DANVILLE — The Friends of Kickapoo Rail Trail may be a new entity, but the drive behind the group is based on years of effort as the trail is being built.
“Basically [we] started on this venture in the late ’90s,” Treasurer Kevin Green said. “Support groups have been going through many versions with the Vermilion County Conservation District and the Champaign district. The trail is finally getting built and it is time for non-governmental organizations to help out and this is where the Friends of the Kickapoo Rail Trail comes in.”
The program is based on the Friends of the Constitution Trail in Normal and helps in the maintenance of the trail now and when the Rail Trail from Kickapoo State Park to Urbana will finally be completed.
“It is a grassroots organization to support IDNR (Illinois Department of Natural Resources) and the VCCD and the Champaign County Forest Preserves as far as amenities on the Kickapoo Rail Trail,” Green said. “Cleanup days, signage and substations that the state or the county cannot provide. Charging stations, rest stops, rest rooms, way signs to side venues like the Sleepy Creek Vineyards and venues in Ogden and St Joseph. Just anything we can do to support tourism.”
The group’s progress is being noticed.
“They are making good progress and I am happy with how it is going,” Danville Area Visitors Bureau Executive Director and board member Jeanie Cooke said. “They do a lot of things and a lot of it has to be paid locally. They do a lot of reaching out to get that support. I compliment them for not giving up because I have worked with them for 20-25 years.”
The group has experience with about 30 members from Vermilion County, Champaign County and the IDNR.
“We have been working on this for the last two and a half years and we had guidance from the National Park Service. We are on our own now, so for the last year we have been promoting on our own,” Green said. “We’ve had input from the National Park Service, Champaign County Forest Preserves. We are all tied in together. We have people who are on the boards of all of these organizations. There are members from Champaign County and members from Vermilion County. It’s a cooperative effort and everyone is involved.”
While there is support from the organizations, the group is also looking for help from the public and one way the public can help is through memberships. Donations range from $10 for an individual, $25 for family, $50 Bronze Trail Member, $150 for a Silver Trail Member, $500 for a Gold Trail backer and $1,000 for a lifetime membership.
“If we can get some support in telling people that we exist and you can send them as a Christmas gift or stocking stuffer. This is Danville and it has the environmental resources with the rivers, the woods and the parks and that’s what we are promoting. There is tremendous community support for this project.”
With support from the people in the area, the group will be prepared to keep things going on the rail trail, especially when it is finished.
“Even when the project is done, you still need upkeep and take-back vegetation and picking up trash and maintenance that IDNR has not put in and that’s where the friends comes into play,” Green said. “This has the potential for being a major tourist attraction for East Central Illinois and an economic boon for Danville, Oakwood, Muncie, Fithian, St. Joe and Urbana. Bicycle trails are booming and it is a win-win for everyone.”
The thought of having the trail for 25 miles was a big mountain to climb, Cooke said. “But once we were in partnership with the state and Urbana and pull off that marvelous bridge, everyone is seeing that it is special and we are going to make it.
“You have a lot of helping people because people are more willing to help if it is a successful project, and it will be a successful project.”