Bridges To Trails

Savanna, Ill. is at a literal crossroads. Perhaps even more literally, it is at a cross-trails.

Described by George Bellovics, Grand Illinois Trail Coordinator for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Sterling, Ill., as a “cornerstone” in Illinois’ Grand Illinois Trail, Savanna was able to exceed expectations with its important and unique portion of what is ultimately a grand trail vision.

Savanna’s link represents the convergence of important trail and road systems, including the Mississippi River Trail, the Grand Illinois Trail, the more local Great River Trail and the Great River Road, a national scenic byway.

The Great River Trail is a 65-mile “local” trail that runs from Savanna to Rock Island, Ill. This trail represents a significant link in the Grand Illinois Trail, which, once completed, is expected to create a 500-mile northern loop trail system in Illinois, linking Lake Michigan to the Mississippi.

Bellovics reports that the state is about 55 miles away from completing the off-road trail segments of the Grand Illinois Trail, and completing the signing and route marking of the roadways.

Trails to People

“The creation of our civilization is based upon movement and commerce. Over the last 30 years or so, transportation engineering has built for the exclusive use of vehicles. By doing that, and bisecting and trisecting communities, many times they have created barriers to people’s movement. Trails just give them alternate options for functional transportation,” says Bellovics.

“The fact of the matter is, walking is the oldest form of transportation. Reconnecting people so they can easily move between where they live and shop creates commerce. Trails blend to the quality of life because they’re allowing movement that may not have been there before.”

Bellovics stresses the importance of how trails such as the Great River and Grand Illinois trails connect “cities to countrysides, and people to places.”

“Every project like this literally starts with the idea, and the idea that it’s a good idea to connect Point A and Point B. Sometimes those points might not be well defined, but it’s a real nice spot in the countryside that people like to gravitate toward, or it may be a town or even a neighborhood with a town center. The basic point is that it starts with the idea, and then you build a mission statement from there that is broad enough to include points of view from all over the community,” says Bellovics.

A great trail idea should genuinely reflect the community and its norms, morals and aesthetics, says Bellovics. In order for this to happen, those who undertake and shepherd the project need to be passionate and persistent. And that’s exactly what Savanna did, despite various roadblocks, says Bellovics.

“The same area where the trail runs was a historic foot trail for Native Americans and other traders that ultimately turned into the same corridor where people lived. It’s a logical extension of the timeline of development along that river area,” explains Bellovics.

“The trail represented a physical connection between all of those communities along the way that shared historic relevance years ago. What helped that along was that the locals were intimately knowledgeable of their surroundings.”

Generally, Bellovics recommends mapping out all public thoroughfares, rights of way, parks and holdings to find areas where it would be logical to connect public spaces with trails. Then, look at the connection points and determine the status of the areas between — who owns or borders the space.

“You pare down and work as you go, starting with the easy parts first, which is obviously public land. Passionate community support helps show their friends and neighbors that there’s nothing to fear by having the trail near their property,” says Bellovics.

Beyond the community spirit approach, Bellovics says that adjacent property owners may see other practical benefits. “The trail can become a way for a farmer to reconnect to fields he never had access to because the railroad was there, for instance. The trails can be a positive thing for adjacent land owners,” adds Bellovics.

Page 1 of 2 | Next page

Related posts:

  1. Style & Substance
  2. Paddle Trails
  3. Alabama Trails Conference
  4. Happy Trails
  5. National Trails Fund Grants
  • Columns
  • Departments