Rules & Regulations
OVER THE PHONE
FOR RELEASE OCTOBER 8, 2013
Kickapoo Rail-to-Trail Project Achieves Milestone
Local Consortium Purchases Champaign County Portion
After nearly two decades a project to convert 24.5 miles of abandoned rail line into a multi-purpose recreational trail from East Urbana to Kickapoo State Park recently passed a significant milestone. The Champaign County Forest Preserve District purchased the portion of the rail line from East Urbana to the Vermilion County line from the CSX Railway Corporation. Additional efforts are continuing for the Vermilion County Conservation District to complete purchase of the portion of the line that runs from the Vermilion/Champaign line east to Kickapoo State Park. Eventually each county agency will own and develop property within its borders and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources will own the rail trestle that spans the Vermilion River south and west of Kickapoo State Park.
Initiative to acquire the property for a rail-to-trail project came from the Champaign County Design and Conservation Foundation (“CCDCF”), which currently leases the rail line pursuant to the National Trails System Act. “It’s been more of a challenge than any of us ever imagined, but we’ve gotten the outcome we wanted all along,” said Tim Bartlett, a CCDCF member and chair of the multi-agency “trail committee” that has guided purchase of the property to this point. Bartlett is currently Associate Director at the Urbana Park District and will become its Executive Director in 2014 upon the retirement of current Executive Director Vicki J. Mayes.
The purchase price for the full 24.5 mile trail is $1,208,550 million, with the Champaign County portion set at just over $600,000. Funds come from a variety of federal, state and rail-to-trail grant programs. The sale price is below the appraised value for the property as CSX agreed to make a donation of the difference in the purchase price and the appraised value. “We appreciate CSX’s willingness to complete the deal at this level,” said Steve Rugg, current chair of the CCDC Board of Directors. “They’ve recognized the public benefit of a project like this while still receiving a measure of compensation for their asset. Everyone’s a winner.”
Dan Olson, executive director of the Champaign County Forest Preserve District noted that there is strong and growing local interest in expanding trails across the District. “When the trail is completed, users will be able to access examples of prairie, woodland and wetland environments in Champaign and Vermilion Counties, … and of course from both fitness and recreation perspectives, developing a trail of this magnitude is a real addition to our facilities, [as it] will provide a number of exercise and leisure-time recreational opportunities” Olson commented.
Ken Konsis, executive director of the Vermilion County Conservation District echoed Olson’s enthusiasm. "The trail will improve access not only to Kickapoo State Park, but to the VCCD's Kennekuk County Park as well, and will be an excellent complement to the new Kennekuk Environmental Education Center," Konsis said. "Over the long-term, improving access to both the state and county facilities is a great opportunity," he added
Perhaps the best news for Vermilion County is that funds are already in hand to begin development of the new trail. In January 2013, the VCCD received an Illinois Department of Transportation Enhancement Program Grant of $2.1 million to create an access point near Kickapoo State Park and to develop the easternmost 3.1 miles of trail, including the portion that spans the Middle Fork River via an iconic trestle bridge.
Current plans are for the trail to be developed in phases as funding becomes available. The two county agencies and IDNR have identified a total of six phases – three in each county – with the first Vermilion County phase already funded, in part, through the aforementioned grant. “We have a grant request in process right now to cover 80% of the development of the first Champaign County phase,” said the CCFPD’s Olson. “That will run from roughly the Urbana Wal-Mart at Route 130 eastward into St. Joseph, including access to the wetlands project being developed on the western edge of the Village by the Champaign County Soil and Water Conservation District.”
“With demands increasing and grant funding declining at both the state and federal levels, private support will play a critically important role in completing development of the trail,” said Rugg. While both the Forest Preserve District and Conservation District have foundations to encourage private support, the CCDC Foundation will continue to play an important role in generating private support for the trail. “We’re encouraged, Rugg said. “We’ve had a number of people express interest in the project, especially from the biking community. They’ve understandably been cautious to this point, given how long the acquisition took. But with the title in hand for Champaign County and anticipated in the near future for Vermilion County, I think a fund-raising campaign will succeed.”
“This project is an outstanding example of public/private partnerships and inter-governmental cooperation,” observed Bartlett. “The Forest Preserve District and Conservation District have stuck with us through leadership changes and tightening resource constraints. IDNR has done the same; without their continuing high priority for the effort we wouldn’t have made it. We’ve also had good cooperation from the Illinois Department of Transportation, whose approval is critical because much of the trail route parallels Route 150 between Urbana and Danville. Along the way we’ve had great support at the federal level from Senator Durbin and Representative Tim Johnson, each of whom supported appropriations for preliminary design and environmental impact work. And local legislators in both counties have encouraged us to keep working on the effort. ”
More information about the trail will be provided as plans develop. Individuals interested in learning more about Kickapoo Trail can get more information by contacting the CCFPD at email@example.com or (217) 586-3360.