New trail would link Illinois, Wisconsin through McHenry County

Bicyclists can hop on Prairie Path or Kenosha County Bike System once trail is open

McHenry County Board Chairman Michael Buehler speaks Thursday, Aug. 24, 2023, at Wilmot Mountain Ski Resort, about how the governments of McHenry County and Kenosha County, Wisconsin, along with Thelen Sand & Gravel,  have created a public-private partnership to build the Midwest Interstate Trail, a bike and pedestrian trail to connect the McHenry and Kenosha counties bike and pedestrian trails.

On a scorching hot Thursday at Wilmot Mountain Ski Resort just north of the Illinois-Wisconsin border, McHenry County and Kenosha County, Wisconsin, officials unveiled their plans to build the Midwest Interstate Trail.

The trail, which officials expect to be in the planning phase by next year, would allow McHenry County bicyclists to cycle into Wisconsin and vice versa. Eventually, Wisconsin officials hope to build bike trails allowing bicyclists on the Midwest Interstate Trail to cycle to Madison and Milwaukee.

The Midwest Interstate Trail will run from Spring Grove to east of Twin Lakes, Wisconsin, connecting to the Prairie Path in Illinois and Kenosha County bike trail system in Wisconsin.

The Midwest Interstate Trail would not be the only trail connecting Illinois and Wisconsin. The McClory Bike Path connects Lake County to the Kenosha County Bike Trail. Further west, the Rock River Trail runs through Rockford and Beloit, Wisconsin, and the Badger State Trail connects with the Jane Addams Trail, running from Madison to Freeport.

While much of the 8-mile trail would run through land donated by the Thelen Sand and Gravel company in both Illinois and Wisconsin. The trail will run mostly adjacent to existing roads, and the land the company owns in the area currently is used for both agriculture and mining.

Even though the land will be donated, officials are still looking for federal and state funding to construct the path.

“There’s a lot of federal funding out there and grants for bike trails,” McHenry County Board Chairman Mike Buehler said. “We’re going to start exploring that right away, and, in my mind, the sooner the better.”

Buehler is an avid hiker, having picked it up several years ago after experiencing health issues.

“The [McHenry County] Conservation District was instrumental in allowing me to become more active through hiking on their trails and enjoying all the different properties that they have in the county,” Buehler said.

A map of the proposed Midwest Interstate Trail, a bike and pedestrian trail to connect the McHenry and Kenosha counties bike and pedestrian trails on Thursday, Aug. 24, 2023, at Wilmot Mountain Ski Resort.

Buehler now shares his love of hiking with constituents, hosting a monthly “Hike with Mike” event, allowing residents of the county to meet up with him for a walk and explore different nature preserves.

Despite Buehler’s love of nature trails, he said the idea for the Midwest Interstate Trail originated with Steve Thelen, the president of Thelen Sand and Gravel.

“This is one of Steve’s 2 o’clock in the morning sleepless night ideas that he tends to write down in the middle of the night,” Buehler said. “He approached me about it, and I thought it was a great idea.”

While officials in both states said they are eager to complete the trail, no concrete time frames for construction have been set.

“Three years is a good, conservative estimate,” Kenosha County Parks Director Matthew Collins said.

Even though the trail still needs to be built, Kenosha County Executive Samantha Kerkman said she expects she’ll be back at Wilmot Mountain once the trail is ready for people to use.

“I’m sure we’ll be out here when we open,” Kerkman said.