Illinois is excitingly close to closing its gaps in the Great American Rail Trail, an ambitious project led by the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy to create a 3,700-mile contiguous trail between Washington, D.C., and Washington state.
When the Illinois section was completed, it would be a continuous journey of approximately 200 miles from the Indiana state line to the Mississippi River. It's the kind of track that tests your pedaling power and will transform the rider as much as the cities it passes through. Completing the trail might be the perfect New Year's resolution.
Achieve the goal
Jason Chaney wrote in his article Appearance equation“End goals serve as beacons that guide our efforts, enabling us to navigate the seas of life with clarity and purpose. Unlike the elusive concept of 'eventually', set deadlines propel us into action. They turn dreams into tangible goals and aspirations into achievable milestones. It's The difference between wandering aimlessly and embarking on a purposeful ride This type of purposeful ride can be the physical act of riding a long distance or a metaphor for setting a challenging, specific goal.
Dave Simmons, CEO of Ride Illinois, wants to complete the trail from a construction standpoint. “Efforts to close the gap have been ongoing for more than 30 years. With local, state and national interest, it feels different this time. Ride Illinois' wish for 2024 is for the feasibility study to include few hurdles and that planning for a few trail segments in the gap begin in the year Next.
“Ride Illinois is excited about the efforts currently underway to close three of the four gaps along the Great American Rail-Trail in Illinois. The feasibility study for the gap between LaSalle and Bureau Junction is a critical step and we are eager to have the study completed in the spring of 2024.”
The 15-mile gap Simons is talking about is the largest on the Illinois road. It separates two great bike paths in Illinois. The 61-mile Illinois and Michigan State Trail, designated America's first National Heritage Area, will connect to the 105-mile Hennepin Canal State Trail — and will put a 'buckle on the belt' for the nation's Great American Rail Trail, local organizers like That they say. Visitors will have more than 180 miles of trails to explore, with camping towns and trails throughout the trail network.
The population of Illinois and all surrounding states is approximately 45 million. The positive economic impact to the state of Illinois and the communities along the way cannot be overlooked. “When the trail is completed, people will visit in droves,” Simons says.
Promoting business and tourism
According to the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, 50 million people live within 50 miles of the Great American Railroad Trail. The entire trail could generate $230 million in visitor spending annually when completed. That could translate to $18.8 million annually for Illinois companies.
Brandi Horton, vice president of communications for Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, agrees. “If we just closed the 15-mile gap, and I can tell you from what we're seeing across the country what could happen. It's incredible when you connect the tracks. Trail use can rise by up to 80% because what people want are safe and convenient ways to bike, walk, and be active outside.
Proof of this concept is the 240-mile Katy Trail, America's longest railroad track across the Mississippi River in Missouri. What started in the 1980s as a vision and stimulating itinerary in Colombia has become a real tourist attraction. Wineries, restaurants and bed and breakfasts serve half a million annual visitors to the trail and contribute an economic impact of $29.2 million annually.
Completing the Katy Trail was the teamwork of many advocates, none greater than Edward D. “Ted” Jones Jr. Ted and his wife Pat. They donated $2.2 million to acquire 200 miles of abandoned Missouri-Kansas-Texas railroad tracks for Katy Trail State Park. KT was completed in 1990, six months before Ted's death. In many ways, the wheel of life has turned full circle since Ted first met Pat on a bike trip from St. Louis to the Ozarks in 1940.
It is widely believed that Ted Jones' inspiration for the Katy Trail came from riding a rail trail in Wisconsin in the late 1980s. Wisconsin is the premier cycling state. The Elroy-Sparta Trail is often considered the first rail trail in the United States, and Madison (WI) is consistently ranked as one of the best biking cities in the country. Madison has more than 200 miles of bike trails and the nation's largest number of parks per capita. It is, perhaps not coincidentally, the second best city in the country, according to the 2022 American Fitness Index.
“Madison has a long and strong bike culture,” explains Rob Gard, director of communications and public affairs at Destination Madison. “We are one of the top-rated bike cities in the country, and have been praised for how our bike paths and trails connect neighborhoods, parks, businesses and culture. There are nearly Of the 4,000 bike trips made on our bike paths every day, that doesn't include many other streets and parts of the county. In fact, we plow our bike paths in front of many of our streets in the winter because so many people depend on those paths to get to work and school. All year round.Whether you're a day commuter or a weekend visitor, Madison by bike is a great way to experience the city.
“Once you step foot in Madison, it's hard not to notice all the people riding bikes,” says Renee Callaway, Madison's Bicycle Pedestrian Manager. “You'll see people riding errands, to work and to school, as well as people enjoying a leisurely ride around one of our lakes.” , head out on long road rides into the surrounding countryside, hit the mountain bike trail or even enjoy a ride across one of our city's lakes once frozen over. Some days, it feels like everyone is out on a ride, and on the colder winter days there is more snow. You'll never be the only one riding your bike.
Entertainment and health
Cassie Mordini, community development and communications specialist with the Wisconsin Office of Outdoor Recreation, believes biking is more than just commuting. “Cycling is much more than just a way to get from point A to point B in Wisconsin. It is a tremendous driver of our outdoor recreation economy. Iconic brands like Trek and Schwinn call the Madison area home. Our top-tier competitions attract cyclists From all over the country, Wisconsin's biking infrastructure – both urban and rural – brings communities together.
Consumers spend more than $1 billion annually in Wisconsin on bike-related expenses, according to a 2019 study from the Outdoor Industry Association, but health experts might call that a bargain. According to a 2021 University of Wisconsin study: “Nearly 20,000 deaths from chronic disease could be avoided if U.S. urban areas increased bicycling to 6 percent of trips, the rate seen in Madison, Wisconsin.”
According to the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy impact study, Illinois' Great American Rail Trail would generate 2.1 million trips annually. Perhaps most importantly, millions of people will be inspired to challenge themselves to a multi-day bike ride and the direct benefit that will be to their health and to dozens of small towns. Who do you know? They may find their true love on two wheels. Ted and Pat certainly did that.
Hello! We are Jane and Ed Coleman also known as Coleman Concierge. In short, we are a 10th generation couple from Huntsville sharing our stories of amazing adventures through transformative and experiential activity-based travel.