Vermilion County panel won't let its half of Kickapoo Rail Trail languish

Vermilion County panel won't let its half of Kickapoo Rail Trail languish

DANVILLE — With more than $2 million in government funding for the Kickapoo Rail Trail still hung up because of Illinois’ budget problems, trail proponents on the Vermilion County side are reviving a fund-raising committee to get matching dollars for other grants that could finally launch construction on their end of the recreational path.

“We just want to get a shovel in the ground,” said Julie Colby of Danville, a bicyclist, Master Naturalist and outdoor enthusiast who's co-chairing the newly revived committee, which has now met twice, with Bob Arnholt of Danville

Nearly five years ago, when Gov. Pat Quinn announced a $2.1 million grant to the Vermilion County Conservation District for the Kickapoo Rail Trail, it appeared that the groundbreaking along the 24.5-mile multi-use recreational path planned on an old CSX rail line between Urbana and Kickapoo State Park was going to be near Kickapoo and a 100-year-old trestle over the Middle Fork of the Vermilion River.

The federal dollars were going to come through the state’s Illinois Transportation Enhancement Program, and matching dollars were to come from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. The funding would have paid for trail construction from Kickapoo to Oakwood.

But the release of that money stalled along with the state’s budget process.

As Vermilion waited, fundraising and grant writing progressed in Champaign County, and the first section, from Urbana to St. Joseph, was completed and opened in August.

Vermilion County organizers have been working diligently and creatively on a way to start construction on at least one segment of the roughly 11 miles of path between Kickapoo State Park and the Champaign-Vermilion county line.

Vermilion County Conservation District Director Ken Konsis said the district’s foundation is holding the private donations received so far for the Vermilion side of the trail.

He said they nearly had enough to cover the match for the original $2.1 million and were recently planning to secure that federal funding with private matching dollars and start construction on a section of the Vermilion half in June 2018.

But Konsis said two weeks ago, he got a phone call from IDOT informing him that the environmental surveys done nearly five years ago in preparation for the $2.1 million in funding are now approaching their “expiration date” and must be done again.

Konsis said those are expensive, and he’s now waiting on an estimate for surveys from a local engineering firm, but regardless of the final price, that’s a setback to the June construction plans. He said they’re exploring whether the expiration date can be waived.

“We have no idea what this survey is going to cost,” he said.

In the meantime, the local fundraising committee is ramping up efforts to seek more private donations for matching funds — either for new grants or the original $2.1 million.

Logan Cronk, community development director for Vermilion Advantage and a member of the revived Vermilion County committee, said it’s also important to demonstrate to government agencies that they are continuing to make progress rather than just waiting for funds to be released.

“In order for the (state) matching funds to not get swept, we need to show we are still working on the trail,” said Cronk, who explained that there are also other grants they can apply for to get construction started while continuing to wait for the $2.1 million.

But other grants also require a local match, so more fundraising right now is key.

Colby said they are working on getting information out in Vermilion County about how to donate to the project. She said donors giving at certain levels will be recognized in various ways, like a bench along the trail.

And although it’s only met twice, the newly revived committee is excited about its new mission, because members are looking forward to the trail. Colby worked years ago on a proposal for a trail between Danville and Paris along an old rail line that was eventually re-activated. She said she’s waited decades for a rail trail in East Central Illinois.

“I’m jazzed,” she said.

And Cronk, who’s into fitness, said he and his friends are very excited about the possibilities, and seeing the trail segment open between Urbana and St. Joseph has been exciting.

“Well, we’re ready to have fun on our side,” he said. “We think we have a lot of things to show along this trail, a lot of beautiful nature and history that nobody has thought about. We are really going to open people’s eyes when this thing really does open.”

Kickapoo Rail Trail donation levels

A: Any size donation. Will receive recognition on website.

B: $1,000. Donor recognition at the trail terminus in each county.

C: $5,000. A and B, plus a recognition plaque.

D: $10,000. A, B, and C, plus a bench with donation placard. Six opportunities for this level of recognition remain in Champaign County and 10 opportunities remain in Vermilion County.

E: $25,000. A, B, and C, plus trail node naming. Includes bench, interpretive sign with posted name. All nodes are spoken for in Champaign County and two opportunities remain in Vermilion County.

F: $50,000. A, B, and C, plus signage (mile marker) to reflect sponsorship of a section of trail. Limit 20. Eight opportunities remain in Champaign County and 10 opportunities remain in Vermilion County.

G: $125,000. A, B, and C, plus small bridge naming. Limit 2. Bridges over Salt Fork and Stoney Creek. The Stoney Creek bridge is still available.

Exact number and locations of nodes, benches and signs will be determined through the final master planning process.