Old Plank Trail Trail Extension Approved

Park Forest, IL–(ENEWSPF)–Marcdh 13, 2012.  On Monday, March 5, the Chicago Heights City Council approved a bike plan for the city, which includes extending the Old Plank Road Trail (OPRT) from Western Avenue to Thorn Creek.  The approval came after years of inaction and more years of promises with no action.  The current Mayor, David Gonzalez, supports the most recent trail planning which was moving forward under former Mayor, Alex Lopez. Construction may begin as early as next spring depending upon the time line to get Phase II engineering approved from IDOT, currently under review through submission by Robinson Engineers.

The OPRT extension will connect with the long-planned trail along Thorn Creek from 26th Street to Joe Orr Road, a project of the Cook County Forest Preserve District and the City of Chicago Heights.  Funding for the trail on City property has yet to be determined.  The Old Plank Road Trail and the Thorn Creek Trail will be a link in the 500-mile Grand Illinois Trail System, a loop from Chicago to the Mississippi River at Rock Island, north along the Mississippi to Galena, and a return to Chicago through Rockford.

The completion of the segment from Western Avenue to Thorn Creek will culminate many years of effort by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. The IDNR early on provided consulting help to the city to apply for and win federal funds to pay for 80 percent of the engineering and costs of the trail. The IDNR actually purchased the trail right-of-way and paid the local funding match for the Phase I engineering. George Bellovics of the Department states “the IDNR continues to coordinate and partner with Chicago Heights for this critical segment of the Grand Illinois Trail. In time, residents and visitors will be able to take advantage of the Old Plank Road and Thorn Creek Trail systems and enjoy seamless transitions between the two trails”.

The Active Transportation Plan was facilitated by Leslie Phemister, the new south suburban coordinator for the Active Transportation Alliance.  Active Trans obtained funding for the plan from Communities Putting Prevention to Work, a healthy living initiative by the Center for Disease Control and Cook County Department of Public Health.  The committee that proposed the plan included valuable input from residents and city representatives. This included Aldermen, staff from Prairie State College and the National Park Service, Rivers and Trails program. Chicago Heights resident Larry Mysz, FOS member and League of American Bicyclists Cycling Instructor, provided input to the group, and continues to provide support by offering bicycle safety training to the committee.

The Village of Park Forest welcomes the trail extension. Tom Mick, Village Manager was happy to hear of this trail development “This is great news for all as Trail users in the near future will be able to get on at Western Avenue, Logan Park, or the soon-to- be-completed Park Forest Rail Fan Park and go in either direction for exercise or recreational leisure.”