Connections

Rob Ulm, above, is the principal of Jefferson Middle School in Charleston, Illinois. Last weekend, he was one of 450 runners from around the world—Mexico, Canada, France, Japan, Norway, Puerto Rico—who lined up in Sterling/Rock Falls to run the Hennepin Hundred 50K/50mi/100mi race along the Hennepin Canal State Trail.

Tokyo's Atsushi Kato crosses a Hennepin Canal aqueduct over the Green River. Photo by Scott Laudick Photography.

Rob raced the 100 miler, finishing in Colona by the Quad Cities. I caught up to him sitting by the fire at the finish area waiting for his ride. Rob had crossed the line in 22:56, which earned him the larger of two finishing belt buckles for finishing within one day. His time was even more astounding for how fresh he seemed for having run 100 miles. "Fresh" is not a typical description of 100 mile finishers.

Learning where he was from, I remarked "You've got some fun terrain to run down there." When I was laying out trails across the Embarrass River's glacial ridges for Illinois Trail Corps, my GPS unit had recorded elevation gains of 200+ feet.

"Yeah, you know we got some fantastic new trails built this summer, just south of the lake there," said Rob. "Some group came in and built them, and man I've been running out there since the day they opened. I bet I'm out there a dozen times a month."

"Rob, that group is us. Trails for Illinois. We designed those trails. Our Illinois Trail Corps built those, for Grand Prairie Friends."

Rob was astounded. "That's crazy!"

And it is! Crazy in the best ways. Our thesis for Illinois Trail Corps has been that a low-cost, service-driven trail corps program can bring more non-motorized trails to more Illinoisans, improving their local economies, their environment, and their quality of life. Our thesis for involving ourselves in the Hennepin Hundred has been that an international event for passionate enthusiasts can bring visitors, attention and resources to the state's longest, most dire trail.

Rob drove from Charleston to run a race on the Hennepin Canal State Trail, a race we helped create, having trained on trails in his community that we built.

Trails for Illinois members, take a bow. For a tiny trails organization, sometimes we do alright.