dreams grew at an unexpected rate. So my mind pondered, "If I can envision a Rock River clean-up from Byron to Dixon, why stop there? Why not address the Rock River from one state-line to the other? Would that be cool, or what?" To get every community and every civic organization in said communities involved would be quite an ambitious undertaking.

This is the point where I got really crazy. Why not invite the state of Wisconsin to join in this Rock River clean-up effort? After all, the "Rock" does originate up there, doesn't it? And, after all, if I can get one other community to join in, why not get them all to join in, wouldn't that be great? Yes, why not? Why not "The Great Rock River Sweep"?

OK, so maybe this is a little bit of a grand scheme. The carving of Mount Rushmore was a bit of a grand scheme wasn't it? Gutzon Borglum didn't let a little thing like that stop him, he had a purpose. Traveling to the moon was a bit of a grand scheme, wasn't it? We didn't let that stop us. So, why should I let anything get in the way of my dream of cleaning, preserving, and our being good guardians of a national treasure like the Rock River? This was the time to let the cat out of the bag, and begin sharing my crazy idea with others and get some feed-back. After all, I was pretty fired up about this issue by now. So I shared my idea with others. Some were skeptical, some were supportive, and some were indifferent. Did I expect anything else? By this time, I had received and was reading Chad's book, "From the Bottom Up" and as I read on, my confidence grew. If this kid right out of high school could accomplish what he had, with only a dream and a desire to begin with, maybe, just maybe, I could get the ball rolling on my idea. My confidence only grew stronger when I learned that 2010 was the 100th anniversary of The Boy Scouts of America. Wow! What an opportunity for me, if I could only get them on board with this clean-up scheme.

So, here I am, presenting to you a vision, a plea for assistance, and a rough outline for a grand adventure to include the complete "Rock River Valley", from Horicon, Wisconsin to Rock Island, Illinois.

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