Construction is set to begin this week on the Lincoln Prairie Grass Trail, the 12-mile bike trail that connects Charleston and Mattoon. The project is to pave the entirety of the trail. Currently only two of the 12 miles is paved.
The project was funded in part by an $800,000 Illinois Transportation Enhancement Program grant, a federal grant awarded to Charleston in October of 2016.
Brendan Lynch, the advocacy director at Bike and Hike Charleston, was on the team that helped secure the grant. He said he was proud that Charleston was awarded the grant, especially considering that it was awarded during the state’s budget impasse.
“It’s federal money that’s passed through to the state, so when the state of Illinois was frozen up, this became an even more desirable grant,” Lynch said. “It was kind of a longshot grant. We were thrilled to get it.”
He said that the application process took a lot of work, including public hearings in Charleston and Mattoon, letters of support and much more.
“It was a substantial undertaking to say the least,” Lynch said. “It was binders full of information that went into our application.”
Eastern was a major part of the proposal, and members of the Eastern community were heavily involved. Charleston City Planner Steve Pamperin said that Eastern President David Glassman, Director of Facilities Planning and Management Tim Zimmer and life sciences professor Paul Switzer played major roles.
Pamperin also said that the improvements to the trail can be beneficial to the Eastern community, providing “an improved point-to-point bicycle corridor between EIU’s campus and Amtrak.”
He also said that the trail provides Eastern students and staff with another opportunity for recreation.
Lynch said that the improved trail will provide an alternative for students who may want to ride their bikes, but not want to ride the rougher and hillier trails around Lake Charleston.
“I want students to know that pretty soon, if you’re wanting to ride your bike and you don’t want to necessarily mountain bike, there’s now going to be a new, safe, nice, thoughtfully designed and constructed path over to Mattoon,” Lynch said. “It’s going to be a great ride.”
Lynch also said that the trail provides possibilities for economic growth in both Charleston and Mattoon.
“The bike path is a way to connect the super employers in Mattoon, like your downtown business district, Sarah Bush Lincoln, to Charleston and our business district,” Lynch said. “Essentially, we want this to be an engine for economic development.”
This can also be accomplished by what both Lynch and Pamperin say is the main goal of this project, which is to improve Charleston and create more reasons for people to come to town or stay in town.
“Most importantly this path will, in addition to the Lake Trails, make Charleston more attractive to recent grads and newly-hired staff and professors looking to put down long-term roots in the Charleston Community,” Pamperin said.
“We want people to stay in town and to keep their tax money inside Coles County, inside the two cities,” Lynch said. “We want people to take pride in what we’ve got, because this is another significant capital improvement that the city of Charleston has done, in addition to the lake.”
The construction is expected to take about 60 days to complete.
Adam Tumino can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]