Cal-Sag Trail gets state funds

By Jeff Vorva

After an eight-year wait to start construction, bulldozers may be visible in the area in 2013 to start the second phase of the 28.6-mile Calumet-Sag Trail that is to begin in Chicago, end in Lemont.

In the middle will be area towns such as Palos Heights, Palos Park and Worth enjoying some of the trail's amenities.

The state announced in late January it would invest close to $50 million in community transportation projects, including bike trails and walking paths throughout the state. Approximately $3.6 million will go to the Cook Country Forest Preserve District to help cover costs to complete the west phase of the project.

"This major investment in community transportation projects throughout Illinois will help improve the quality of life for everyone," Gov. Pat Quinn said in a news release. "These projects will create hundreds of jobs while preserving our heritage, beautifying communities and creating new transportation options across our state for pedestrians, bicyclists, and others."

Locally, the announcement was met with enthusiasm.

"This is good news for us," Palos Heights Parks and Recreation Director Mike Leonard said. "I believe it will drive economic development, which is huge. I promise you this will be the most used trail outside of the Lakefront trail because of the population density. It is unbelievably great that this trail will be under construction by the end of the year. This is cool stuff."

Leonard hoped the bids and contracts will be completed by the summer and construction will begin shortly after that.

The project was started eight years ago with a group called Friends for the Cal-Sag Trail doing the heavy lifting to get the project started. Eight years seems like a long wait, but in the world of trails, this is considered swift.

"It took about 25 years to get the Old Plank Road trail completed," Trails for Illinois Executive Director Steve Buchtel said, referring to a 22-mile trail from Chicago Heights to Joliet. "It takes a long time for trails to get done especially when many municipalities are involved.

"To have all of these towns working together and getting it done this quickly is almost a miracle. It's unheard of. But with all the cooperation we received, this is the fastest developed trail of its size in the country. That's how the Southland rolls."

For the most part, riders, runners and walkers will roll without interruption as most of the trail will be designed to not interfere with major thoroughfares by going under the bridge areas.

In recent weeks, Palos Heights City Council members have been kicking around the idea of a new indoor fitness center. Leonard said that this trail will give the city an outdoor fitness center.

"If you think of everything you can do on a trial - the health and wellness related stuff you can do on a trail - I think doctors should start writing prescriptions that say 'walk along the Cal-Sag Trail 'x' amount of miles," he said. "That will get the patients healthier."

Forest Preserve officials are expecting the project to be completed in 2014.

In a previous phase of construction in 2008, a portion of the trail has been completed from Ridgeland Avenue to the east side of the Lake Katherine Nature Center and Botanic Garden property. The continuation of the project will run into more of the center's property but Lake Katherine officials are embracing the trail.

"It's going to be good for Palos Heights and it's going to be good for Lake Katherine," Operations Manager Gareth Blakesley said. "We're not sure when the construction will start but from what we were told, this will be done in a sensitive way. While we may have to work around a few things, I don't think the construction will have much impact on our dayto- day operations."