Kickapoo Rail Trail paving the way through downtown St. Joseph

Kickapoo Rail Trail paving the way through downtown St. Joseph

ST. JOSEPH — As fundraising and design work continue on the Kickapoo Rail Trail, a construction crew started work this week on another section of the path — a paved portion, less than a half-mile long, that will extend through downtown St. Joseph.

"It will go all the way down to Seventh Street," said village President Tami Fruhling-Voges. "It's going to be a really nice addition."

The new segment will extend the already-in-use trail (6.7 miles from Urbana to St. Joseph) through downtown St. Joseph and over to the east side of town.

Currently in the design stage is another 5.1-mile stretch, which will extend the trail to Ogden.

And fundraising continues for other sections that have yet to be designed and built.

The long-term plan for the Kickapoo Rail Trail is a 20-plus-mile continuous multi-use path for pedestrians and bicyclists that follows the former CSX railroad line from East Urbana to Kickapoo State Park outside of Danville, passing the communities of Mayview, St. Joseph, Ogden, Fithian and Oakwood along the way.

Currently, the 6.7-mile leg that's already in use transitions from a packed gravel-surface to an asphalt path as it enters St. Joseph on the west end of town and ends at Main Street next to The Wheelhouse, the farm-to-fork new American cuisine restaurant at 109 N. Main St.

'It's been very busy'

The 0.3-mile extension — being built by Open Road Paving — will continue the asphalt path from Main Street to 7th Street, several blocks east of where it currently ends.

Fruhling-Voges said the new section will take users into the heart of downtown and businesses there.

"Which is a good thing," she said, adding that the village will team up with the Champaign County Forest Preserve District in 2019 to use grant funds to add amenities in St. Joseph for trail users. For example, picnic tables where people can enjoy ice cream from a local business or a snow cone from a new shop that's on the way.

Additional parking for the trail will be added behind the Casey's General Store, which is between Fourth and Fifth streets and faces U.S. 150.

"We want to make it welcoming," Fruhling-Voges said of the amenities that will be added.

And, the mayor said, renovations to Kolb Park — a trail head for the Kikapoo trail on the west side of town — are wrapping up and will include new restrooms and other improvements. They'll be featured at a future rededication of the municipal park that she hopes to schedule sometime this fall.

"I'd like to do something along with the trail to have everyone come check out the park," said Fruhling-Voges, who has noticed greater turnout along the trail since the weather turned cooler.

She said she walks the path with her dog more often than she rides her bike along it, and one night this week, she passed at least 20 people who were either biking, walking or jogging.

"It's been very busy," she said. "It's nice to be out there."

Coming attractions

In Vermilion County — where the local conservation district has been working on the section that will run through Fithian, Muncie and Oakwood to Kickapoo State Park — conservation district Director Jamie Pasquale said prep work for construction of a 1.8-mile section (from the east end of Oakwood to Grays Siding Road) should begin this fall.

Cross Construction was awarded that job, but must do tree removal first, Pasquale said. That work can't begin until Oct. 1 — a requirement that protects the bat habitat. So the construction may have to wait until spring, Pasquale said.

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources is working toward bidding construction of another 0.6-mile section that would continue the 1.8-mile segment from Grays Siding to the entrance of the Vermilion County Fairgrounds, which is where the path can then connect to Kickapoo State Park, north of the fairgrounds.

That short section being handled by IDNR includes a railroad bridge over the Salt Fork River.

Altogether, that 2.4-mile chunk is being funded by a $1.2 million federal grant and $180,000 in private donations that were the matching funds required by the grant.

And fundraising and design work continues on an 8.5-mile section that would connect the trail in Ogden with to the Vermilion County segment in Oakwood.

What's on tap

You can do more than walk the Kickapoo Rail Trail. Two upcoming events:

History Along the Rail Trail

What: A group bike ride hosted by the Museum of the Grand Prairie

When: 8-10 a.m. Saturday

Where: The tour will begin at the access point near the northern end of the Urbana Walmart parking lot, and end near The Wheelhouse restaurant in St. Joseph.

Who: The ride will feature local history along the path, as told by Patrick Cain.

More: The ride is open to anyone ages 13 and up. Bring your own bike, make your own arrangements to return to Urbana. Space is limited, so register for the event by Friday at the Champaign County Forest Preserve website.

Kickapoo Rail Trail at Sleepy Creek

What: A fundraiser for the continued construction of the Kickapoo Rail Trail

When: 7-10:30 p.m. Nov. 16

Where: Dragonfly Event Center at Sleepy Creek Vineyards (8254 E. 1425 North Road, Fairmount)

Who: Dustin Danger will provide live music, and there will be a silent auction as well.

More: All proceeds from the auction and ticket sales — $50 per person, $100 per couple, $450 for a table of 10 — will go toward trail construction. For tickets, call 217-586-3360 or 217-442-1691, or go to the Kickapoo Rail Trail website.

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