MAHOMET — Organizers of the effort to build a 24.5-mile recreation trail from Urbana to Kickapoo State Park hope that a $50,000 donation from The Andersons Inc. will spur more contributions to the $12 million project.
"The Andersons is pleased to be able to support the construction of the Kickapoo Rail Trail," said Brian Stark, regional sales manager at the company's west Champaign grain storage plant. "Supporting our local communities is one of the four tenets of our mission statement, and this project promotes safety and health awareness — also two important efforts of our company."
Dan Noel, president of Champaign County's Forest Preserve Friends Foundation, said The Andersons contribution "shows how truly committed this agri-business industry leader is to giving back to our local community and also to outdoor recreation. This gift will be an enormous boost to our corporate and private fundraising efforts" for the trail.
The Andersons gift is the single largest corporate donation to the recreation trail so far, said Dan Olson, executive director of the Champaign County Forest Preserve District, one of two agencies responsible for construction of the trail that will parallel U.S. 150 from Weaver Park in east Urbana to just east of Kickapoo State Park.
"We've had some other big individual donations and one other corporate donation that wishes to remain anonymous at this time, but this one is by far the biggest so far," said Olson.
The donation will come over three years, he said, "and the really good news is that with this we can go ahead and get our first phase of construction up and running, possibly by the end of this year. That first phase is the first three miles in Vermilion County, including that iconic trestle bridge (over the Middle Fork of the Vermilion River). This is a huge, huge step for us."
Organizers are awaiting an engineering study of the bridge, he said, "and if all goes well with the engineering, this could be bid out later on this year. It's hard for me to be believe after all these years that we can actually get started on this."
The rail-trail project along former CSX Railway property has been under discussion for more than 20 years.
"We have been talking to other large corporations in the area, and we don't have anything solid yet from anyone, but we have had some interest from other corporations," he said. "We think with this being the first big corporate donor that is allowing us to publicize their gift, we think it will get some other people rolling on their gifts, too."
The Champaign County Forest Preserve District and the Vermilion County Conservation District, which is overseeing construction at the east end of the trail, is hoping to raise about $450,000 to complete the first two phases of the trail, the 3-mile-long stretch near Kickapoo and a 6-mile-long segment between Urbana and St. Joseph.
"I'm very grateful to The Andersons," said Ken Konsis, executive director of the Vermilion County district. "We're very close to getting Phase I under way beginning on the Kickapoo State Park side. Besides the grants that we receive, we still need support from the community to complete this project."
Once the first two segments of the trail are built, said Olson, "what we'll do is turn around and ask for more (government) granting, and get a community match for that. Then we'll get on to the next couple of phases. Our big hope is to do this in four or five phases for the whole 24 miles."
The Andersons gift was announced during National Bike Month.
Champaign County Bikes hopes to raise more than $10,000 for construction of the trail in May and has already brought in more than $6,000 with a Community Used Bike Sale on May 2 at Champaign Cycle.
"The Kickapoo Rail Trail will quickly become a treasured asset in our community, and we want everyone to know about it and have the opportunity to contribute toward its construction," said Jeff Yockey, president of Champaign County Bikes.
"A little bit of ownership is always a good thing."