Illinois Completes Southeast Portion of 500-Mile "Grand" Trail Network

Posted 11/13/15 by Amy Kapp in Building Trails, Success Stories

Nov. 1, 2015, ribbon cutting for the Thorn Creek Trail and Old Plank Road Trail extensions in Chicago Heights, Illinois | Photo by Thomas' Photographic Services

Here’s an exciting one. A ribbon cutting recently took place in Chicago Heights, Illinois, to celebrate the completion of extensions for the 16-mile Thorn Creek Trail in Cook County and 22-mile, in-progress Old Plank Road Trail in Cook/Will counties. 

Nov. 1, 2015, ribbon cutting ceremony for Thorn Creek/Old Plank trail exensions in Chicago Heights | Photo by Thomas' Photographic Services

“Prior to this project, Thorn Creek Trail consisted of three separate segments. Thorn Creek Trail now offers trail users more than 16 miles of continuous, 10-foot-wide paved trail, and provides connections to the Old Plank Road Trail and the Burnham Greenway," says Arnold Randall, general superintendent of the Forest Preserves of Cook County. "[Additionally, the] connections created by this project provide an easily accessible gateway into the forest preserve for the communities of Lansing, Lynwood, Thornton, Homewood, Glenwood, Park Forest and Chicago Heights."

The Old Plank Road Trail project is nearly complete and extends on the eastern end of the trail by 1.25 miles, connecting the paved trail from Western Avenue in Park Forest to Campbell Avenue in Chicago Heights.

That’s a lot of new connections in such a short amount of trail!

“It’s like a 'Lion, Witch and Wardrobe’ experience,' said Trails for Illinois Executive Director Steve Buchtel of the newly established connection between the two trails. “Where does that lead? You may not have time to follow it today, but you know you have to see eventually. That’s the magic of two trails connecting; it makes adventurers out of us.”

Also—and this is really exciting—the completion of these projects means the completion of the southeastern portion of the Grand Illinois Trail network. The Grand Illinois Trail loops together more than 500 miles of trails between Lake Michigan and the Mississippi River, creating the state’s longest continuous trail.

RTC was not directly involved in these trail projects, but has been monitoring progress in the Chicago region—and has noted various exciting developments over the past couple years, including projects like The 606 and Cal-Sag Trail, which have increased connectivity in the northern and southern parts of the metro area.

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"The Thorn Creek-Old Plank Road Trail connection is just the latest amazing trail accomplishment happening in the South Side of Chicago,” said Eric Oberg, director of RTC’s Midwest Regional Office. “With this opening and the in-progress Cal-Sag Trail, the trail connectivity within this part of the city is phenomenal.”

He adds, “This is not by chance or accident. It is a testament to thousands of hours of time put in by local and state staff, volunteers and residents."

The Thorn Creek Trail extension cost $6.4 million, with 80 percent of the project being federally funded by the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) Program for engineering through construction. The Old Plank Road Trail extension cost approximately $1.1 million.

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources acquired the right-of-way necessary to build the trail, and assisted the City of Chicago Heights with applying for and receiving a CMAQ grant through the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning.

For more information on the completion of the Thorn Creek/Old Plank Trail extensions, read the Forest Preserves of Cook County Nov. 1 press release.


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