Thu, 12/22/2016 - 7:00am | Tom Kacich
SPRINGFIELD — Two more state grants announced Wednesday will extend construction of the Kickapoo Rail Trail through a part of St. Joseph and also allow for development of trail amenities at the nearby Kolb Park.
Also Wednesday, Champaign County Forest Preserve District officials said they have nearly closed a $380,000 funding gap for construction of the first phase of the 24.5-mile recreation trail linking Urbana and Kickapoo State Park in Vermilion County.
That 6.7-mile segment of the trail to the west side of St. Joseph is already under construction and expected to open by July.
"We're within $8,000 of closing that gap," said Mary Ellen Wuellner, deputy director of the forest preserve district. "The (Forest Preserve Friends Foundation) and our partners in the cycling community and the running community have done a great job fundraising on our behalf, and my hope is that by the end of the calendar year, we will have closed that gap completely."
Jimmy John Liautaud, founder of the Jimmy John's sandwich chain, and his wife, Leslie, earlier this year contributed $150,000 toward completion of the first phase of the trail.
"The rest of it has been small donors, and they really stepped up," Wuellner said of the private fundraising that became necessary when construction bids came in much higher than engineers' estimates.
Meanwhile, a $200,000 grant awarded Wednesday to the Champaign County Forest Preserve District will assist with the construction of a third of a mile of asphalt pavement through St. Joseph's business district up to about Seventh Street.
And the village of St. Joseph was awarded a $198,300 grant to pay for the development of a trail head and a trail spur linking the Kickapoo Trail with Kolb Park. It will pay for trail work, restrooms, bike parking and other trail amenities.
"That's good news for us," said St. Joseph Mayor B.J. Hackler. "It gives us the opportunity to not only make provisions for upgrading the park for bikers but it's also good for our village because the restrooms we had there didn't meet the (Americans with Disabilities Act). And now they will. That was the theory behind wanting to do this. We had two needs and we took care of both of them."
Hackler said he hopes both projects would be undertaken in 2017.
Both grants came from the Federal Highway Administration's recreation trails program. Its grants cover up to 80 percent of the cost of trail projects. In Illinois, the program is administered by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and the Illinois Department of Transportation.
"This is the next logical step in the development of the trail," Wuellner said. "The construction that's already underway is just the footprint of the trail. It doesn't provide funds for amenities, so the trailhead is really going to be necessary because people will access that St. Joe-to-Urbana section of the trail fairly soon after the trail opens."