The Illinois and Michigan Canal State Trail runs along the historic canal that was built in the mid-1800s to help connect the east coast to the Gulf of Mexico for commercial trade.
The canal, now a National Heritage Area, has a rich history of bustling commerce in an era before railroads and highways. In 1933, this waterway was closed to navigation and the area around the canal was developed for recreation. Over time the I&M has developed into a great spot for recreation thanks to a multi-use path, historic sites, state parks, camping areas, fishing and canoeing.
The only thing missing? A connection to the City of Chicago.
The trail begins in the west where the canal meets the Illinois River. It runs for over 75 miles, ending just southwest of downtown Chicago in Willow Springs.
Why does this beautiful trail end where it does? How can we continue it all the way to into Chicago?
This multi-use trail extension has the potential to be a bicycle commuter’s fantasy, perfect for use as a safe off-road option to connect to Chicago’s trail network.
Public officials, business leaders and community members met recently (pictured above) to kick off the conversation about a regional project focused on expanding the I&M Canal State Trail.
Attendees heard about the great benefits of active living and multi-use trails from Active Trans’ Leslie Phemister. Representatives from the local communities of Justice, Willow Springs, Bedford Park, Hodgkins, Summit and Bridgeview were in attendance, and eager to discuss ideas for route options to link the communities together and ensure accessible entrance points suitable for all.
Why is this trail so important?
Not only does the I&M Canal State Trail provide great access to recreation, it also has positive impacts on public health, economic development and community growth.
A 2013 study by our friends at Trails for Illinois, Making Trails Count in Illinois, found that 35 percent of trail users spent money in local restaurants and bars, 67 percent bought bicycling-related gear in the past year and 49 percent reported buying clothing for trail use.
Clearly, trails are a boon to local economic development. Not only do trails benefit local restaurants and retailers, they can increase property values, boost tourism, build community identity and promote environmental learning.
What’s not to like?
Our Suburban Bikeways for All report, coming out later this summer, gives priority to trail connectivity and access.
Since trails can offer a comfortable transportation alternative for would-be cyclists and pedestrians, it is important that trails are safe and easily accessed by community members.
The prospective I&M trail extension is a great example of that safety and connectivity. The hope is to connect it to the eventual Chicago River Trail extension, as well, which in turn will provide a continuous off-road path along waterways from North Chicago all the way to LaSalle.
The extension project has massive potential, but is just getting off the ground. To stay up to date on I&M trail updates, and other suburban bikeways initiatives, sign up for our advocacy alerts.