Destination Illinois: Pedaling Through The Prairie Along The Kickapoo Rail Trail

Destination Illinois

URBANA, IL (WCIA)

A ‘Rail Trail’ is an old or abandoned rail line that has been converted into a path that is suitable for walking, biking, hiking, and/or many outdoor multi-use activities. Most rail trails are usually paved or have a crushed rock surface making them easy to move along and maintain speed. Lastly, since these used to be railroads, they have very gradual elevation changes, making it perfect for those who want a nice easy ride, or who will putting down a lot of miles.

Many states are converting their unused railroads into rail trails, and Illinois is no different with one right in our backyard: the Kickapoo Rail Trail.

A Work In Progress 20 Years In The Making

Plans for the Kickapoo Rail Trail go back about two decades, but it wouldn’t be until the winter of 2013/2014 when the old CSX rail line was purchased that progress would finally be seen.

As the name implies, the trail will go through Kickapoo State Park near Danville. Once completed, the entire trail will be 24.5 miles long from Urbana on the western end to the Vermilion County Fairgrounds on the eastern end. These individual cities may piggy-back off of the project and could theoretically add more to the trail in the future.

Currently, Phase 1 from Urbana to St. Joseph has been completed as of August 2017 with an additional section through St. Joseph completed in August 2018. Out of the 24.5 total miles, we are at 6.7 miles completed.

Map from Urbana to Danville showing the phases of completion.

By October 2019, a two mile stretch from the west side of Oakwood to near Kickapoo State Park will be added, making for a broken 8.7 miles completed of the trail.

Funding is done through grants as well as donations and there is no set timetable for the project to be totally completed. For events that raise money for the project, click the button below.

One nice thing will be that although this trail is being built in different sections, they will all use crushed limestone, so the look and feel will be continuous for the entire trail.

Getting To The Trail

The trail heads are easy to get to by car, bike, or on foot in both Urbana and St. Joseph.

  • URBANA: Weaver Park, but the Urbana Walmart is the better choice due to access from the parking lot and you can use their restroom.
  • ST. JOSEPH: Kolb Park as well as access to parking downtown.

For more specifics on the access points, please click the button below.

Easy Rider

The stretch from Urbana to St. Joseph has hardly any elevation changes and only a few county roads that you have to cross, making it a perfect route for beginners. It’s crushed limestone makes for a nice soft surface, but it is hard enough to maintain your speed easily and coast, even with the more skinny road bike tires. It is parallel to US-150 until St. Joseph when the trail enters town. Just be sure to apply sunscreen. Since you’re in between the highway and farm fields, there is a lot of sun!

One of the few shady spots along the trail

Signs as well as benches are dispersed throughout the length of the completed trail, giving patrons a break as well as the ability to learn a little about the geography and history of this part of the state.

That’s part of our mission, to be able to preserve the cultural history of Champaign county also, so that’s like a huge part for us and our education department also comes out and does history on the Kickapoo Rail Trail programs several times throughout the year.

Lisa Sprinkle, Marketing Coordinator for the Champaign County Forest Preserve District

Not Just Farm Land

When the entire trail is completed, it will cross the Salt Fork River (St. Joseph), Stoney Creek (Oakwood), and the Middle Fork River (by Danville and Kickapoo State Park) and will be along wetlands too.

Salt Fork River crossing in St. Joseph
Salt Fork River crossing in St. Joseph

That crossing over the Middle Fork River will be likely the highlight of the trail. A trestle bridge about 100 feet high, it will provide spectacular views of the Middle Fork River, the only National Wild and Scenic River in Illinois.

I think the thing they are most excited about is that trestle bridge. It’s over 100 feet tall over the Middle Fork River, it’s going to be beautiful.

Lara Darling, Education Supervisor for the Vermilion County Conservation District

Animals And Flowers Galore

A variety of insects and birds inhabit the area, including nesting Bald Eagles with more fish and frogs in the watery habitats.

There’s lot’s of different wild life habitat happening there. So birders can come out and see different varieties of birds. You can listen to the frogs in the spring or in the fall. There’s just a lot to experience while you’re out on the Kickapoo Rail Trail.

Lisa Sprinkle, Marketing Coordinator for the Champaign County Forest Preserve District

Prairie flowers and grasses grow right along the edge of the trail. I even spotted a Wooly Worm on my ride! Hope it means we will get some snow this Winter!

WCIA’s Judy Fraser is the Wooly Worm expert!

Bringing A Region Together

Communities both large and small benefit from this project, with the Kickapoo Rail Trail providing a place to stop and rest when you might have just drove through while in the car.

I hope what’s happened here in St. Joe is what’s going to happen in Oakwood and the communities along the Kickapoo Rail Trail. Businesses and tourism and people coming to dine in the communities and visit the communities. I’m really hoping we that same transition over into Vermilion county with our businesses there.

Lara Darling, Education Supervisor for the Vermilion County Conservation District

The two completed ends in Urbana and St. Joseph have a lot to offer! Click the buttons below for more information on fun things to do in these cities.

For more information on the project, where you can donate, and buy merchandise, click the button below.

Trail maintenance in Chamapign county is done by the Champaign County Forest Preserve District. In Vermilion county it is the Vermilion County Conservation District except for within Kickapoo State Park, where it is handled by the Illinois DNR.

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