The Illinois River Road National Scenic Byway sustains a combination of natural diversity and historic man-made communities.

According to Reed Wilson, director of economic development for the city of Ottawa, the 300-mile byway originates in Ottawa and runs down the west side of the Illinois River to Havana, where it crosses the river and travels up the east side through Pekin back to Ottawa.

“The Illinois River Valley offers a tremendous quantity and variety of beautiful scenery plus historic, cultural and conservation sites and attractions,” said Wilson. “In addition, the Valley has a great many unique places to shop and dine.”

The Illinois River Road was officially certified as a National Scenic Byway by the United States Department of Transportation, Wilson added. The road is now affiliated with the America’s Byways program administered by the Federal Highway Administration and the U.S. Department of Transportation.

“This program encourages travelers to venture beyond the urban areas of America and to become acquainted with the vast part of America represented by its rural areas, small cities and villages, what we like to refer to as the ‘real America,’” he said.

The Illinois River Road enters Pekin from the north, following Illinois Route 29 past Pekin Lakes, through downtown, and past Riverfront Park before turning west at Manito Road.

“Pekin is very fortunate to be on the Illinois River Road National Scenic Byway,” said Bill Fleming, executive director of the Pekin Area Chamber of Commerce. “It gives our community an opportunity to welcome visitors and guests who may not otherwise travel through Pekin.”   

Along its section of the Illinois River Road, Pekin offers travelers an abundance of outdoor activities including golf, boating, hiking, bird-watching and fishing, Fleming added. Because the byway passes through Pekin’s downtown, it also offer visitors a variety of dining and shopping opportunities.

“It’s a great place to just sit and watch the boats, the barges, and depending on the time of the year, the eagles,” Fleming said. “Our restaurants and hotels can meet the travelers’ needs, and we offer an abundance of recreational opportunities.”

Some of the attractions along Pekin’s stretch of the Illinois River Road include Dirksen, McNaughton and Pekin Riverfront parks. A kiosk at Pekin Riverfront Park offers visitor information on points of interest along the byway.

“We encourage people to stop and eat and enjoy our Pekin downtown,” said Pekin City Engineer Mike Guerra. “A couple of years ago, they put in a canoe launch down by the riverfront for people who wish to (engage in) that activity. They have a lot of eagle viewing along the river, too. That’s usually a big tourist attraction during the January time frame.”

The Illinois River Road National Scenic Byway is managed by The Byway, an independent non-profit organization administered by a volunteer board of directors. According to Wilson, all of the organizations financial resources, acquired through various grants and donations, are dedicated to an aggressive marketing program designed to attract tourists.  

“This marketing effort, plus its affiliation with the national byway program, enables the Illinois River Road National Scenic Byway to provide the small cities and villages throughout the Illinois River Valley the opportunity to advertise the attributes of their communities,” he said.

For more information on the Illinois River Road, visit www.illinoisriverroad.org.