Visitors to some of the most scenic parts of the Shawnee National Forest will soon have better access thanks to a $200,000 grant announced by the state this week.
The grant provides 80 percent of the funding for four projects that will cost around $250,000 when complete. The projects include two new parking lots and trailheads near One Horse Gap in Pope County and Garden of the Gods in Gallatin County. A third trailhead will be expanded and more than five miles of trails for hikers and horseback riders rebuilt and improved.
The Governor's office and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources made the announcement.
Eighty percent of the funding comes from the federal Recreational Trails Program grant administered by DNR. The U.S. Forest Service will match the 80-20 grant with $37,500 of their own trails funding for the Shawnee National Forest and $12,500 from the Shawnee Trails Conservancy, a local equestrian trail group. Earlier this year that group had received their portion as a grant from the Illinois Equine Industry Research and Promotion Board, which distributes funds from an voluntary assessment on equine feed purchased in the state.
"Improving our infrastructure for recreation on public lands is an important step as we work to connect more people with nature and the outdoors,” IDNR Director Marc Miller said in the release. "These grants will help communities and government agencies do a better job of making public spaces available to all."
Amanda G. Patrick, public affairs officer for the Shawnee, told Southern Illinois Tourism News the forest leadership, "is excited about this successful cooperative effort between the U.S. Forest Service and the Shawnee Trail Conservancy."
The Conservancy wrote the grant application and guided it through the process, she added.
The new trailheads will be located near One Horse Gap and just outside the Garden of the Gods Wilderness Area. The one to be expanded will be the East Trigg trailhead on the River to River Trail.
"All three trailheads will be large enough to accommodate multiple horse trailers as well as passenger vehicle parking to serve all trail users," explained Patrick.
The second new trailhead between Garden of the Gods and High Knob will be located close to the rock formation long associated with the Civil War era Confederacy supporting Knights of the Golden Circle.
The grant will also fund approximately 5.4 miles of work on USFS hiker/equestrian trails, including some portions of the River to River Trail, in the One Horse Gap area.
"These trails are heavily utilized and in many cases are not well-constructed or well-located for the heavy impact," Patrick explained. "Sections of trail will be relocated on the landscape to minimize resource damage from erosion and sedimentation and to avoid sensitive features while other sections will be reconstructed in place."
While Forest Service personnel will complete the planning and layout, Trails Unlimited, a team that specializes in trail work will perform the construction.
The One Horse Gap trail work will be a continuation of a project funded by a 2010 RTP grant to reroute and reconstruct approximately 7 miles of hiker/equestrian trail in the same area. About 5.5 miles of this work is complete to date; the remainder of the work is expected to be done in fall 2014.
Patrick said planning has already begun for the trailheads and trail work associated with the new grant. Actual construction may not begin until spring 2015.
"The Forest is very appreciative of the time, energy and investment provided by STC as this project would not be possible without their continued support. [We're] also grateful for the state of Illinois's consideration and selection of this project that promotes the development of trails and the opportunities they provide for visitors to the Shawnee. This level of support is exciting as it brings capacity to all involved in addressing trail reconstruction and maintenance, needs that are critical to the long-term sustainability of local trail systems that protect unique places while also increasing the safety of our visitors," she added.
The project in the Shawnee was one of four announced this week by Gov. Pat Quinn. The three other Recreational Trails Program grants announced this week were $151,000 for a special parking area for vehicles and snowmobilers along the Pecatonica Prairie Trail in Winnebago County, $616,000 for the development of the Hanna City Trail in Peoria and Fulton Counties and $200,000 for the development of the Freeman Kame Horse and Hike Trail in the Freeman Kame - Meagher Forest Preserve in Kane County.