The photos are from a trip I took last week to southern Illinois. I was invited down to Shawnee Community College in Pulaski County to provide some input to Pulaski County commissioners and trail advocates on extending Tunnel Hill State Trail three miles southwest from Karnak to Grand Chain (and, eventually, past Mounds City and across the levees to Cairo).
Pulaski County had received Illinois Enhancements money to build their shovel-ready project, but was counting on Norfolk Southern Railroad to donate the abandoned right-of-way as a component of Enhancements’ required 20% local match. Norfolk Southern says that’s not happening, and wants $62,000 for it.
Pulaski County wants to find a way to move forward, and asked if I’d come down along with IDNR’s Amy Madigan to talk to the commissioners and advocates about Making Trails Count in Illinois, and what the economic impact of trails could mean for Pulaski County. I love sharing Making Trails Count, and was happy to hop on a southbound Amtrak.
It’s stark how costs differ across the state: the Cal-Sag Trail in Chicago’s south suburbs will be $20-24 million for 26 miles; the 606/Bloomingdale Trail in Chicago is $90 million for 2.5 miles. Pulaski County is trying to match 20% of $515,000 to build three miles. Pocket change for NE Illinois, but a huge challenge for a county of just 6000 people.
I suggested that U.S. Congressman Bill Enyart and Senators Durbin & Kirk might be effective negotiators with Norfolk Southern, whose business like other railroads benefits from huge outlays of public money for reorganizing rail traffic in the Chicago area, and for upgrading their diesels with cleaner burning technology. My advice was to push for the donation—that’s what makes their Enhancements grant work. And also to think and speak of the extension not as a 3-mile, $515,000 trail, but as a 50-mile trail connection for Grand Chain and Pulaski County.
I stayed with Trails for Illinois supporters Jonathan and Sharon Voelz and their dog Radar in Vienna, home to the Standard Oil gas station that one day I will buy and turn into a bike shop/gelato place, leaving the glamor of trail advocacy behind. Jonathan and Sharon took me to Our Place deli/grocery store in Karnak, a favorite Tunnel Hill Trail and TransAmerica stop, and also to Giant City State Park—simply amazing.
A note about breakfast at Mary Lou’s in Carbondale: biscuits & gravy come on the side with EVERYTHING, on the house. Take the biscuits & gravy.