URBANA - The Urbana Park District has landed a $250,000 state grant to install one-third of a mile of elevated boardwalk in the historic Busey Woods.
Construction of the 6-foot-wide boardwalk, accessible for the disabled, should begin later this summer or early this fall, said Tim Bartlett, superintendent of planning and capital development for the park district.
The Illinois Department of Natural Resources awarded the museum grant, which covers 100 percent of the costs of construction and planning, earlier this spring. Busey Woods is a 59-acre remnant of the Big Grove, which once covered 10 miles of ground along the Saline Branch and the Salt Fork of the Vermilion River.
Busey Woods is considered the "collection" of the park district's Anita Purves Nature Center, 1505 N. Broadway Ave., U, and thus the park district was eligible for a museum grant, Bartlett explained.
"It's a wonderful thing," Bartlett said. "The goal of the boardwalk is to reduce the heavy impact of foot traffic on the forest floor. It impacts the trees and the wildflowers and compacts the soil. We get over 30,000 visitors each year.
"Busey Woods is also considered a wet woods and is closed for one or two months some years" due to standing water, Barlett said. "With a boardwalk, we won't have to interrupt our school tours during the spring and fall and we can have continued access into the woods."
The eventual goal is to install about one mile of boardwalk throughout Busey Woods, a project likely to be done in three phases, he said. The park district's original grant request was for $467,000 and would have installed the entire mile as well as a new access ramp into the woods. But Bartlett said the park district has no problem with implementing the project in phases.
Bartlett said even if the entire boardwalk is installed, there will continue to be soft trails in Busey Woods. But the boardwalk will provide much greater access to the disabled and can accommodate the bulk of the foot traffic, easing the impact on the woods.
"We really think it will help protect not only the trees and wildflowers, but also the nesting birds," he said.
The park district board recently hired Frauenhoffer & Associates of Champaign to do the engineering work for the project. The firm designed the boardwalks at Starved Rock State Park and has ample experience, said park district Executive Director Robin Hall.
"We think it's a nice project," said park board President Bruce Larson. "We're pleased we can move ahead on it. It will greatly enhance walking through Busey Woods. Busey Woods is a real jewel for Urbana."
Busey Woods consists of native oak and hickory trees, along with maple trees and at least 27 other species of trees.
More than 200 species of birds can be seen there at various times during the year, according to Judy Miller, the park district's environmental program manager.
"It's kind of an oasis," Miller said.
Along with the University of Illinois-owned Trelease Woods and Brownfield Woods, Busey Woods is among the only surviving parcels of the Big Grove.
Of those three, only Busey Woods is open to the public.
"It is a very vital and important piece of our natural history," Bartlett said.
You can reach Mike Monson at 217-351-5370 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.