Hanna City Village President Fred Winterroth sees enormous regional benefit from converting 25 miles of abandoned Union Pacific rail line to a hiking-biking trail.
The narrow strip of land runs through Bellevue, Hanna City, Farmington and Middle Grove.
Now 65, this is a project Winterroth has worked on for more than three decades.
If he is impatient, he masks it well and expresses confidence in the success of a federal grant application submitted with Tri-County Regional Planning Commission to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Recreational Trails Program.
After receiving 23 grant filing extensions over the years from the Surface Transportation Board for this rail to trail conversion, the federal government decided it will grant no more extensions.
Winterroth and other trail advocates are awaiting word on this final shot and need all the support they can muster.
They hope to hear by October whether the grant application is successful. If the project wins approval for the federal grant, it must demonstrate support with a 20% match with state and local funds.
Purchase price for the narrow strip of land is $2.1 million.
Many unforeseen problems delayed the project for decades. Once, a $750,000 federal grant had to be returned unused because Illinois went for several years without a budget.
A petition seeking public support garnered 1,600 signatures within a week. Winterroth points out Hanna City has a population of 1,225.
One petition signatory wrote, “Rail to trails programs across the nation have demonstrated increases in home values and have attracted new residents ––taxpayers –– to those communities and strengthened local economies. Aside from the environmental and community benefits, there’s a strong fiscal incentive to support this initiative.”
Local adjacent properties could increase in value by 25% judging from other rail to trail conversions.
“Small communities have difficulty attracting young families. We don’t have a lot of parks and recreational opportunities,” Winterroth said. “Just look at all the subdivisions that went up along the Rock Island Trail. We need something in our smaller communities to attract people and provide a safe place to walk, safe place for kids to bicycle.”
The 100-foot wide, 25 mile long rail line was abandoned in 1980 by Union Pacific. The company has not been receptive to anything other than an outright purchase, Winterroth said.
“Union Pacific is not interested in a lease. It has more than 100,000 miles of rail line and this abandoned 25 miles is insignificant to them but huge to us,” he said.
The proposed trail would be accessible for students attending Farmington School District 265 who are bused to school from Hanna City, Middle Grove and Farmington. Students could opt to ride bikes, walk or cross country ski to school via the trail.
In addition to community use, the trail is expected to be a regional tourism draw.
One person who signed the petition wrote, “My wife and I live in Chicago but travel up to several hours away to bike trails. We eat at local restaurants, drink local beers and visit local shops when we do it. Besides the myriad of talked-about benefits, it would add recreational opportunities for Illinois residents near and far.”
Annual events, marathons, partial use by snowmobiles and equestrians and seasonal draws are just some of the contemplated uses.
Currently, the abandoned line is still owned by Union Pacific and any users are trespassing.
If successful in purchasing the trail, Winterroth said by April 2021, an unimproved trail could open, and over the following years improvements would be undertaken. Ultimately, the trail could connect with the Rock Island Trail and a proposed Yates City-Dunfermline trail, Wildlife Prairie State Park on Taylor Road and a proposed canoe route.
Strong support of the Hanna City Trail has come from Bike Peoria/Trail Advocates of Central Illinois.
Mike Rucker said Friends of the Rock Island Trail changed its name to Trail Advocates of Central Illinois and is now a committee of Bike Peoria.
The name change was made to enlarge and enhance the base of support for trail and bicycle advocacy, Rucker said.
Survey results show the public ranks safety, schools, good streets and trails as most important community amenities.
“Trails are ranked higher than parks by the public. A trail is a linear park,” Rucker said.
His favorite section of the proposed trail is a three-mile walk toward Kickapoo Creek Road that goes through a scenic valley and runs past Altorfer Power Systems on Faber Road near Maxwell Road.
Winterroth said, “I feel we are going to be successful. We have a very strong application and support from legislators in Springfield. IDNR has been a strong supporter. Tri-County Regional Planning has helped as have (Sen. Dave) Koehler and other state reps. We just have to keep all the balls in the air moving forward.”