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Photo courtesy of the Kickapoo Rail Trail

Photo courtesy of the Kickapoo Rail Trail

The Kickapoo Rail Trail has just been approved to begin construction. Here’s everything you need to know about this new project in Central Illinois.

WHAT is the Kickapoo Rail Trail?

The Kickapoo Rail Trail will be a 24.5-mile trail running from Urbana to Danville along a retired railroad corridor. This project will repurpose a currently disused space to bring together the community and offer a sanctuary for local flora and fauna living in the prairie, wooded areas, and rivers it passes.

The Kickapoo Rail Trail is designed to be multi-use and will accommodate cyclists, runners, walkers, and birdwatchers, as well as skiers and snowshoers in colder months. The final stages of its construction will see the addition of bathrooms, parking lots, and trailheads to ensure easy access to area residents. In the future, we may also see smaller trails added to the Rail Trail to allow other neighborhoods direct access or to offer people an opportunity to better appreciate certain natural features.

Champaign County’s first phase was approved last week meaning that soon construction will begin on the first phase, a 6.7-mile section between the Main Streets of Urbana and St. Joseph.

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Map courtesy of the Kickapoo Rail Trail

 

HOW is it going to be funded?

Over $5 million has already been raised from local, state, and federal grants. The land that the Kickapoo Rail Trail will run along was bought in 2013 and 2014 by the Champaign County Forest Preserve District and the Vermilion County Conservation District. Additionally, a small 1.5-mile segment in Vermilion county will be owned by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. To build the project, they’re relying grants as well as individual donations. Among some of the more recent funding sources was a $10,000 grant from the cycling advocacy organization People for Bikes. Individual donors have also made a significant contribution, so if you’re interested in supporting this project by donating, don’t think that a smaller contribution won’t help to bring this project to fruition.

WHY does it matter?

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Photo courtesy of the Kickapoo Rail Trail

There are many ways that the construction of the Kickapoo Rail Trail will benefit our community. First, it offers a place for residents to enjoy nature while staying physically active. The Champaign County Forest Preserve District surveyed residents and found that trails were wanted more than any other type of space. Additionally it provides a land for nature and wildlife to thrive. As much of Central Illinois’ land is now dedicated to farming, spaces like the Kickapoo Rail Trail are needed to ensure that native species have space to continue living alongside us.

From a different angle, this project also offers us a way to bring together the larger Central Illinois community from Champaign to Danville. The trail will be running through a number of smaller communities including Mayview, St. Joseph, Ogden, Fithian, Muncie, Bronson, Oakwood, and Bucktown. This means that this trail will be an important resource for not just the larger micro-urban centers of C-U and Danville, but also for smaller, rural communities in Champaign and Vermilion counties.

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Photo courtesy of the Kickapoo Rail Trail

In terms of cycling, the Kickapoo Rail Trail is also a way that C-U can work towards Platinum bicycle-friendly status. So far Urbana is at the gold level, the only state to reach this status in Illinois, while Champaign is at a bronze level. While both Urbana and Champaign are great for cycling, the Kickapoo Rail Trail will offer something that we don’t yet have: a long trail connecting urban space to rural space. Beyond this, the Rail Trail is a great way for cyclists in Central Illinois to network with one another, to improve and modernize bicycle infrastructure, and to promote cycling to residents who have not yet been converted.

The Kickapoo Rail Trail is part of a much larger movement towards repurposing disused railways into public spaces that promote active living and appreciation of nature. Rail trails have been created in Europe, Australia, Asia, and in other communities in North America. It’s also important to note that rail trails are not just limited to rural spaces. New York City’s High Line turned an abandoned above-ground railway into a space filled with trees and art. This allows people to interact with the city in a way much different than they do as pedestrians in the street.

For more information on the rail trail movement, check out the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, a nonprofit organization dedicated to these types of tranformations.

WHEN is it going to be completed?

With respect to the first phase of the project, linking Urbana with St. Joseph, construction is set to begin this spring with no date yet for completion. We can expect the entire Rail Trail to take at least a few years. How long the Kickapoo Rail Trail takes is very much dependent on funding. In terms of full completion of the trail, we can expect that it will take at least a few years to be finished.

WHAT is next?

  • On March 9 there will be a meeting at the Farnsworth Group, 2211 W. Bradley Ave., Champaign to discuss moving into the construction phase of the project. This meeting begins at 5:30 p.m.
  • The Rail Trail Duathlon is set for June 18, with registration beginning on March 1. This event, held at Kickapoo State Recreation Center, will have both competitive and noncompetitive duathlons where people can flex their running and cycling skills to help build the Rail Trail.
  • A benefit concert will be held on July 9 at the City Center in Champaign. More details will be available as the date for this event approaches.
  • The second-annual River to Rail Ride is scheduled for September 24. Participants can sign up to ride around the Illinois countryside to benefit the construction of the Kickapoo Rail Trail. Sounds like a good deal, huh? Specific details of this event are forthcoming, but if you’re interested, you can check out pictures and information about last year’s ride.

HOW can I help?

The most obvious and the easiest way for you to show your support is to give a donation. Donations are tax-deductible and will go towards enriching the lives of everyone in the communities this trail passes through. Another way to help is to become a trail steward once some of the trail is constructed. Stewards will help by keeping the trail clean and assisting with maintenance issues.

HOW can I stay updated?

Your biggest source of information for the Kickapoo Rail Trail is their website. If you’d like to be emailed about any updates, just send an email to info@kickapoorailtrail.org with KRT Update as the subject. For up-to-date information about recent events, you should like them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter. Otherwise, check out local media to keep apprised of any news about the project.

 

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