Work could begin this year on rail-trail

Work could begin this year on rail-trail

DANVILLE — A 24.5-mile length of abandoned railroad right-of-way between Urbana and Kickapoo State Park is now entirely in the hands of public agencies, clearing the way for work to begin this year on the Kickapoo Trail project.

The Vermilion County Conservation District received a $582,000 short-term loan earlier this week from The Conservation Fund of Arlington, Va., and immediately wired the money to the CSX Corp., completing the purchase of the Vermilion County portion of the abandoned rail line. The Champaign County portion of the property was purchased from CSX last October.

"We jumped through a bunch of hoops to get all ducks in a row and we had the closing on Wednesday. And so now it's over with," said Ken Konsis, executive director of the Vermilion County Conservation District. "After 20 years of frustration ... it all happened so quick. It's anticlimatic. And now I'm here in the hospital and I can't tell anyone about it."

Konsis was hospitalized with an irregular heartbeat Thursday morning. He was undergoing a series of tests on Friday, he said.

So although he was feeling bad, he also was feeling good.

"This is definitely a big deal. After 20 years of mostly frustration working with the railroad, especially after Conrail was bought out by CSX, everything slowed down for a few years," he said. "But then it really picked up in the last two years. There were a lot of meetings and planning and nothing happening and then all of a sudden we've got it. It's a great feeling."

The rail-to-trail project has been the brainchild of the Champaign County Design and Conservation Foundation for about 20 years. CCDC, along with the foundations of both the Vermilion County Conservation District and the Champaign County Forest Preserve District, are planning major fundraising campaigns for the development of the trail.

Some construction could begin as soon as this year, officials said.

"I would think so. I hope so," Konsis said. "I have to check with the grants and the bid processes and all of that, but the $2.1 million (state) grant is in place for development, so I would say we can begin fairly shortly."

Tim Bartlett, the associate director of the Urbana Park District, who also chaired the multiagency trail committee that negotiated the $1.2 million purchase of the property from CSX, said trail work would begin at the Vermilion County end of the project.

"My understanding is they received the transportation enhancement development grant, so they're going to be able to move forward with the development first," Bartlett said. "Champaign County has made application for a grant, but they don't have it in hand.

"But that really is terrific because one of the biggest costs of the project is going to be dealing with the trestle bridge on the east terminus there. That gives the whole project a tremendous start."

The 100-year-old trestle bridge spans the Middle Fork of the Vermilion River. Although it now belongs to the VCCD, ownership soon will be transferred to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

Work on the bridge should be among the first phases of construction, Bartlett said.

"The conceptual plan in the grant application was that it would be worked on right away, but until they get the engineering team onboard that's going to do the work on what will be bid, they'll have to do cost estimates," he said. "But that's been the vision, that it would start there."

He said the trail project — proposed as a 10-foot-wide, gravel-based path paralleling U.S. 150 from east Urbana through St. Joseph, Ogden, Fithian, Muncie and Oakwood to Kickapoo State Park — would be unique in Illinois.

"If you think about it, I don't believe there are any other state parks in Illinois that have such a long trail system that directly links up a state park. I believe this is the only regional corridor that links up to a state park from a major population center like Urbana-Champaign. I think it is unique in that respect.

"The benefits and the user ability really grows with something like that."

Bartlett said he believes communities all along the trail, including Urbana, will benefit from the project.

"We in Urbana are really excited because this gives us an opportunity to really become a trail town," he said. "The working concept is that it really does bring growth and new development and visitors, and creates whole new levels in terms of recreational pursuits and activities and events."

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Sid Saltfork wrote on January 11, 2014 at 11:01 am

A state grant for $2,100,000 hiking trail that will have to be maintained through some source?  The State of Illinois is broke?  Debts are owed, and vendors are not paid.  The state's highways, and roads need work.  Education needs adequate funding.  The governor is now saying that services to citizens will be cut, and education money will be shortened if the temporary income tax hike expires.  Really, a hiking trail is needed at this time?  The potty houses will need to be maintained.  The trail will have to be maintained.  What about safety, accessibility, summer brush fires, and availabe water?  All of this expense at a time when spending absolutely needs to be controlled results in a hiking trail from Urbana to Danville.  Bread, and circuses worked for the Roman emperors; and they continue to work for the Illinois legislators, and governors.

yates wrote on January 11, 2014 at 11:01 am

So this path will be gravel based? So I guess no bikes will be allowed or you just ride on rocks. Just who will use this?

snoopyw900 wrote on January 11, 2014 at 4:01 pm

Just wait.  In a couple of years the county will want to put asphalt down

serf wrote on January 11, 2014 at 12:01 pm

I will use it.  A lot.

snoopyw900 wrote on January 11, 2014 at 4:01 pm

So the tax payers must spend 1.2 million to keep you happy?

serf wrote on January 11, 2014 at 6:01 pm

Yes.  That's exactly right.  It's only for me.

sweet caroline wrote on January 11, 2014 at 6:01 pm

I could see putting a trail in IF the state had an abundance of money.  That is not the case.  Agencies that provide life-saving services to people in need are not getting paid.  How is the 24.5 mile trail going to help these people?  Illinois lawmakers' priorities are totally screwed up.

Citizen wrote on January 12, 2014 at 9:01 am

While no one has suggested the obvious it is time, in this tax-payer opinion, that bicyclists need to begin to pay for what they believe is their 'right' to such amenities as new rural trails and bike lanes on city streets. Why should they be exempt of license fees and proof of insurance any more than motorized vehicles? Annual license fees could assist off-setting the costs to maintain their bike lanes and local trails which they contribute zero dollars to such tax-payer funded projects to date.

Yes, it is time for bicyclists to support their wants and join the rest of us who must pay license and insurance as well as gas taxes that supposedly support our need for an adequate transportation infrastructure.

Considering all the bicycle lanes created in C-U, and now a 24 mile trail proposed...yes, it is time bicyclists join the rest of us and contribute to the affordability of what they think they should have.

Bicycles need to support their road services equally as the rest of us who use the roads.

tzr wrote on January 17, 2014 at 3:01 pm

As a bicyclist, I am also the owner of two motor vehicles that pays taxes and registration on those vehicles. 

Most cyclists are also vehicle owners, too. These aren't mutually exclusive parties here. 

Also, fuel taxes don't even cover half of what it takes to build and maintain roads.

Learn more:

http://www.activetrans.org/blog/sbuchtel/think-user-fees-pay-roads-you-d...

Citizen wrote on January 12, 2014 at 5:01 pm

While no one has suggested the obvious it is time, in this tax-payer opinion, that bicyclists need to begin to pay for what they believe is their 'right' to such amenities as new rural trails and bike lanes on city streets. Why should they be exempt of license fees and proof of insurance any more than motorized vehicles? Annual license fees could assist off-setting the costs to maintain their bike lanes and local trails which they contribute zero dollars to such tax-payer funded projects to date.

Yes, it is time for bicyclists to support their wants and join the rest of us who must pay license and insurance as well as gas taxes that supposedly support our need for an adequate transportation infrastructure.

Considering all the bicycle lanes created in C-U, and now a 24 mile trail proposed...yes, it is time bicyclists join the rest of us and contribute to the affordability of what they think they should have.

Bicycles need to support their road services equally as the rest of us who use the roads.

LocalTownie wrote on January 14, 2014 at 12:01 pm

I like the idea of the trail, but this state can't even afford to properly maintain or even staff the state parks we already have.


I camp and frequently visit the state parks in our region. Many things go without proper maintenance - broken electrical outlets at campsites - the state collects money from those of us who use these, why isn't our money going to maintain the campground? Docks at the lakes are often in disrepair with lack of cushioning & nails coming out of the wood which cause damage to boats - I pay to license my boat and trailer, why isn't that money going to keep the lakes maintained?


I just don't see the necessity of the trail at this point in time. We need to take care of existing resources (be it a county forest preserve, or a state recreation area) properly before adding more.

bones wrote on January 14, 2014 at 5:01 pm

Rail-Trail projects are big successes in many places.  It is hard to imagine at this point, but these kinds of attractions can mean business in some places that really need to attract business and tourists.  These type of recreational trails are enjoyable and once they are in place are relatively low maintenance.  I see that folks think "we" need to take care of our existing resources but this type of trail can easily be accessed by the public throughout the 24 miles so "we" can get out there and make sure it is clear of debris, that the trash is removed and that the crushed limestone surface is smooth and flat. 

Trails like this also promote good health via exercise and can be used as a family-friendly outing for those so inclined. 

 

LocalTownie wrote on January 15, 2014 at 8:01 am

"We" have plenty of other options for getting out and getting exercise in a family friendly atmosphere. Lake of the Woods, Homer Lake, Kickapoo State Park, and countless others. Not to mention all the nice little parks scattered inside our community. This rail to trail project is a colossal waste of resources that should be put to good use elsewhere.


I really don't see this "trail to nowhere" bringing in much business for anyone. Lets be realistic.

Sid Saltfork wrote on January 15, 2014 at 7:01 am

Sadly, this hiking trail demonstrates the priorities of some of the citizens.  While services to abused kids are cut, or delayed; some want a 24 mile trail for "families". While corrections cannot keep up with the numbers of felons in the system; some want a 24 mile trail for excercise.  A 24 mile hike is not a family experience.  "Just wait Johnny, the next potty house is only 4 miles away...."  If people need exercise, they can walk around their neighborhoods the needed distance.  The residents along the trail are not happy that pilgrims, or worse, can come skipping into their areas.  What economic boost results for the small communities along the wilderness experience?  Strangers wanting to use restrooms, and wanting a glass of water.  No big bucks in it; but headaches from it result. 

Everyone has something the government should do for them according to some.  Cuts can be made elsewhere in spending on the poor, and children.  This 24 mile trail has priority since so many people are clamoring to use it.

bb wrote on January 15, 2014 at 11:01 am

Don't be such a curmudgeon on this one Sid!  Sure, the state could spend the $2.1 million on about 1/3 mile of 4-lane road instead.  This investment will generate additional private and public support of the trail.  The trail WILL provide recreation opportunites for families and individuals and improve quality of life - if it encourages healthy activity it might even save money on health care.  The round trip from St Joe to Ogden and back is about 8 miles, easily done by a young teen in about 3 hours.  In Boy Scouts we use to do a 20-mile hike from St Joe to Kickapoo on the country roads "Lincoln Trail" - now it will be safer and more direct, so they'll have to add a loop up to Middle Fork or something to get 20 miles.  Or they could mix trails and roads for another nice option.  Last I heard St Joe liked the idea of the trail.  Towns along the way can improve their section as desired.

From Urbana, folks could do a marathon point-to-point trail run.  People who get bored running in circles around our parks or risk injury running on the streets will have another option.  Except for the skinny-tire road bikes, most other types of bikes should be able to handle packed gravel if it's done as well as some of the rail-trails to our north like the I&M Canal Trail. A hike or ride to the St Joe wetlands and back would be a nice way to spend the afternoon.  It's generating private contributions and volunteer interest in maintenance as well.  Giving the young folks a healthy option besides sitting at the computer or playing video games seems like a good idea to me.  Maybe the Dairy Barn can open a branch on the trail.

Sid Saltfork wrote on January 16, 2014 at 1:01 pm

Your "from Urbana" comment sums it up.  It is for Urbana, and it's civic citizens.  No other community would build a wide concrete bike, and walk way with a nifty bridge up Rt. 130 to connect with the "Trail Head".  No other community would get funding from taxpayers all over the state to pay for a nifty trail that will be used partially throughout the year with minor traffic, and maintenance cost. 

Excuse me for laughing about the "volunteers".  The Urbana "volunteers" show up when the local media is videotaping.  One Saturday afternoon picking up trash, raking, and sunbathing does not keep 24 miles of trail clean.  This is just another Urbana whimsy paid for by others.  Many in the county would rather see the grant money used to erect a fence around Urbana.  Urbana is not "the Center of the World" locally. 

STM wrote on January 17, 2014 at 7:01 am

There is no good way for a bicyclist wanting to ride to CU from a community to the east to do it (Oakwood, Ogden, St. Joseph, etc).  Sure, you can weave down country roads but that isn't always a safe (or direct) alternative. No sane person would ride a bicycle on Rt. 150 at any time. The shoulders on 150 are non-existent (at least very narrow) and traffic speeds range from 20 to 100.  I think the path is a great and long-overdue idea.

Citizen wrote on January 17, 2014 at 2:01 pm

I still find it odd that all the supporters of this 24.5 bike trail are avoiding the fact it needs and should be supported and financed at least in part by those who might use it...and to do so...maybe it is time bicyclists need to pay to play for all the concessions they are being literally given by bike paths on public streets and now this 24.5 trail to nowhere. Implement license fees for bicycles who use these amenities if they want such a luxury.

Yet I digress as here again is another fine example of entitlement mentality..."we support it but only if someone else has to pay for it"...my opinion only.