SYCAMORE – A new segment of the Great Western Trail that is under construction will connect downtown Sycamore to Kane County, expanding the historic railroad trail which traverses two counties and beckons bicyclists and hikers alike.
The project, which is expected to be completed this fall, will connect the Sycamore Forest Preserve to Page and Pleasant streets near downtown Sycamore. A pedestrian bridge has been already been constructed along the trail over the Kishwaukee River.
The project was made possible through an intergovernmental agreement between the DeKalb County Forest Preserve District and Sycamore Park District, with federal grant funding through the Illinois Transportation Enhancement Program. Construction is managed by the Illinois Department of Transportation.
“The development of trail connections is a high priority for residents and the [Park] District,” said Sarah Rex, Recreation Supervisor with the Sycamore Park District. “We are thrilled to have the ability, through partnerships and grant funding, to connect people in Sycamore to schools, businesses, parks and each other with these off-road trails. It not only provides great wellness opportunities for individuals, but [also] for the community as a whole.”
The project’s total cost is $2,123,730. Grant funds have covered $1,698,980, with a local match of $424,750.
A second extension project will link the trail to Old Mill Park on Mt. Hunger Road. The second segment’s total project cost is $1,942,390. Grant funds will cover an estimated $1,553,910, with a local match of $388,480. Grants have been submitted for the second segment, and the winners have yet to be announced.
Once the first and second segments are completed and connect to existing trail systems, there will be nearly 2.5 miles of off-road trails between Sycamore Forest Preserve and Leon D. Larson Park. The trail will also connect to Sycamore Middle School, Old Mill Park and Sycamore Lake Rotary Park.
The tale of the Great Western Trail
According to the DeKalb County History Center, the Chicago Great Western Railroad began operating in Sycamore in 1887.
The railroad’s tracks were located north of downtown Sycamore, where several factories and small stock yards were located. The railroad ran east to west across the length of Sycamore and followed much of what is now the Great Western Trail.
The last passenger train was in 1956. However, their freight business remained strong through the 1960s, with six freight trains a day passing through Sycamore. Most of the business was from the Anaconda factory, which is now the Sycamore Industrial Park. In 1968, the CGW merged with the Chicago and North Western Railway. In 1977, the CGW discontinued the service between Sycamore and St. Charles, and its tracks were abandoned.
In 1986, the DeKalb County Forest Preserve District purchased the 3.5 miles of the abandoned corridor, from the western edge of Sycamore to the DeKalb and Kane County line.
In conjunction with the Kane County Forest Preserve District, who maintains the eastern portion, the Great Western Trail was established. Along with trail maintenance, both agencies manage the remnant prairie and wetlands along the railroad bed.
In 2017, when the Great Western Trail’s trailhead was brought a half mile west into DeKalb County Forest Preserve District’s Sycamore Forest Preserve. The Sycamore Forest Preserve is the western trailhead of the 19-mile segment that stretches east to the LeRoy Oaks Forest Preserve in St. Charles.
The trail is used by walkers, joggers and bicyclists, both for recreation and exercise.
“The Great Western Trail is a really great example of various entities and groups working together for one common goal, which is to connect our communities,” said acting Sycamore City Manager Maggie Peck.
Peck said she often bicycles and walks the trail.
“Once, last summer, I was bicycling with a friend, and we met a woman who was remotely running the Chicago Marathon and wearing her running bib,” Peck said. “The trail is very peaceful and pleasant. There’s foliage, birds and nature. I’m always thinking to myself that I should have brought along my camera. It gives our community another option instead of just motor transportation. Extending the trail into Sycamore has been years and years in the making, and I think we’re all excited for the project’s completion.”