It's officially time to hit the (Kickapoo Rail) Trail

It's officially time to hit the (Kickapoo Rail) Trail

ST. JOSEPH — Almost 20 years in the making, phase one of the Kickapoo Rail Trail will be dedicated and opened this afternoon.

The 6.7-mile segment between St. Joseph and Urbana, which parallels U.S. 150, will be officially opened with ceremonies at 5:30 p.m. in downtown St. Joseph. Tami Fruhling-Voges, the mayor of St. Joseph, and Diane Marlin, the mayor of Urbana, will be among the speakers.

"It will be a short program, and then we're going to do what everybody wants, cut the ribbon and get everybody out on the trail. Officially," said Dan Olson, executive director of the Champaign County Forest Preserve District, which owns the Champaign County portion of what eventually will be a 24.5-mile recreational trail between Urbana and Kickapoo State Park in Vermilion County.

The idea to develop a network of recreational and educational trails along railroad right of way was a vision of Champaign preservationist David Monk in 1988, later joined by the Champaign County Design and Conservation Foundation, which helped raise private funds to acquire the abandoned railroad right of way.

Both will be recognized Friday evening at the grand opening event in St. Joseph that will be co-hosted by Jayne DeLuce of Visit Champaign County and Jim Turpin of WDWS Radio.

"We have dedicated two things to two different groups," Olson said. "For Heartland Pathways, we're dedicating a prairie area just outside of St. Joe, in honor of them being the first to step up and recognize the project many, many years ago. They really got the whole thing started."

Monk and his Heartland Pathways group, Olson said, "were the first to file with the (federal) Surface Transportation Board to let them know that he was interested in securing the rail line.

"Shortly after that is when the Champaign County Design and Conservation Foundation got involved."

An about-1.5-mile segment of the trail from Main Street in Urbana to Cottonwood Road east of Urbana will be dedicated to CCDCF for their fundraising work, he said.

"Because of CCDCF's original efforts, and they held the lease for so many years of all 24 miles and they did the original fundraising, we're going to dedicate that section of the trail to them," he said.

The Kickapoo Rail Trail is the first recreational trail of its kind in Champaign County. Most other parts of the state have had trails on abandoned rail lines for many years.

The first mention in The News-Gazette of the possibility of the rail trail was in 2005. But work had been going on years before that, said George Bellovics of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

"This has really been a saga," Bellovics said of that 12-year-old story.

Although the trail's surface, signage and safety features have been finalized this week, Olson said some work likely would continue.

"A lot of time what we do is go out there and see how the areas are being used. And we'll make adjustments after that," he said.

"When we're out there and looking at safety issues and seeing how the use is going on, I can guarantee we will be tweaking things for the next year or year and a half."

Q&A: Everything you need to know about the rail trail

Where does the trail start and end?

Its western trail head now is at Main Street in Urbana (at U.S. 150/University Avenue). Eventually, it will go farther west to Weaver Park in Urbana.

The eastern trailhead is in downtown St. Joseph. Eventually, the east end of the trail will be at Kickapoo State Park in Vermilion County.

Who can use the trail?

Hikers, runners, cyclists and, maybe in about four months, cross-country skiers. No motorized vehicles will be allowed, other than for maintenance or accessibility purposes, says the Champaign County Forest Preserve District, which owns the trail.

What is the surface made of?

Compacted, crushed limestone, which holds up well under heavy use and can complement the aesthetics of the natural landscape.

Are there drinking fountains?

Not now, said Dan Olson, executive director at the Champaign County Forest Preserve District. But there are nearby stores, both in Urbana and St. Joseph, to purchase water and other refreshments.

Are there bathrooms?

There are bathrooms at Kolb Park in St. Joseph, just south of the trail. And one of the grants the forest preserve district obtained to build the trail will improve bathrooms, parking, picnic tables and access at Kolb Park to the trail.

Where can I park my car to use the trail?

At the St. Joseph end, you can park either at Kolb Park or along downtown streets.

At the Urbana end, you park at the Walmart store adjacent to the trail at Illinois 130 (High Cross Road) and University Avenue. The store is asking trail users to park in the outer westernmost area of the lot.

Parking is not allowed on the county roads that intersect the trail, Olson said.

Can I take an MTD bus to the trail?

Yes, the MTD Grey Line goes to the Urbana Walmart. And all MTD buses have front-mounted bike racks to carry bikes. Call the MTD (217-384-8188) for schedule information or check the website (

Is there cellphone coverage along the trail?

Yes, Olson said, and call 911 in case of an emergency.

How much has the trail cost and where has the funding come from?

Total cost, including construction engineering, is just over $3 million, Olson said.

At this point, the funding breakdown is: federal grants, 76.9 percent; private donations 19.7 percent; and state grants, 3.4 percent.

When will the rest of the trail be built?

That's uncertain, but it's years away. Next scheduled for engineering work are two segments — one a short piece in St. Joseph and a second, longer part that will take the trail to the Champaign-Vermilion counties line. Olson said construction on those parts "is probably out two to three years."

And engineering and construction of the two Vermilion County sections of the trail — including the most visually spectacular part, a bridge over the Middle Fork of the Vermilion River — has been held up by the state budget impasse.

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The Gipper wrote on August 25, 2017 at 10:08 am

Was out on a small portion of the trail the other day. Not sure if I am too keen on the compacted limestone surface. I can see it getting thrown up on to the bike, in the chain and sprockets and elsewhere. That would not be good for the bike in any manner.

Have to wonder what the cost difference would have been for asphalt.

bones1 wrote on August 25, 2017 at 4:08 pm

There are many, many rail trails across the country that use crushed limestone.  Take a minute to read through this article from Rails to Trails Conservancy to get the full story.

The limestone surface will become nicely packed down pretty quickly and will not damage your bike. I've ridden on many of them and never had a problem with rock damage, or pebbles in the gears or anything like that.