Making Trails Work: Illinois Trail Corps

Source: Indiegogo

A DIY approach to trails that’ll create jobs, connect communities, and once again make trail builders of us all!

Illinois Trail Corps: Let’s be trail builders!

Did you know that America’s rails-to-trails movement started right here, in Illinois?

Building the Volunteer Bridge of the Illinois Prairie Path (Wheaton)

Building the Volunteer Bridge of the Illinois Prairie Path (Wheaton)

Volunteers built 19 miles of America’s first rail-to-trail conversion, the Illinois Prairie Path, between 1966 and 1972—just six years!—with the resources they had on hand. Trail building is Illinois’ legacy.

We’re Trails for Illinois and our purpose is to connect every Illinoisan to a trail experience within 10 minutes of where they live. We want your home to be your trailhead!

We have a great idea to make trail building and repair affordable for Illinois and its communities. It takes a page from the Illinois Prairie Path’s legacy to create jobs and service opportunities while giving our state a do-it-yourself alternative for connecting and repairing our trails.

It’s called Illinois Trail Corps. It leverages national young adult conservation programs and volunteer organizing to give communities a way to build trail with the funding and resources they have on hand.

We have three ways you can help:

  1. Donate funding so we can buy tools and training
  2. Volunteer for work days with Illinois Trail Corps
  3. Equip Illinois Trail Corps directly—see the tool list at

Get the Illinois Trail Corps Business Plan

We need to get back to trail building

We’ve got amazing trails in this state, but not enough money to keep them open and in good repair. And the federal funding we rely on to build our new trails was slashed in half in 2012—with more cuts likely to come.

Laying drainage pipe across a trail pathway.

Laying drainage pipe across a trail pathway.

These cuts come at EXACTLY the time Illinois communities want and need trails more than ever—to revive downtowns, attract new companies and families, and improve quality of life.

Our answer: tear a page from Illinois’ trail building past, when volunteers built the first 19 miles of the Illinois Prairie Path in just six years, 20 years before federal trail grants were even born. We’re going to use that legacy to create a model that can build and repair trails anywhere in the state, using the resources Illinois and its communities have on hand.

Reshaping terrain where trails meet and bridges are to be installed.

Reshaping terrain where trails meet and bridges are to be installed.

It’s called Illinois Trail Corps, a return to Illinois’ do-it-yourself trail building roots. It leverages the power of a national youth service corps and the energy of volunteers to build and repair trail in Illinois. Think of it as “Habitat for Humanity” for trails.

In Summer 2014, we’re piloting this model in the US Army Corps of Engineers’ Lake Shelbyville Recreation Area and adjacent Eagle Creek and Wolf Creek State Parks in Shelby County, about 1.5 hours south of Urbana-Champaign. In eight weeks, Illinois Trail Corps will repair, rebuild and extend nearly 27 miles of the area’s hiking, biking and equestrian trails while creating JOBS for young adults who are serving their country, and demonstrating what a service-led model of trail building can do when deployed statewide.

Our job right now: Get Illinois Trail Corps equipped with the right tools and equipment for 2014 and beyond. That’s where YOU come in!

More than tools…connection

Make a donation to help us buy tools and equipment for Illinois Trail Corps. You’ll help us launch our pilot at Lake Shelbyville this summer. And when we show what our service-led model can do, other communities will turn to Illinois Trail Corps to build and repair trail next year, and more the year after that.

The tools you help us buy will keep on giving at trail projects around the state! It’s a great capital investment – a trail building toolkit.

For $13,500, Illinois Trail Corps will be fully equipped to take on Lake Shelbyville trails and more trail work in 2015. Shovels, wheelbarrows, Pulaskis—oh my! Plus a small pull-behind trailer to get tools to the job site. If we raise more, we can get the equipment and resources to deploy at multiple sites in 2015—a movement is begun!

Pulaski Axe

Pulaski Axe

And every time a tool is used, we’ll think of you. We’d like to engrave the wood handles of our tools with your name or dedication. And put plaques on the metal machines. Then we’ll send you a picture of the tool you purchased, and the inscription. When an Illinois Trail Corps member puts a tool to work, he or she will put a name to the folks who believe in trail building in Illinois.

If you opt for direct donation instead of a tool, we still want you to connect, with biking, with the outdoors, with the Lake Shelbyville area. Browse our great list of perks and connect.

Yes it’s a trail, but it’s more, too

If you know Trails for Illinois, then you know about our Triple Bottom Line – trails bring economic, environmental, and health & wellness benefits to the communities they serve. But the DIY nature of this trail project also provides jobs for young adults serving their country, and an opportunity for us to grow a community of volunteer trail builders. Building trails at less cost benefits communities—more trail gets built. More trails remain in good repair, so cyclists aren’t stranded on impassable trails. And our state gains a community of Trail Builders once again.

Besides $…how you can help

We’d also like you to spread the word. Let your friends know about this project – just use the convenient share tools to post our campaign on your Facebook wall or Twitter feed or send a link via email. We appreciate your help and support.

Thanks for reading!


Trails are “pound for pound” the very best way to link areas of the city and suburbs with one another. These are the most practical and cost effective ways of creating bicycle superhighways that can transport workers who bicycle commute across counties and at the same time provide a means of allowing local inhabitants through which these trails pass to enjoy them as well.

Trails provide habitat for wild animals and plants as well as create revenue streams for businesses along them their including bicycle shops and places to eat and rest. They are great and the most eco-friendly option of them all!