A black granite â€œA" marked with military service branch medallions, flanked by matching granite markers bearing the Pledge of Allegiance and a memorial message, all against a three-flagpole backdrop flying the U.S., State of Illinois, and Atkinson flags mark the new War Memorial. While paying tribute to Atkinson's veterans, the memorial is also a compliment to the entire community whose individuals, businesses and organizations provided countless in-kind donations of labor and materials to make it a reality. It is considered one of the finest war memorial tributes in Illinois and is especially breathtaking at night.
Adding to Atkinson's own parks is the recreational jewel at its doorstep in the form of the Hennepin Canal Parkway just north of town. After the State of Illinois took ownership of the tired, old waterway in 1970, it was reborn as a recreational corridor and, most recently, the former towpath has been improved for bicycling. Its 96-mile length is open to hiking, camping, picnicking, fishing and more. Its waters are stocked with catfish, crappies, bass and other varieties. The Hennepin Canal also offers a history lesson that includes many of Atkinson's earlier residents who had a hand in the canal's construction or at least witnessed it. Construction began in the 1890s and continued well into the first decade of the new century. Early supporters included Representative Abraham Lincoln. He and others saw the canal as an extension of the Illinois and Michigan Canal further east, one that would provide a direct commercial link between the Upper Mississippi at Rock Island, and Chicago, cutting the distance dramatically.
Building the canal, however, was an on-again/ off-again project and by the time it was finished, when the Hennepin's larger barge capacity met the Illinois-Michigan's smaller capacity at their LaSalle juncture, it resulted in much loading and unloading. Eventually, shippers chose to move goods via smaller barges and the Hennepin never met expectations. The capacity difference was due to the use of concrete (artificial stone) to construct the Hennepin's locks and dams, a first in the U.S., and leading to substantial savings used to increase the width of the locks. Methods of working with the material perfected during the Hennepin's construction were later used when the Panama Canal was built. But what was revolutionary (concrete) in its construction also proved to be the Hennepin's downfall. It was operated by the U.S. Corps of Engineers from the fall of 1907 until the locks were closed to commercial navigation on July I, 1951.
More hunting and fishing are to be found in the area's woods, rivers and streams, as are a variety of camping sites. The Mississippi River and Rock River offer an outstanding array of fish and waterfowl.
East of town, the Izaak Walton Giant Goose Conservation and Educational Center offers fishing, camping and boating for its members and, at the same time, educational programs for area youth that focus on conservation, recreation and wildlife. The site itself is a living example of reclamation and restoration in that it sits on land once ravaged by coal strip-mining operations that employed substantial numbers of Atkinson men.