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Trail Advocates Seek Funding to ‘Close the Gap’

Fundraising drive is aimed at raising $5,000 for bike and pedestrian trail system

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A bicycle and pedestrian trail between Crystal Lake and Woodstock is complete — almost. But a small, key section of the trail system remains unconnected, and so the McHenry County Conservation Foundation is asking for help to “close the gap.”

With a significant grant to cover engineering and construction hanging in the balance, MCCF has launched a fundraising drive called Close the Gap that seeks to raise $5,000, the required local match needed to qualify for the grant.Part of the gap is pictured in MCCD’s Ridgefield Trace, a bike and pedestrian trail stretching from Woodstock to Crystal Lake. Independent Photo by Whitney Rupp

“This is the missing piece to a nice trail,” said Eberhard Veit, president of the McHenry County Bicycle Advocates.

The recently completed construction project on Highway 14 between Woodstock and Crystal Lake included a bike trail from Lake Avenue to McHenry County College, where the trail connects with an existing path that extends from the college to a point about 2,000 feet short of Oak Street.

Known as Ridgefield Trace, the paved path is a McHenry County Conservation District trail consisting of three sections: a 4.5-mile section from Woodstock to MCC, completed in late fall 2016; a 1.76-mile section extending east from the college that ends in a loop; and a 1.5-mile section from Oak Street in Crystal Lake, eastbound to Walkup Road, through the Crystal Lake Park District’s Veteran Acres Park to the Prairie Trail, completed in fall 2016. 

The second and third sections are divided due to an active railroad crossing. This gap is what the district is currently focusing on in order to connect and complete the trail.

The McHenry County Bicycle Advocates is partnering with MCCF to support the fundraising to connect those two portions of the trail so cyclists can enjoy an uninterrupted ride. “We are the catalyst, connecting groups,” said Veit. “We’ve had our eye on this since 2008.”

John Kremer, director of operations and public safety for MCCD, said the grade crossing – involving automobiles, trains and pedestrians – at Oak Street is currently unsafe for a trail. Kremer said MCCD is working with the railroad to come up with a safe solution.

The foundation reported that, after nearly 15 years of effort, everything is now in place to complete the project. The foundation has the opportunity to secure a significant engineering and construction grant that will enable the district to fully complete the trail. They are seeking donations by reaching out to people who would stand to benefit the most, including bicyclists, joggers, walkers and dog owners.

The Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program is a federally funded program of surface transportation improvements designed to improve air quality and mitigate congestion. The Ridgefield Trace trail qualifies for this grant by providing an alternate method for residents of Crystal Lake and Woodstock to commute to college or work.

According to Brad Semel, president of MCCF, the grant will cover 80 percent of the cost, requiring the recipient to come up with the remaining 20 percent – a common practice to show a community interest investment.

“We have promised to help [MCCD] come up with the money needed,” said Semel. “We’re saying if [trail users] can raise $5,000, we’ll match $5,000.”

He said 153,000 people use the Prairie Trail between Algonquin and Crystal Lake last year. Adding this connector could provide easier access to the popular trail as well as bring some of those users out to Woodstock.

“The foundation works together to help provide amenities to make McHenry County a great place to live,” said Semel.

To support the pledge drive, users can donate via the McHenry County Conservation Foundation website at McHenryConservation.org/trail.htm.
“No donation is too small,” said Veit. “If you ride, you should donate.”

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