Rocky Glen Park
History, Nature and Adventure in West Peoria, Illinois.
Central Illinois residents have been visiting Rocky Glen for years. As the Friends of Rocky Glen have led monthly hikes since December 2010 to the site, many stories have surfaced of how people have been coming there for years. As noted in Monica Vest Wheeler’s book about the history of the Peoria Park District, Rocky Glen used to be known as the place to go. Students used to visit from Manual High School. Boy scout troops used to hike regularly. Individuals have come from surrounding areas as a place to recreate. The Friends of Rocky Glen formed in late 2010 to help preserve Rocky Glen’s assets in geography, flora, fauna, history of immigrants, and the social fabric that all come together into a very special place. Through a consolidated effort from the board of directors, membership base, and the many supporters, a great amount of attention was centered on preserving Rocky Glen.
A public hearing was held at Peoria City Hall on November 21, 2012 to hear public opinion on whether the Peoria City Council should use certain federal land acquisition funds to purchase the property. The Peoria City Council voted to make the purchase on December 11, 2012 and subsequently deeded the property to the Peoria Park District. Thanks to generous donors, a parking lot was built and trails were established, including signage and memorial benches. The Park is open from dawn to dusk.
The property is purchased by George Vicary and coal mining begins. Coal miners from local mines meet secretly to organize for better working conditions and wages. The oldest carved date in the Rocky Glen sandstone walls is 1887.
Thank you to Jonathan Heiple of Peoria who provided this photo from an old family album as a gift to Friends of Rocky Glen. There is a ladder leaning against the waterfall section of the Bowl with a woman seated at the ladder base. Mr Heiple wrote that the picture was taken in 1908 as part of an artistic photographic collection compiled by Elizabeth Van Meter Robers, a Peorian. The carving of the hand holding the presumed union card is visible. The letters are difficult to read, but if the top three letters are AMA, then it is possibly a reference to the American Mining Association.
This truck was used to haul coal from the Rocky Glen area. Coal mining stops at Rocky Glen during the 1920’s.
However, Rocky Glen continues to be a popular picnic and hiking area for Peoria residents.
Thanks to Wendy Stevens for her family photos taken May 2, 1926.
See these photos taken in the late 1920s or early 1930 provided by Marilyn Leyland. The originals are glass slides in the John Voss collection. The boy in the picture of the dome rock is unknown. In the group of four, Eugene Voss is third from the left and John Voss is on the right cooking.
The upper sections of Rocky Glen continue to be farmed and a steep road from the west is built. This road will eventually become part of the hiking trail from the parking lot eighty years later.
Horse Shoe Bottoms, a novel by Tom Tippett, is published. Tippett, a local coal miner, coal miner’s son and union activist, received a Guggenheim grant to allow him time to write this fictional and autobiographical story. He describes Kickapoo Creek coal mining, the harsh lives of the miner families who lived on site, and the exploitation they experienced from the mining company. Tippet also describes the attempts and eventual success of union organizing along Kickapoo Creek, describing Rocky Glen as the first location for the miner’s secret meetings.
Friendly on-site tenant with permission of the Vicary family supervises a constant stream of visitors. Children from Peoria’s West Bluff and South Side often hike to Rocky Glen. Letters in the newspaper suggest the Peoria Park Board should become the owner.
Harold Connaughton purchases the property from George Vicary. His two sons fence the abandoned upland farm to develop a horse pasture. Farming stops. Visitors are no longer welcome.
Peoria Park District buys 55 acres of adjoining property.
The Friends of Rocky Glen (FORG), a non-profit organization, is formed. With permission from Jim Connaughton, FORG leads free monthly hikes and organizes fundraising events to build public support to purchase and preserve Rocky Glen. Two local businesses – Jimmy’s Bar and Sky Harbor – and the City of West Peoria lend their support.
The City of Peoria purchases Rocky Glen from Jim Connaughton.
The City of Peoria transfers ownership to the Peoria Park District. Rocky Glen becomes open to the public daily from dawn to dusk. Restoration workdays begin at Rocky Glen Park.
A parking lot is built in part with FORG donations. Design and construction of the hiking trail and signage begins and is completed using FORG funding, volunteer labor and PPD staff.
Horseshoe Bottoms is 200 acres of cornfield and wooded hillsides directly east of Rocky Glen Park owned by the Greater Peoria Sanitary District, the Peoria Park District and the Catholic Cemetery Association. This property has the potential to expand the public recreation and natural area of the Kickapoo Creek Watershed. Monthly hikes and restoration workdays begin.
On October 20, the community celebrated the Grand Opening of Rocky Glen parking lot.
Thanks to the terrific people at Zendavor Signs and Graphics for the manufacture and installation of our trail signs! Thanks also to Chelsie Tamms of Lettering Works, and plant illustration by Peggy West for the design and artwork!
We are also grateful to Peoria Park District for supporting our efforts to help obtain this property for everyone to enjoy.
In May, FORG begins selling native plants on Mother’s Day at Haddad’s Market in West Peoria which becomes an annual event.
FORG votes to expand its vision beyond Rocky Glen Park and Horseshoe Bottoms to promote conservation, recreation and sustainable land use in the entire Kickapoo Creek watershed. The first Kickapoo Creek Festival is organized and held at Wildlife Prairie Park in August. FORG partners with the Tri-County Regional Planning Commission to apply for funding a holistic technical study to identify pollution improvement opportunities within the KC Watershed.
FORG begins a series of Urban Stream trash cleanups and educational workdays within the KC Watershed.