Charles Schweighauser steered a canoe on nearly all 210 miles of the Sangamon River, from the northern source near Ellsworth to its confluence with the Illinois River at Beardstown.
Along the way, the veteran University of Illinois at Springfield environmental-studies professor interviewed dozens of people in seven central-Illinois counties who depend on the river for everything from drinking water to recreation to their livelihoods.
In Springfield, he talked to local environmentalists, as well as to commercial fishermen such as the owners of Carters Fish Market on South Grand Avenue.
The result is a video documentary meant to celebrate what Schweighauser calls “central Illinois’ best-kept secret.”
“The idea,” he says, “is to celebrate the river, the people who live along it, and the people who use it.”
Since starting the project in 1997, Schweighauser has compiled more than 40 hours of video footage on the Sangamon River. Still a work in progress, the film has been edited to one hour and will be screened for the first time next week during the presentation of an environmental program in Decatur.
A final version of The Sangamon RivPlaceer: A Sense of will later be aired on regional public television and made available to local schools.
The screening is part of an effort to raise awareness of the importance of resource conservation, says Steve John, acting executive director of the Decatur-based Agricultural Watershed Institute.
Founded in 2003, the fledgling nonprofit research group has already proved effective. Last year, AWI won a competitive $1.3 million federal grant to help reduce nitrogen discharges from local agricultural areas into the Sangamon River.
Such discharges may have far-reaching consequences, harming wildlife not only in the Midwest but also in the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico.
“We find ways to meet the needs of farmers but also enhance the environmental quality of the agricultural landscape,” says John, a former environmental-planning consultant and Decatur city councilman.
In addition to the film, next week’s program will feature dinner and a reading by Springfield-based poet John Knoepfle.
Called “A Celebration of the Sangamon River Watershed and its People,” the program is presented by AWI and co-sponsored by the Decatur Audubon Society, the city of Decatur, and the Community Environmental Council of Macon County.
The event will be held Wednesday, March 9, at the Shilling Center at Richland Community College in Decatur. A free seminar on “Sense of Place and Environmental Stewardship,” featuring a panel of three UI professors, will be held at 4 p.m. The dinner starts at 6 p.m. and costs $12 per person. For reservations or further information, call 217-877-5640.