FPCC, IDNR and Chicago Heights representatives share vision, significance of projects
Trail users and supporters, representatives from local organizations and elected officials converged in Chicago Heights on Sunday to celebrate the Thorn Creek Trail and Old Plank Road Trail extensions.
Arnold Randall, general superintendent of the Forest Preserves of Cook County (FPCC), opened the rib-cutting ceremony, and explained the Forest Preserves’ focus of creating regional connections through the extension and development of trails.
“In 2013, the Forest Preserves Recreational Master Plan was established as a blueprint for enhancing recreation opportunities, as well as identifying and developing new opportunities compatible with our mission,” said Randall. “The plan helped us recognize that trails are a highly rated recreational activity for the public, and a major focus of ours has been to expand and connect regional trails.”
Prior to the Thorn Creek Trail extension project, the trail consisted of three separate segments. Upon completion, the 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, as well as to 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 paved trail from Western Avenue in Park Forest to Campbell Avenue in Chicago Heights. The Old Plank Road Trail and the Thorn Creek Trail are part of the Grand Illinois Trail, and the extensions will complete critical missing paved links in the 500-mile regional trail.
“The Old Plank Road Trail and Thorn Creek Trail extensions through Chicago Heights are a tremendous recreational asset for our residents and visitors. The ribbon cutting for the new trail section is a celebration of what we can accomplish through our collaborative efforts on these projects,” stated Chicago Heights Mayor David Gonzalez. Through an intergovernmental agreement, the City of Chicago Heights partnered in building two blocks of trail on park property owned by the city between 14th Street and 16th Street.
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.
“IDNR is excited for the near completion of the Old Plank Road Trail extension and its connection to the Thorn Creek Trail – both of which are critical segments of the Grand Illinois Trail. This project has been a mutual goal of IDNR and the Forest Preserves of Cook County for quite some time,” said George Bellovics, landscape architect with IDNR and Grand Illinois Trail coordinator. “IDNR worked closely with both the City of Chicago Heights and the Forest Preserves of Cook County in order to ensure the successful completion of these projects.”
“Never have two projects created such a ‘win-win’ situation for one community. The crossing where the Thorn Creek Trail and the Old Plank Road Trail join, showcases the collaboration between the Forest Preserves, Illinois DNR and the City of Chicago Heights,” said Diane Banta of the National Park Service. “The regional trail system, long advocated for by bike groups like Folks on Spokes and the statewide non-profit, Trails for Illinois, has provided the place for people to celebrate and use trails.”
In addition to the City of Chicago Heights and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, supporters and partners of the Thorn Creek Trail and Old Plank Road Trail extensions include the National Park Service, Grand Illinois Trail, Trails for Illinois, Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning and the Illinois Department of Transportation.
About the Forest Preserves of Cook County
Don’t you sometimes just want to escape? Explore the natural beauty of Cook County for an hour, a day or even a night. When you’re surrounded by 70,000 acres of wild and wonderful there’s no better place to feel free.