It's happening: Kickapoo Rail Trail finally to be completed

It's happening: Kickapoo Rail Trail finally to be completed

News Gazette

Published Date: November 26, 2023

By: Dave Hinton


Area cyclists and hikers longing for the days they will be able to travel the Kickapoo Rail Trail from Urbana to Danville probably won’t believe this: Completion of the full trail is in sight. Until now, it’s been more like the old Ma and Pa Kettle movies, where the father regularly promised, “I’m going to have to fix that one of these days.”

While work has thus far been completed in fits and starts, the full rail trail is now set to become reality after the state of Illinois finally released $11.2 million in funding through the Rebuild Illinois Capital Plan. The funds will be sent to the Champaign County Forest Preserve District, Vermilion County Conservation District and Urbana Park District.

Parts of the 24.5-mile multi-use path — 11.3 miles worth — have been completed.

To be finished:

  • A section between St. Joseph and Ogden, and design and construction of the trail from the Urbana trailhead to the existing trail at East University Avenue (U.S. 150) and East Main Street in Urbana, which will be overseen by the Champaign County Forest Preserve District.
  • The Urbana trailhead, handled by the Urbana Park District.
  • Design and construction of the trail between Ogden and Oakwood through Fithian and Muncie, to be handled by the Vermilion County Conservation District.

“The work won’t all start at the same e,” said Bridgette Moen, planning director for the Champaign County Forest Preserve District. “That’s because some of the areas are more shovel-ready than others.” Between St. Joseph and Ogden, construction documents must be completed. In east Urbana, a tenth of a mile of land has to be bought between Smith Road and East Main. Construction documents primarily involve hiring an engineer to design the trail and work to ensure that everything meets accessibility codes and alignments are correct.


“The vast majority of the trail as planned was owned by CSX Rail,” Moen said. “They abandoned the rail, and then it was ... purchased by the Champaign County Design and Conservation Foundation.” Moen said such foundations “are a little more nimble” than government agencies when it comes to things like property acquisition. The Vermilion and Champaign County agencies then applied for a grant to fund the remainder of the trail.

In Urbana, the trail will extend to Weaver Park. Bartlett, executive director of the Urbana Park District, said the trailhead in Urbana will make the starting area a little more user-friendly. “Typically, with regional trail networks there are a series of trailheads — what we call ‘on-ramps,’” Bartlett said. “A premier trail will include a pavilion where you can have gatherings, and restrooms are really critical. “What we often see is some sort of a bike-fix station, like an air pump and basic tools,” he added. “Those are handy if you need to fix a tire or a chain. This will get us a park setting with other amenities to support the use.”

Bartlett said the current access point is near the Urbana Walmart at the corner of High Cross Road and U.S. 150. He said some rail trails are adorned with public art to celebrate a community’s history. He said there has been “a lot of use” of the rail trail. “We don’t see thousands of people, but we see constant use daily,” Bartlett said. “We’re limited because there are no facilities.”

Bartlett said there have been studies about extending the trail from Weaver Park to downtown Urbana and, in the big picture, through the University of Illinois campus to the west side of Champaign. Eastward, Danville would also like to extend the rail trail. In October, the city hired Lochmueller Group to undertake a study to see if there is a feasible route to extend the trail the 4.5 miles from the Vermilion County fairgrounds into the city, possibly all the way to Ellsworth Park. The most logical route would be old railroad land, but that section has not been officially abandoned, Mayor Rickey Williams Jr. said.


The first part of the rail trail, 6.7 miles worth, was developed between Urbana and St. Joseph.

St. Joseph village President Tami Frughling-Voges said a trailhead at Kolb Park is equipped with restrooms and drinking fountains plus a bike-repair station, the latter of which was part of an Eagle Scout project. The trail runs into downtown St. Joseph, where a couple of picnic tables have been added. Frughling-Voges said some of the regular trail users have meals in downtown St. Joseph restaurants.

Lara Danzl, education supervisor for the Vermilion County Conservation District, said she has no idea why it’s taken so long for the state of Illinois to provide the rail-trail funding. “The money was placed in the budget about five years ago,” Danzl said. “We were pretty confident we would get the money. It was just a matter of when.”

While Danzl said it’s exciting that the money will finally be released, “I think I will be more excited when I see more shovels in the dirt and more trail made. We’ve been waiting for so long.” Danzl’s agency will get the process started for the engineering and design work needed for the stretch from Oakwood to the Vermilion County line. Construction could start in the spring. Danzl believes completion of the trail will be a big draw, bringing cyclists from other parts of the Midwest. The Oakwood-to-Danville section is especially attractive because it includes a trestle bridge that soars 88 feet above the Middle Fork of the Vermilion River, along with the fact that it’s connected to trails at Kickapoo State Recreation Area.

Cyclists have had to be patient to see the full Urbana-to-Danville rail trail become reality. The process to buy the land from CSX Corp. began in the 1990s but wasn’t completed until 2014. Bartlett said it’s about time the rail trail is finished. “I think we’re the only major metro area in Illinois that doesn’t have a regional trail network,” he said.