Constitution Trail is considered one of Bloomington-Normal's top cultural and tourist attractions, and yet it almost never came to be.
It's now been 30 years since Bloomington and Normal city governments converted the abandoned railroad right of way into a hiking and biking path that's part of a network of trails that now spans close to 60 miles throughout McLean County.
Doug Oehler is a charter member of the group Friends of the Constitution Trail. He called the 'Not In My Backyard' mantra that supporters in the community heard about the concept as it was being hatched, from concerns about noise pollution, to traffic to crime.
"People thought it would be a scourge to the earth to have it behind their home," Oehler recalled.
He said the trail has since become a fixture in Bloomington-Normal, overcoming all the opposition it faced in the beginning from those who didn't want the trail in their backyard.
“It’s the busiest park in both cities by far,” he declared, estimating the trail sees close to 5,000 visitors daily. “I think it represents more than just a trail. It’s a community activity.”
Friends of the Constitution Trail President Patrick Dullard said it didn't take long to win over the public once it opened.
“You could see historically, editorials in the paper went from ‘this might not be such a great idea,’ ‘you use all volunteers for it’ to ‘here’s another extension, we should be going for it’ that type of thing,” Dullard said.
The trail is extending another 3.4 miles from Shirley to Funks Grove along Route 66. Construction is expected to begin this summer with a goal to be finished by next spring.
The group is marking 30 years of the trail with a free celebration at noon Saturday at Connie Link Amphitheater with live music and refreshments.
Friends of the Constitution Trail recently received a $27,729 Safe Routes to School grant through the Illinois Department of Transportation.
Dullard said the grant will enable to group to buy fleets of bicycles that grade schools could use for new state-mandated bicycle and pedestrian safety training in grade schools.
The group also wants to use a fleet of bikes for middle school students to use for field trips to encourage children to get more active outdoors.
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