A Regional Gem in Jeopardy

The Hanna City Trail, a former railroad line, would be a cornerstone connection to the region.

by Reema Abi-Akar, Tri-County Regional Planning Commission
The proposed Hanna City Trail would be a vital link in creating a regional trail system, mimicking the massive success of the Rock Island Trail. Photo by Michael Bruner
The proposed Hanna City Trail would be a vital link in creating a regional trail system, mimicking the massive success of the Rock Island Trail. Photo by Michael Bruner

Nestled beneath an ocean of overgrown plants is a 24.7-mile, leafy hideaway ideal for a scenic trail. After being just out of reach for about 30 years, today we’ve reached a pivotal moment. 

Rail-to-Trail Dreams
Stretching from Kickapoo Creek to just west of Farmington, the proposed Hanna City Trail functioned as a Union Pacific railroad line until it became dormant in 1980. If it is transferred into public ownership and converted to a trail, it would be a vital link in creating a central Illinois regional trail system—mimicking the massive success of the Rock Island Trail. Local advocates have been striving to champion this connection since the 1990s. 

“Ever since the train stopped rolling on that track… we saw the potential of making it something useful for the community,” says Hanna City Mayor Fred Winterroth, a driving force for the Hanna City Trail on behalf of his community for years. “There isn’t a month that goes by that someone isn’t asking about the status of the trail and how we can move it along.”

The Hanna City Rail-to-Trail initiative embodies both the region’s history and its forward advancement. The project is aptly named: William Hanna founded his namesake city in 1882. He was president of the Peoria-Farmington Railroad, which ran right through the city—a farming community that thrived upon the discovery of coal beneath it.

Hanna City has been transforming itself for well over a century, and continues to do so with this trail. The path, however, reaches more than just one town; it touches the entire region, as Peoria County Board member Sharon Williams knows well. “I’ve been involved in this project since I got on the County Board about eight years ago,” she explains. “I’ve walked the trail in my district, and it’s just beautiful... [with the] trees and a creek that runs through it.” 
 

Hanna City Rail-to-Trail
The proposed Hanna City Trail stretches about 25 miles, from Kickapoo Creek to just west of Farmington.

Green Space For All
“Trails see no politics. They see no race, no religion, no creed,” explains George Bellovics, landscape architect and trail coordinator with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. “They are the most inclusive element that any community can have.”

When planning for regional transportation, we tend to think of cars and urban settings by default—but such thinking is exclusionary. “There’s a disconnect between the rural and the urban mindset,” Bellovics explains. “We should have a ‘people’ mindset.”

Creating this “human-scale” transportation option with the Hanna City Trail, Williams suggests, “is an opportunity to get back to nature that families really need.”

A funding deadline is forcing regional stakeholders to work diligently to acquire the land from Union Pacific before it’s too late. “We are literally at the end of our track on this project,” notes Bellovics, who has been deeply involved with the project for more than 15 years. 

And there’s a lot at stake. The Hanna City Trail would create an invaluable resource, bridging communities and spanning the region. “This is the connecting point that could link all of our cities,” Winterroth says, “that linchpin that ties them all together.” PM

Comments

"...the proposed Hanna City Trail functioned as a Union Pacific railroad line until it became dormant in 1980."

This is incorrect. Actually, the 24.7 miles of railroad in question saw regular trains until summer 1986 when Midland Coal Co. loaded the last coal train at the Rapatee Mine near Middle Grove. At the time, the tracks were owned and operated by the Chicago & North Western Railway. Lacking a major shipper, train movements were rare but noted as recently as the mid-1990s. There was a serious proposal to haul garbage from Chicago to a new landfill near Fairview. In 1995, the Union Pacific acquired the Chicago & North Western, and initial interest in new business faded. The railroad line from Peoria to Middle Grove was rail-banked for a decade from 1998. Union Pacific severed the connection to its mainline near Peoria in 2001 and the line was soon be overgrown with thick vegetation. Abandonment proceedings began in 2008 and legal closure of the line commenced in 2009. All track was removed by late-winter 2010.

Submitted by David P. Jordan on Tue, 08/04/2020 - 23:52

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