Sandwich mogul pitches in

Sandwich mogul pitches in

MAHOMET — A $150,000 donation from Jimmy John Liautaud and his wife Leslie will bridge the funding gap for phase one of the Kickapoo Rail Trail.

The Champaign County Forest Preserve District's Friends Foundation announced the gift from the founder of the Jimmy John's sandwich restaurant chain, the largest donation yet for what eventually will be a 24.5-mile recreational trail between Urbana and Kickapoo State Park along what a century ago was the Big Four Railroad line.

Earlier this year the forest preserve district board voted to go ahead with the first part of the project — a 6.7-mile segment from Urbana to St. Joseph — even though construction bids came in almost $400,000 greater than the $2.4 million engineering estimate.

Construction began in April. Work on the Vermilion County section of the trail is being held up because of the state's budget problems.

The $400,000 funding gap has been whittled down to about $180,000, and three major fundraising events have been planned for this year to narrow it further.

Forest preserve district officials estimated the three events would yield about $30,000.

The Liautauds, who have a home in Champaign, have pledged to provide the rest.

"When I read the recent News-Gazette story about the financial shortfall, I was impressed with their fundraising efforts, but could see they needed help. I like to give a helping hand when I see people trying hard to make good things happen," Liautaud said Friday. "It's just good for all of us who live in the Champaign-Urbana area, one of the greatest little towns in Illinois."

Dan Noel, president of the forest preserve district's foundation, praised the donation.

"The foundation is extremely grateful to Jimmy John and Leslie Liautaud for this generous contribution. They recognize the importance of this project to the local community and they stepped in at this critical time to fill our construction financial gap," said Noel. "We look forward to working with Jimmy John's to come up with a creative naming opportunity on this first stretch of the trail."

Noel said the Liautauds' gift is more than financial.

"Jimmy John's name is so huge, all over the country. To have it attached to our rail trail, to me it's just a great thing to build on with other corporations and other donors in the community. We still have a ways to go on this," he said. "I'm just thrilled to have him on board.

"As far as I know he just picked up The News-Gazette and saw that article and saw there was a funding gap and he just decided. 'I'm going to help out.'

"That's what I like about this. I hate going out and raising money and he just did this on his own."

Staff members at Jimmy John's company headquarters in Champaign said Liautaud recently has taken up bicycling.

"The timing is fantastic and we're just delighted that he and Leslie share our excitement for the project," said Mary Ellen Wuellner, deputy executive director of the forest preserve district. "I learned that he's taken up bicycling recently and enjoys it and also sees the health and wellness benefits of a trail like this for the entire community, as well as the economic opportunities it provides for the Champaign-Urbana area and eventually for the Danville area and for all the smaller towns in between the two."

Liautaud started his sandwich chain in 1983 in Charleston. It now includes more than 2,500 stores in 43 states.

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whatithink wrote on July 03, 2016 at 9:07 am

It would be even better if he added more donations to make it a paved trail that would actually be used!

Chambanacitizen wrote on July 03, 2016 at 9:07 am

Why would it not be used unless paved? Stay at home negative Nancy. Stick to sidewalks if that's what you want.

rsp wrote on July 03, 2016 at 10:07 am

Why does everything come with "naming rights"? Who wants to go on a hike to look at signs? Isn't the purpose of going on a hike to get out in nature? Not to see ads?

yates wrote on July 03, 2016 at 12:07 pm

It's not going to be paved? What is it going to be made of? From the picture it looks like recycled mining waste and dirt. I take it that it won't all that bike friendly then.

curb wrote on July 03, 2016 at 1:07 pm

From the trail's FAQ page:

The trail surface will consist primarily of compacted, crushed limestone. Crushed stone is popular as a trail surface because it holds up well under heavy use and can complement the aesthetics of the natural landscape. It can also accommodate nearly every trail user (with the exception of inline skaters).

This is the same stuff used on the Green Bay Trail located north of Chicago, which I'm familiar with, so I can confirm this surface is totally fine for pedestrians and cyclists, even those on road bikes with narrow tires.


welive wrote on July 03, 2016 at 12:07 pm

What part of trail dont you understand.trails are not suppose to be paved.hence trails.Normally i think jj is a slack that makes to much from his non gormet sandwichs,however he did a good thing here.


David Green wrote on July 03, 2016 at 8:07 pm

We can only stand silent in awe at our collective good fortune to live and breathe in the era of this beneficent and generous sandwich maker, whose earthly garments so unconvincingly conceal the embodiment of a spiritual being beyond the comprehension of those fortunate enough to deliver said sandwiches in freaky fast time, at a minimum material wage but a maximum wage of spiritual gratification.

uncommon_name wrote on July 03, 2016 at 9:07 pm

I challenge you to name one of your great accomplishments in life...

Al Fresco wrote on July 04, 2016 at 10:07 am

Re: "we stand in silent awe.." 

You might be standing but you weren't silent. 

rsp wrote on July 04, 2016 at 7:07 pm

You heard his keyboard?

uncommon_name wrote on July 04, 2016 at 7:07 pm

The jealousy is deep in that one

Sid Saltfork wrote on July 05, 2016 at 1:07 pm

The 6.7 miles of trail to St. Joe, and back to Urbana is a 13.4 mile hike.  It would take five to six hours of walking.  Most hikers will have a driver, and vehicle waiting for them in St. Joe.  There will be the need for potti-houses, water, security, and maintenance along the trail.  This really is a bicycle rider trail.

The public expense for a bicycle rider trail at a financial time like this is selfish, and foolish.  If the trail is completely build, and maintained by private donations, that is fine.  However, it should not cost Champaign County residents in taxes for the Champaign County Park District.  The county has needs, but a bicycle trail is not one of them.  If the trail is to be built, let the physically fit bicycle rides get their hands dirty building it.  Ever notice all of the bicycle traffic on Philo Road in Urbana?

bones1 wrote on July 07, 2016 at 8:07 am

Sid, as usual it is hard to know where to start when considering a reply to your posts. I'll give you credit for knowing the distance from Urbana to St. Joe but after that your logic falls apart.  Once you get on the trail you don't actually HAVE to ride, or walk, the entire route. You can turn around and go back after a mile or even after 100 yards. It's all left up to you. With a little research you can easily see that these kind of trails are enormously popular all over the country and the world. Central Illinois will benefit from this endeavor, there is no doubt.  Go visit the trail at Lake of the Woods/ Buffalo Trace sometime if you want to see how popular trails are.  There is even a porta-potty there waiting for you.

Sid Saltfork wrote on July 07, 2016 at 12:07 pm

What is the difference between a trail, and a park?   I doubt that the trail will be a profitable investment.  Yes, they are popular.  They do require maintenance, porta-potty contracts, and safety-security.  Who is going to continue to pay for that?  Maybe, a fee would pay for it?  Why not a private trail paid for by the bicycle riders, and the few hikers?  No public money should be used for it.  Remember the "shared pain"? 

"Pork Barrel politics" have substituted needs to wants.  The elite want to continue with indoor volleyball courts, swimming pool features, and now bicycle trails.  This at a time when the lower class is collapsing with the cuts in social services, the elderly have lost meals, and the disabled have lost services.  The cost of the wants, and whims falls on the struggling middle class.  Oh yes, the money comes from a separate fund; but the funds need to be combined, and used for the needs of people not their wants.

Now, pedal off with your elitist whim.

Doug Lascounty wrote on July 07, 2016 at 7:07 pm

I bet some of you complain if your ice cream is cold.  

A simple thank you is sufficient to these generous folks.  Good on ya JJ