BIKE TRAIL
A hiker walks along a portion of the bike trail at the Rock Springs Conservation Area Friday, March 5, 2010, in Decatur, Ill. (Herald & Review/ Stephen Haas) STEPHEN HAAS

DECATUR - It has been a long time coming, but the Decatur Park District is finally moving forward with plans to take the city's southern bike trails north to connect with Forsyth's trail system.

A master plan of greenways for Macon County was laid out in 1998 by the Decatur Metro Area Greenway Coalition. Since then, community groups have slowly been picking away at the plan by creating new paths and connecting the existing ones.

The particular leg of the plan connecting Fairview Park to Forsyth along Steven's Creek will finally break ground this spring.

After more than 10 years of red tape, the park district finally cleared the way to begin construction on the first phase of the trail that will start at Fairview Park and reach four miles north to Greendell Park, just past Illinois 121.

Executive Director Bill Clevenger said it took the park district longer than anticipated to raise money for the project and to get the land requirements in order.

"We were really moving along, and then, all of a sudden, we encountered all those difficulties with taking the trail north," he said.

Once the first phase is complete, then the park district will start looking for funding for the second phase that will take the trail from Greendell Park to near Interstate-72, where it will connect with Forsyth's trail system.

Forsyth Mayor Harold "Hap" Gilbert said the village is moving its system south so it'll be ready to meet up with the Stevens Creek trail when the second phase is complete.

"We are working on our bike trails to make them contiguous and to make sure everything is connected," he said.

Forsyth has 11.8 miles of greenway, and Gilbert said there likely will be more development in the coming year.

"I think that there are a lot of people that would really like to be able to get on their bikes here, and if they've got the energy and desire, to be able to bike all the way to Rock Springs," he said.

Or maybe even Mount Zion. But that part of the master plan is still far off in the future.

The Macon County Highway Department recently received a grant to help pay for the engineering plans for a trail that could connect the Mount Zion trail system to Decatur's. The path would stretch from the intersection of Lost Bridge and Country Club roads down to meet Baltimore Avenue, and then south to the Harryland Road, said county engineer Bruce Bird.

Mount Zion would extend its trail system to meet the trail at Harryland Road.

"It would be great if we could connect with Decatur," said Judy Roessler, director of Mount Zion parks and recreation. "That would, therefore, connect us with the Rock Springs trail."

Roessler said Mount Zion already has 2.71 miles of trail. This year, her biggest project is installing Fletcher Park, a new green space going up south of the Mount Zion Intermediate School.

"We really have no connection to our schools and our new park that's going in, so that's the next thing that we'll try to get accomplished," Roessler said.

Another important portion of the greenway master plan also is being developed through a county and Decatur Park District collaboration.

The plan is to create a full pedestrian loop around the lake. When the county revamps the portion of Country Club Road that runs past the Illinois Children's Museum and Scovill Zoo, it also will add a bike path alongside the road. The trail will divert through the parkway area past the attractions, but a sidewalk will continue alongside the road.

"That particular piece is important because it provides a final connection around Nelson Park Basin," Bird said.

The earliest construction could begin on the project is 2011, Bird said, but when it's complete, it will finish about a four-mile loop around the lake.

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