DANVILLE – Hikers and trail runners should be warned that the Out and Back Trail at Kickapoo State Park won't be quite as far "out" or "back" anymore.
Next week, an Illinois Department of Natural Resources crew plans to remove the Johnson Hill Bridge spanning the Middlefork River. The footbridge, which once was a road bridge over the Middlefork River, is part of the 7.6-mile Out and Back Trail at the state park. The trail begins at the main road through the park, winds through the woods and eventually heads west over the Middlefork River before circling around and leading back out the same way.
Kickapoo site superintendent John Hott said the bridge has been closed for the last two months because of safety concerns. The west buttress of the bridge is failing and tipping into the river, he said. The bridge is beyond fixing, so the department has arranged for it to be removed beginning Tuesday.
As a result, a section of the Middlefork River near the bridge will be closed to canoes, kayaks, floats, tubes and other river users, but should reopen by Sept. 23. The river closing is necessary because construction crews and heavy equipment will be along the river removing the bridge.
Marcelyn Love with the department said the closure also ensures that the job can be done without any interruption.
Warning buoys will be placed upstream and downstream of the bridge to mark the area where the river will be closed. Signs will be posted at river access points near the project area to alert river users to the closing, according to Natural Resources officials.
The closure shouldn't affect any river trips offered at Kickapoo Landing, because the outfitter doesn't offer trips during the week after Labor Day, Hott said. And the river will be open on weekends during the removal project. Hott said the river has been so low that there haven't been many river trips anyway.
The Department of Natural Resources has designated a 21-day window for the demolition project, but Hott said the contractor expects the job to take about one week. As soon as it's finished, the river will be reopened.
The Kennekuk Road Runners, a local trail running club, hosts an annual race on the Out and Back Trail called the Wild, Wild Wilderness Run.
Hott said he's working with the club to determine alternate routes for that event on Sept. 24.
One will cross the river if the water level is low enough, and a second will avoid the river altogether if it's too high. The club also hosts a January race on that trail – the Siberian Express Trail Run. It also will follow an alternate route but won't cross the river.
The alternate race routes will not become a regular part of the trail, Hott said. Regular users of the trail will have to turn around at the river and head back.
Hott said they've already drawn up plans to replace the bridge over the river, and funds for the project will be put into next year's budget. Whether the money is allocated will depend on the availability of state funds, he said.
"It depends where the economy is," Hott said.