New tour boat to give visitors up-close view of Hennepin Canal

Claudia Loucks
For the Republic
Todd Sieben stands by the Marion II boat, which has been renovated and refurbished and is ready to take passengers on cruises of the Hennepin Canal.

The use and appreciation of the Hennepin Canal is the continuing mission of the Friends of the Hennepin Canal, a group that was formed to “preserve, protect, and enhance the park experience.”

The group will have its annual membership meeting titled, “2022 A Year in Review & A Vision for the Future,” on Sunday, Oct. 9, at the Sheffield Visitor enter, located within the Hennepin Canal State Parkway off of East St.

A membership meeting is scheduled in the shelter from 1 to 3 p.m. for members and guests.

The complete schedule for Oct. 9:

  • 12:30 – 1 p.m. – Informal gathering at the shelter and park grounds.
  • 1 – 1:30 p.m. – Welcome and Lock Tender performance by Dexter Bingham.
  • 1:30 – 2:30 p.m. – Fish fry and picnic.
  • 2 p.m. – business meeting.

The 115th anniversary of the Marion Voyage will be highlighted by the Marion II being dry-docked and available for viewing. The Illinois Department of Natural Resources will have the equipment donated by the Friends of the Hennepin Canal on display.

In 2007, the Friends of the Hennepin Canal and Bureau County Tourism commissioned playwright Dexter Brigham to showcase the stories of the Hennepin Canal. The resulting play, “The Locktender,” included tour tales recounting the canal’s inception, construction, failure and rebirth.

The October meeting marks the 15th anniversary of the premier of the play and Dexter will be at the event to perform the third chapter of the play, “The Key to a Lock is the Person Who Turns It.” He will perform a touching excerpt from “The Locktender,” which highlights a scene where a worker receives a closure notice and expresses feelings about it to his wife.

In the fall of 2021, Todd Sieben and Gary Wagle, members of the Friends of the Hennepin Canal, purchased a 20-year-old Oquawka plate boat that was being used for duck hunting on the Mississippi River.

The two men returned the boat to its manufacturer in Oquawka, (IL), and had it rebuilt for cruising on the Hennepin Canal.

The renovated Marion II has a six-foot long loading ramp on the front and bench seating on each side.

Sieben said the 115 hp motor was traded for a 25 hp motor and the 20-foot long boat can cruise with 12 people on board and go through the 12-foot diameter tubes that have replaced many of the old township bridges across the canal.

Cruises can be scheduled by contacting Gary Wagle, (309)236-6212, or other members of the Friends of the Hennepin. There is no charge for the cruises; however donations to the Friends organization are appreciated.

Information in a press release from the Friends of the Hennepin states: “The Hennepin Canal provides a wide variety of recreational activities including fishing, boating, picnicking, canoeing, hiking, horseback riding, bicycling, and snowmobiling. The Hennepin Canal is also steeped in history and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Its history, natural beauty and recreation make the Hennepin Canal Parkway State Park an important resource for all the communities along its banks.”

“The Friends of the Hennepin Canal have been working tirelessly to find equipment, funding, and support for maintenance and promotion of the Hennepin Canal State Parkway. The recreation and economic opportunities inherent within the Hennepin Canal bring a natural value to this area that cannot be lost.”

For more information on becoming a Friend of the Hennepin Canal, visit or Friends of the Hennepin Canal on Face book.

About the original steamer SS Marion, excerpted from Part 5, written by Mary M. Yeater:

The canal was complete on Oct. 21, 1907, and from information received, the “Corps of Engineers could not wait until spring to pass the first boat. The steamer S.S. Marion, under the command of Captain Rambo and loaded with government officials, was the first boat to travel the full 75 miles of the main line. (Traffic had been open on the westernmost five miles of the canal since April 17, 1895). The Marion left the Illinois River at Bureau, Illinois, on Nov. 8, 1907, and arrived at the Mississippi River near Rock Island on Nov. 15.

The Marion was the first boat to pass through the Hennepin Canal and officially open it to navigation. It was the last boat to travel the Hennepin Canal until spring.