Making Trails Work x2

Left to right: Bruce Karmazin, Dave Easter, Brendon Lynch, me; in back, Jamie Ellis & Ed Wilhite

Left to right: Bruce Karmazin, Dave Easter, Brendon Lynch, me; in back, Jamie Ellis & Ed Wilhite

I spent this beautiful day hiking around Woodyard Trails and some acreage acquired by the land trust Grand Prairie Friends and the Lumpkin Foundation today, just outside of downtown Charleston, Illinois. (This is work; some days it's lucky to be me). Pictured above in front: Bruce Karmazin (Lumpkin) Dave Easter (Grand Prairie Friends), Brendon Lynch (Woodyard Trails), moi; in back, Jamie & Ed also from GPF.

I'm thinking a lot this spring about scaling Illinois Trail Corps. ITC does a good job knocking out an awe-inspiring amount of trail work in a short amount of time at a particular job site. To the land managers and trail users we've served so far (at Kickapoo State Recreation Area and Lake Shelbyville), ITC has been a gift. But it doesn't yet make a dent in the tremendous inventory of failing trails in our state, let alone meet the desire for more.

In 2016, we'll deploy Illinois Trail Corps at Weldon Springs State Park in Clinton, Illinois, and—pertaining to why I was in Charleston today—on newly preserved land in Coles County. We haven't done two trail hitches in one year; a baby step towards our vision of season-long, statewide trail corps work, giving every Illinois community the opportunity to get people outside, moving under their own power. Turning homes into trail heads.

As we plan our two trail hitches this year, we'll also be shaping a model for 2017 that is slowly gaining definition. Some pieces of it we can see include a multi-generational corps that trains together in the spring, develops its own trail crew leaders and deploys them to establish trail corps at sites statewide. Wisconsin's Ice Age Trail Alliance operates a version of this model, which I admire greatly. I'm joining them at the end of April for their 4-day trail crew leadership training so I can see first hand this model in action.

I'm out-of-my-mind excited about our two Illinois Trail Corps projects this year. But thinking about 2017 stops me in my tracks to wonder at the vision of it, communities building the trails they need with the resources at hand, success not dependent on budget battles and partisan politics, but on the willingness to pick up a shovel. We can be trail builders.

Feel free to call me or shoot me an e-mail if you want to know more about Illinois Trail Corps, to share your ideas, or to offer help. All is welcome. Thanks for reading.