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Today at the corner of High Cross Road and U.S. 150 in Urbana, the Champaign County Design and Conservation Foundation will mark its 50th anniversary by planting five trees — one for each decade — at the western trailhead of the Kickapoo Trail.

Of the thousands of trees planted with the help of the CCDC, these rank up there.

"An environmental group that has been around for 50 years is a little bit of an anomoly," CCDC Chairman Steve Rugg said. "Symbolically, (today) is right near the top. It's a wonderful achievement."

The CCDC was formed in 1964 after 150 heavy hitters met to assess the environmental future of Champaign County. The worries then included:

— Urban sprawl. "The U of I at the time was projected to grow to 50,000 or 60,000 students," Rugg said. "It was the front end of the baby boom."

— Dutch elm disease, which took a horrific toll on the UI Quad. "Trees throughout the community came down in droves," Rugg said.

The CCDC wasted little time making an impact that can be felt today. Through its Wandell Tree Trust, it has planted more than 6,100 trees in 21 communities, mixing up the species to spice it up.

Along the way, folks noticed. The CCDC's 10th anniversary bash drew Lady Bird Johnson and former Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall. Three key players who attended the party in 1974 — Bruce Larson, Jean Paley, Mary Blair — are expected to be on hand today, Rugg said.

"I guess we get credit for tenacity and persistence," he said.

One of the CCDC's more ambitious projects has been the Kickapoo Trail, a 24.5-mile stretch of abandoned railroad between Urbana and Kickapoo State Park. After years of wrangling, work on the route is about to start.

"As Curt Gowdy would say, it's the granddaddy of them all," Rugg said.

Rugg would love to see the trail finished by the club's 60th anniversary, when it could plant six trees at the "golden spike" at the Champaign-Vermilion county line.

And for the CCDC's 100th anniversary?

"My crystal ball isn't any better than anyone else's, but at our 100-year banquet, we'll be talking about the tremendous advances UI researchers have made in wastewater recovery and purification techniques," Rugg said. "Fifty years from now, water will be our most precious natural resource and its management and allocation will be among the most significant political issues of the day."

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