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Jan 2005 / a day's work :: email this story to a friend

Ten Questions with...Kathi Weilbacher
By Amanda E. Doyle

1. You're in the midst of Eagle Days: what do eagles have to do with trails?

The Old Chain of Rocks Bridge is a dedicated pedestrian/bicycle trail opened by Trailnet and the City of Madison, IL, in 1999. This trail is the site for Eagle Days. It makes a great viewing platform for watching eagles on both banks of the Mississippi River.

2. Describe a typical Eagle Day: who comes, what do they see, what's their reaction? And really, how cold is it?

Kathi Weilbacher People of all ages come to see the eagles. I would plan my visit to catch one of the Eagle Education Programs given by the World Bird Sanctuary every half-hour from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. In addition to the presentation that tells about eagles, what they eat, how to identify a mature from an immature, why they come to this area, etc., there are spotting scopes on the bridge staffed by trained volunteers to assist visitors in sighting eagles. If you see a bunch of fingers pointing up in the air you know some eagles have been sighted soaring overhead. There are also exhibits, like the replica of an eagle's nest (capture a Kodak moment by having the family stand in the nest) or the banner with a face cutout that shows the wingspan of our national symbol. Lewis & Clark re-enactors from Discovery Expedition, based in St. Charles, will set up camp and they love to interact with the public and answer questions about life during the explorers' time. The Missouri Department of Conservation will also be bringing their dugout canoe and crew. The most frequent reaction is "WOW! Cool!"

Yes, it is really cold out there! When you leave the comfort of your home you may think it is not too cold outside as you get into your car. Visitors need to realize they are out over open water; it is windier and colder out on the bridge where there is no protection from the elements. It is a half-mile hike to the center of the bridge where the scopes are set up. People need to dress for the outdoors by wearing a hat, gloves, scarf and comfortable shoes. I usually bring a bag of gloves, hats and socks with me because it gets too hot wearing all that stuff in the car. When you get to the bridge you can put your layers on and then if you get too hot start removing items until you are comfortable.

3. Are you ever tempted to point out, say, a hawk and call it an eagle, just so you don't send someone home eagle-sighting-less?

We have pointed out other wildlife on site; one year, two deer swam across the Mississippi. I did not see it but saw some photos — that would have been neat to see!! There has also been a pair of falcons who had a nest on the bridge; they have been interesting to watch, seeing the bird bones left on the bridge after they eat, etc. We are fortunate that the eagles like to hang out around the bridge because the Chain of Rocks rapids are a good fishing spot for them. They catch fish as they go over the rapids. Most people do not go home eagle-sight-less!

4. What's your favorite aspect of all the different programs Trailnet offers?

I'm really excited about the Pedal Series of rides we plan to roll out this summer. The Pedal Through our Parks series will be a series of rides for families offering safety education before the ride, a short bike ride, and returning to one of the Forest Park institutions for an exhibit or program. Look for more details on the Puffin Pedal, Petal Pedal, Picasso Pedal, Planetary Pedal and Pedal Through the Past on our website.

5. What's your favorite biking trail?

I ride occasionally for recreation. The St. Louis Riverfront Trail offers a variety of backgrounds from industrial to open prairies. With our office along Grant's Trail it is great to see all the users; I never saw so many roller bladers until I started working for Trailnet and saw them whiz by my window. The kids that got bicycles for Christmas were glad we had such mild weather; we saw lots of shiny bikes on the trail the week after Christmas. Beyond St. Louis, my husband and I visited Mackinac Island, MI, this fall. You gotta love the trail around the island and riding all over town because there are no motor vehicles on the island — just gotta dodge the horse manure!

6. How do you respond to folks (city-rankers, survey-takers and others) who say that St. Louis will always lose out to places like the Pacific Northwest because our outdoor recreation amenities aren't the same?

St. Louis is usually several years behind the coast.

7. Are you from St. Louis? If not, what brought you here?

I grew up in Mascoutah, IL, and lived in northern Illinois for several years before returning back to my southern home in Waterloo, IL. My husband, Ed, is from Waterloo and we met when we were both working in Woodstock, IL. Home for his parent's 40th wedding anniversary we noticed that the house Ed had admired as he grew up was for sale. Six months later we had purchased the house and have made it our home.

8. What's the wackiest promotion you've ever considered for Eagle Days?

Wackiest promotion — can't really think of anything. The wackiest call we ever got was from a woman wanting to know when the eagle feeding was. Did she think we threw fish off the bridge for the eagles???

9. What's the best and worst thing about St. Louis?

The best and worst are the same — the diverse climate

10. Can you replicate an eagle call? And if so, how would you translate that to the written word?

Here's how to listen for eagles: the bald eagle's vocalization can be described as "shrill," "high-pitched" and "twittering." Like other birds, eagles lack vocal cords. Sound is produced in the syrinx, a bony chamber located where the trachea (windpipe) divides to go to the lungs.

Kathi Weilbacher might be persuaded to make an eagle noise if you ask her in person.

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