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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Lebanon, Ill., group looking for trailblazers

Do you want to be on the ground floor of planning a new bicycle trail?

A group of people from the Lebanon, Ill., area are forming a committee to study the possibility of a bicycle trail from Lebanon to O'Fallon, Ill. They also may consider another trail that would tie Lebanon to the Shiloh/Scott MetroLink station near Scott Air Force Base.

The committee will hold its first meeting at 7:30 p.m. Thursday (Sept. 24) in the basement of the Lebanon Visitor's Center, 211 W. St. Louis St. All people who are interested in bicycling in the Lebanon area are encouraged to attend.

In talking to Robert Wilhelm, who is spearheading the effort, he reminded me of something that I already knew from 10 years of holding the Tour de Stooges ride at McKendree University: There's only one safe way to get out of Lebanon.

Two major highways serve Lebanon: U.S. Route 50 and Illinois Route 4. Neither is particularly safe for cyclists because of almost non-existent shoulders and fast, heavy traffic. Although the Illinois Department of Transportation is resurfacing Route 4, I still wouldn't recommend it for cycling because the highway is a shortcut for truckers and other motorists between Interstate 55 and Interstate 64.

A cursory look at a map of the Lebanon area would tell you that Korte-Sewald Road heads southeast from the city. Well, that's not quite true. The railroad overpass on the southern edge of town has been closed for years.

That leaves one safe way out: Monroe Street/Widicus Road, the thoroughfare the Tour de Stooges used to get out and back into Lebanon during our time at McKendree. Monroe/Widicus takes you northwest of Lebanon to some wonderful cycling roads. The problem, though, is that you have to ride well out the way to get to nearby communities like O'Fallon, Shiloh and Mascoutah.

What Robert and other trail supporters are hoping to do is to start out with a trail from Lebanon to O'Fallon. One possibility is the old East St. Louis & Suburban Railway right-of-way, which provided Lebanon and O'Fallon with trolley service from 1903 until the late 1920s. Another possibility would involve College Road, which now heads west of Lebanon but ends at Silver Creek. At one time, it was a through road across the creek to Rieder Road.

Robert said the Metro-East Park and Recreation District has expressed interest in the project. If the district decides to pursue the money and obtain money, construction could begin in the next few years.

The other long-term trail proposal would go roughly along Rieder Road and take cyclists to the Shiloh/Scott MetroLink station. That would tie into a trail now on the drawing board that would link Shiloh, O'Fallon to the Madison County Transit Schoolhouse. The Metro-East Park and Recreation District and Madison County Transit has received money for the project, but they have hit a roadblock because much of the former railroad right-of-way that would be used for that trail now is in private hands, making it much more difficult and expensive to obtain the property.

St. Clair County is far behind neighboring Madison County in the number and miles of bicycle trails, and the Lebanon trail proposal would be a good way to start catching up. While I won't be at Thursday's meeting because of work, I encourage people interested in bicycling in Lebanon, O'Fallon and Shiloh to attend the meeting.

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