SPRINGFIELD — A $2.1 million grant to the Vermilion County Conservation District means that the long-planned Kickapoo bike trail between Danville and Urbana is one step closer to development.
Federal funds for the 24.5-mile multi-use recreation path along U.S. 150 have been approved by the Illinois Department of Transportation, according to an announcement by Gov. Pat Quinn.
The grant, for $2,104,150, means that construction of the recreation trail will start on its east end, near a spectacular 100-year-old trestle over the Middle Fork of the Vermilion River.
"It is probably going to be one of the most attractive pieces of the entire trail," said Mary Ellen Wuellner, deputy director of the Champaign County Forest Preserve District. "The cost of construction of the trail along that bridge is about a million dollars by itself."
The grant requires a 20 percent local match, she said.
"We'll be working to secure that match locally with donations" through the foundations of the conservation and forest preserve districts and the private, Urbana-based CCDC Foundation. "Once we have that, that will allow us to begin construction."
Building the entire project would cost at least $10 million, Wuellner said. It will be built in segments.
"We have developed cost estimates in segments and we will just work to develop segments over time as we raise funding and secure additional grants so that at some time in the future we will have the 24-mile stretch of trail from end to end," she said.
The Kickapoo trail, which would run from Smith Road in Urbana (just north of Weaver Park) to Kickapoo State Park west of Danville, would be along an abandoned railroad line now owned by CSX. Development of the trail has been under discussion and negotiation for almost 20 years.
"We hope we are very close to finalizing the purchase of the corridor. That unfortunately has not happened yet. We hope to be able to get to a closing pretty shortly," Wuellner said.
As planned, the trail would be a 10-foot-wide limestone path that would pass through St. Joseph, Ogden, Fithian and Oakwood, as well as rural areas.
Also planned, said Ken Konsis, director of the Vermilion County Conservation District, is another recreation trail to the district's environmental education center now under construction at Kennekuk County Park.
"What this means to us is that the trail system would go to Kickapoo State Park, where the (Vermilion County) fairgrounds is, and then the plan is to make a scenic river trail connecting to our education center which would add maybe 7 miles to it. We also have permission from the U.S. Department of Interior to promote that as headquarters of the national scenic river. It's all kind of tied together.
"We don't have anything in East Central Illinois like this. They have these in northern Illinois. Bloomington's got a fantastic one, and Springfield, but nothing here."
The Champaign County Forest Preserve District also had sought a grant for construction of the trail in Champaign County but was unsuccessful, Wuellner said.
"We weren't fortunate to get both grants this time around," she said. "But the project is really a collaborative effort anyway."
The grant to the Vermilion County Conservation District was the largest of nearly $50 million worth of community transportation projects in Illinois announced by Quinn and IDOT. In addition to bike trails, the projects include streetscapes, downtown plazas and bridge and underpass improvements.
"This major investment in community transportation projects throughout Illinois will help improve the quality of life for everyone," Quinn said in announcing the award. "These projects will create hundreds of jobs while preserving our heritage, beautifying communities and creating new transportation options across our state for pedestrians, bicyclists and others. I want to thank our Congressional delegation for securing the funds so that we can reinvest them back into our cities, towns and counties."
"Over the years, funding for bike and pedestrian infrastructure has improved street safety and quality of living in Illinois communities," said U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill.
"Incorporating bike paths, bike lanes and sidewalks into the transportation system encourages physical activity and healthy lifestyles by providing a safe place to walk, jog and bike close to home."