What is a trail?
A trail takes us from A to B, but implicit is something more. It is a pathway that winds its way through the landscape and offers the user an introduction to the local scenery. A trail can be simple, with a start and an end and a simple use, or it can be complex and have many uses. In
Locally, various agencies, including Heartland Pathways, have been acquiring rail bed for different reasons. For Heartland Pathways, the primary objective is the preservation of the natural history that exists along the right-of-way adjacent to an abandoned rail bed. Some sections of rail bed that Heartland Pathways has purchased from Illinois Central already carry fiber optics and power. Another objective for the bed is for recreational trails, which use the gravel bed along the middle of the right-of-way.
Preferably, such trails should start and finish in a population base. Heartland Pathways' trails in the Champaign-Monticello-Clinton area do not have this luxury, because, as is commonly the case with railroad abandonments, railroads keep active short-lines into towns where business is still viable. As a result of that business decision all legs of the Heartland corridors are blocked by the need for alternate entry ways into the respective towns along the way. People wanting to use the Heartland Pathways' potential trail west of
Sometimes, if the rail bed is active as a short line or as a railway museum, hiking and biking trails can be located adjacent to the active line. But the unfortunate part of that situation is that the adjacent trail removes much of the right-of-way's valuable remnant vegetation.
In some countries, cars, trains, power lines, water, sewers, phone lines, hikers and bikers all use the same corridor. This is especially the case where narrow bridges and tunnels are involved. Traffic lights are usually used to control one-way traffic use. In this county, such a move is considered a liability risk, but when resources are scarce, careful use is a possibility. A once-a-year use of rails for a historic trip, for example, should not deny use of the bed for other purposes. In this setting it is suggested that trail authorities can make multiple use of the bed by allowing bikers and hikers to move along the space between existing or retro-fitted rail tracks. It should be pointed out that this process has been used for one hundred and fifty years where rails, roads, pedestrians, bikers and hikers all used the same space. With a little care the same sharing could and should be utilized in the future. Safety is a legitimate concern, but there is no reason why scarce resources should not be cooperatively used.
It should be stated that when Heartland Pathways purchased the west bed, there were very few rail-trails in the
To the east, in
The creation of a federal rail-banking act now means that an abandoned rail bed can be "interimly" used as a trail until a railway may want to re-use the bed. This is a positive move for most environmentalists, who would not mind seeing freight moved by rail rather than by the more convenient and popular, but less efficient, road transport. This type of reversion seldom occurs, so it is not a major disadvantage of an existing trail.
There is money available for rail-trails, but it is usually targeted to recreational use. The biological and other aspects of these corridors are sometimes heeded but is not well-funded. As a result, these corridors often become recreational super-trails that lose a lot of their biological wealth and ambience.
National status of trails
Independent groups such as the Railtrail and Greenway movement, as well as state and federal agencies and individuals, have encouraged themselves and others to dream of a network of trails across the
Partnerships of interested agencies are being encouraged to make this network dream come true. State and federal funding is being provided to help drive this partnership concept. One program, "Millennium Trails", featuring long trails similar to the
Take a map and try to figure out how you would see your region participating in a national network of trails.
You could start with existing corridors, like the
How, for example, would you create a rail-trail and greenway preservation corridor between
Regional, statewide and federal planning is needed, along with the coordination of the many participating partners. Creation of the KATY trail took a great deal of interactive effort. At the outset there was farm and small community opposition, but fifteen years later that opposition has reversed itself, and the trail is now seen as an economic benefit which has provided a friendly opportunity for a great deal of community focus and interaction.
A first priority of the federal government visa is that the bed remain available for military use if the occasion should arise. State and federal governments also want to ensure that these trails will be economically feasible and of well-health to the communities through which they move.
In most cases, rail and river corridors near cities are used almost exclusively for commercial traffic. (In East Central Illinois, the scenario is for the retention of short-lines for grain transport.) That means that parallel routes must be found for trails, often on existing rights-of-way, or the trail must be located adjacent to the active rail bed. The option for quiet roads that have been superseded by highways is sometimes available but planning for these alternate routes calls for a great deal of understanding by roadside and railway engineers and users.
Re-education of the opposition is often essential and effective even if "accidents" and "rape and mayhem" scenarios can destroy well-intended planning. Fear of the unknown is understandable and can take over, making it difficult to create legitimate connections. Involvement, education and the use of precedent examples, where the anticipated fearful scenario has not occurred, are helpful.
There is also the challenge of regional planning. If one is looking at trails across the country, local leaders have to be encouraged to look at the overall region. All too often, this is not the case, and small sections of trails can be activated without reference to longer segments, which are essential if we are to create a national network. This situation has been improving since state and federal support groups and funding agencies began encouraging communities to pay attention to partnerships that extend beyond their individual urban area or interest focus.
Another challenge is that trails are mainly used by affluent people who can afford a lifestyle that includes expensive bicycles and the recreational release time to use them. When trails start in the center of a relatively depressed city and extend into the affluent hinterlands, there is precedence for conflict. Some trails have taken years to sort out that conflict and obtain funding. Such trails have been put in anyway, but usually the use of them drops off drastically in the inner suburbs.
A regional dream
Take, as an example, a potential corridor from
Moving a millennium trail through inner urban
Moving a trail from the city limits through urban
From Crawfordville to
These forty-five miles are urban and the rail bed is active. Here, alternative routes, possibly on old highways, are a must. Start with urban roads that parallel forty-five miles of existing active trackage from
The bed from
West of Champaign the same ConRail line is active to
Stake holders and partnerships
You may not think you can make a difference, but it is amazing what one voice or the voice of one group can do to suggest and promote alternatives.
The stakeholders need to get together. We need to bring people together to discuss these resources and suggest how they might be utilized.
The Prairie Monk is encouraging you to contact him and others, for there are many small tasks to be done, such as picking seed, preventing herbiciding and activating trail segments that lead to involvement and leadership. It isn't easy to bring people together, but one of the feelings that emanated from the 1999 Railtrails and Greenways Conference that I attended in
For more information, contact David Monk at 351-1911. Email firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit www.prairienet.org/rec/prairie, or listen to the Prairie Monk with Bill Saylor on WEFT from 11am-12am on Sundays.
P.S. A reminder, if you are wanting to bike our trails, they are strictly a dream from a biking point of view. They are "undeveloped" and they don't have ideal starts and finishes. They do carry up to eighty-five species of prairie plants which is good for this area. The corridor crosses the Sangamon twice and the Salt Creek near
The Heartland Pathways corridor to the west has lots of potential. You should know where it is and its features. The proposed ConRail corridor to the east has not been purchased yet, but you can windshield it or bicycle by it by traveling east from
Thanks for your interest. We need your help to make these resources work.
Ed: The picture included shows "A bridge in
—The WEFT Revue, Vol. 8 Issue 5: Sept.-Oct. 2000, p.6