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Kickapoo Rail Trail on track for two-year completion with $11.2 million state grant.

A completed section of the Kickapoo Rail Trail at the Fulls Siding grain elevator, east of Urbana.

After seven years of construction, less than half of the 24-mile Kickapoo Rail Trail in east-central Illinois has been completed. But now, the project could be finished in the next two years, thanks to a state grant.

An $11.2 million grant, awarded through the state’s Rebuild Illinois Capital plan will pay for the completion of the walking and bike path. The trail follows a former CSX railroad right-of-way, from the edge of Urbana to Kickapoo State Park near Danville.

The Urbana Park District, Champaign County Forest Preserve District and the Vermilion County Conservation District are building separate sections of the trail, to provide a facility for people to enjoy recreation and a view of the Illinois countryside away from highway traffic.

Tim Bartlett is the executive director of the Urbana Park District. He says the park district plans to use money from the state grant to build a trailhead at Weaver Park and complete a portion of the trail connecting to its current eastern starting point near the Urbana Walmart. Bartlett says they’ve been hoping to be awarded the grant money for a long time.

“We’ve been looking and seeking and asking for help,” said Bartlett. “Now that it’s here, we just want to celebrate it, get right to it and get it done, so that people can get out on the trail and start enjoying it.

The Champaign County Forest Preserve District finished building a part of the trail extending from Urbana to Kolb Park, located on the west side of St. Joseph. Lorrie Pearson, the Executive Director, notes that this section has already positively influenced the economy of the small town.

“St Joseph is a great success story,” said Pearson, “in terms of businesses that have popped up, businesses that are reflecting the new customer base that they’re having from users of the trail, and just the social connectivity that something like a trail can provide to a community.”

A three-mile stretch of the Kickapoo Rail Trail in Vermilion County, which includes a 3,100-foot-long trestle bridge, was completed and opened in 2021. This former railway bridge, now repurposed for the trail, stands nearly 100 feet above the Middle Fork River, offering scenic views of the surrounding landscape and wildlife.

When the rest of the Kickapoo Rail Trail is finished, the entire trail will stretch from Weaver Park in Urbana to Kickapoo State Park near Danville.

Jeff Yockey, chairman of Friends of the Kickapoo Rail Trail, a private group formed to support the project, says the benefits of the completed sections of the trail will be multiplied when the entire trail is completed.

“I think as you connect those sections to longer sections, you have the ability to attract distance recreationalists,” said Yockey. “Those that are interested can ride all the way in one day from Champaign-Urbana to Danville, and then spend the night at Kickapoo State Park and come back. So, as we are able to link the sections, the opportunities grow.”

Yockey is hopeful that the Kickapoo Rail Trail will eventually join a broader rail trail network in central Illinois. His group, Friends of the Kickapoo Rail Trail, is working with Heartland Pathways to develop a trail along a former Illinois Central rail corridor that passes through Champaign, Piatt, and DeWitt Counties. The corridor was acquired by the late preservationist Dave Monk in the late 1980s, but has been little-used since then.

Jim Meadows

Jim Meadows

Jim Meadows has been covering local news for WILL Radio since 2000, with occasional periods as local host for Morning Edition and All Things Considered and a stint hosting WILL's old Focus talk show. He was previously a reporter at public radio station WCBU in Peoria.

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