Deal puts proposed bike path on the road to reality
MONTICELLO – The first portion of a proposed regional bike trail running from Allerton Park east to Champaign-Urbana and eventually to Kickapoo State Park in Vermilion County could be in place by the end of the summer.
Monticello Superintendent Floyd Allsop told the Monticello Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday that the city has signed an agreement with Heartland Pathways to acquire a stretch of an abandoned railroad bed as the first part of a proposed hiking and biking trail linking Monticello with Allerton Park.
Allsop said the city has paid Heartland Pathways, a Champaign-area prairie preservation group, $125,000 for a permanent easement for a one-mile stretch running from the wastewater treatment plant at Railroad Street to County Farm Road. The easement includes an old bridge crossing the Sangamon River.
Allsop said local teens have been jumping off unsecured portions of the bridge to dive into the Sangamon River.
"During the summer, the river is only two feet deep there, and somebody could get injured," Allsop said.
The city also acquired an easement for another 80-foot segment linking the Appletree subdivision with Route 47.
The city had been negotiating with Heartland Pathways over the project for more than 15 years.
Monticello bicyclist Chris Corrie said he is eager to try out the bike path once it is completed late this summer.
"The public safety improvements to the bridge are just as important as completing the bike path," Corrie said. "I've ridden over that bridge a few times, and it's really scary. We're fortunate that nobody got hurt there."
Eric Freyfogle, a University of Illinois law professor who has been working to promote the development of greenways in central Illinois, said the proposed bike path will be a nature lover's delight.
"It is unfortunate the negotiations have taken so long, because the benefits to the community are very clear," Freyfogle said. "This tends to add value to the real estate around the bike bath, and I hope this is the first installment toward expanding the trail."
Allsop said the Monticello City Council has budgeted $50,000 to pay for covering the bridge and railroad tressle with a smooth surface this summer.
"We're looking at a permanent asphalt surface down the road," Allsop said.
City crews, with the help of volunteers, also plan to clear the brush and debris from the pathway with chainsaws later this spring.
"We have trees and roots and debris left over from the 2001 tornado," Allsop said. "We've got to get that all cleared out."
Allsop said recreation leaders would like to build a 6-mile path connecting the new segment to Allerton Park and an additional segment running to the railway museum on Monticello's north side.
Long-range plans call for extending the trail northeast to White Heath and then further east to Champaign-Urbana and on to Kickapoo State Park near Danville. The Champaign County Conservation and Design Foundation has been working to create a trail on the old rail line between Weaver Park in southeast Urbana. It would pass through Mayview, St. Joseph, Ogden, Fithian, Muncie, Oakwood and Bucktown and end at the fairgrounds in Vermilion County at the southern part of Kickapoo State Park.
Allsop said bike path enthusiasts would also like to build a second connecting bike path from White Heath to Lodge and then west to Weldon Springs State Park, Allsop said.