By Mark Schultz
People in Urbana, Ill., love their bikes, and staying fit while reducing their carbon footprint is important.
In recognizing this, the park district is working hard to encourage biking in the community with new programs.
“Biking is a great way for people to exercise,” says Corky Emberson, Superintendent of Recreation. “It is also good for the environment, as people use pedal power instead of horsepower to get around town. With that in mind, we want to make sure people have the best, safest, and most convenient way to bike.”
Connectivity Key To Expansion
With this long-term goal in mind, the district took a major step in May 2018 when it opened the Kickapoo Rail Trail (KRT) trail head at Weaver Park. The existing seven miles of the KRT are built over old railroad tracks. Someday, people will be able to ride the trail 24 miles from Urbana in Champaign County into Vermilion County in eastern Illinois.
“People can now get on the KRT from our park in east Urbana,” Emberson says. “It is a beautiful park and a safe place for people to park, unload their bikes, and go on a spectacular ride.”
“We worked with the city of Urbana, the Champaign County Forest Preserve District, and biking groups to make this a great trail head,” Emberson adds.
“And we were fortunate that the Urbana Parks Foundation provided a generous grant to fund construction for the trail head. It was a true partnership with groups dedicated to biking to make this happen,” Emberson explains.
The Urbana Green Loop is an idea supported in both the Urbana Bicycle Master Plan and Urbana Park District Trails Master Plan.
“The Green Loop is intended to connect … neighborhoods, downtown … and the University of Illinois to all … park district parks and facilities. It is intended to be a family-friendly path, available to users of all ages and abilities, and inviting both residents and visitors to explore Urbana,” says Kara Dudek, Planner at the district. “We hope that people have access to a trail in every corner of the city and can bike to our parks from city trails.”
The park district also participates in the city’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee. “Many people in Urbana choose active forms of transportation,” Dudek says. “So we really need to hear what bicyclists and walkers have to say. This committee is an excellent way for us to address people’s concerns and needs as well as efficiently plan for the future.”
Committed To The Cause
But all of the partnerships and expanding connectivity do nothing unless people get on their bikes. The park district offers several biking programs for all ages.
“The programs, offered mostly in warm weather, encourage biking, bike safety, and a healthy life,” Hedgspeth says. “We incorporate biking and bike safety into all of our summer camps.”
“We offer beginning bicycling classes for people age 18 and up. Adults learn bicycling basics and safe bicycling techniques in traffic from a certified instructor,” Hedgspeth explains. “It is vital for bikes and cars to share the road safely, and that class is a major component in keeping people safe.”
For weekend warriors, the district partners with the Prairie Cycle Club to provide Saturday morning rides in Meadowbrook Park. For more hardcore riders, the club offers cross-country rides of 10 to 20 miles and longer rides of 40 to 60 miles.
The park district also supports free night rides. “Riding a bike during twilight in the summer is a special experience,” Hedgspeth says. The Prairie Cycle Club offers evening rides cross-country (usually stopping at a rural town with a popular ice cream shop), along with special “Full Moon Bike Rides,” where cyclists can enjoy a sunset and moonrise over the prairie.
Since May is Bike Month, the park district celebrates bikes to the fullest. “We have a huge celebration at Weaver Park at the Kickapoo Rail Trail trail head in May that features biking groups that answer people’s questions, conduct bike safety checks, and give information about various bike clubs and rides,” Hedgspeth says.
Many of the celebrations also feature local music, food, and a party-like atmosphere. “Even if people don’t bring their bikes to the event, they can learn about biking in the area and, hopefully, become riders,” Hedgspeth explains.
You Belong Here
The park district’s efforts are being recognized. The League of American Bicyclists awarded Urbana Park District a Silver Designation as a Bicycle Friendly Business in 2018. “We are proud to be recognized as bike friendly. Biking is a great way to exercise, get out in the fresh air, and have fun with friends and family. We want more people to enjoy biking opportunities in our parks,” Emberson says.
The park district has joined the city of Urbana in this recognition. The League of American Bicyclists awarded the city with a Gold Bicycle Friendly Community.
Hedgspeth says Urbana Park District wants to have more people ride bikes for several reasons. “Biking is easier on a person’s joints than running, yet they can get the same cardiovascular workout,” she says. “It also promotes community, as people can bike with groups and make new friends. Kids can participate and get an early start on fitness. And it promotes a cleaner environment.”
Expect more bike-friendly activities in the coming years. Emberson says, “Our motto is ‘You Belong Here.’ We want bike riders to feel welcome in our parks and community, and we are committed to increasing bike ridership in Urbana.”
Mark Schultz is the Public Information and Marketing Manager for the Urbana Park District in Urbana, Ill. Reach him (217) 255-8601 ext. 309, or meschultz@UrbanaParks.Org.