As a community asset, Heartland Pathways rests on the idea of multiple use -- the principle that public lands can fulfill numerous, complementary public needs. Hiking, biking, jogging, and nature observation supply the most apparent human uses of old rail corridors. More seasoned visitors understand that prime prairie remnants help maintain the fund of biological diversity. School and community classes arrive to study the flora and fauna of the tallgrass prairie. Artists come to portray its many colors and textures. Seed collectors and prairie restorers harvest the grains to enrich and expand prairie projects elsewhere.
Even this list of outdoor activities does not capture all the possibilities of redeveloped rail corridors. As they journey along old train routes, visitors catch glimpses of important cultural artifacts, reminders of our human past. Here and there old barns dot the landscape. Early grain elevators and train depots rest quietly at trail's edge, silent vestiges of the bountiful energy that pushed the frontier westward. Early farmhouses -- some ordered out of Sears catalogs -- await the attentive observer. With careful planning and linkages, Heartland Pathways can lead visitors to picnic areas, to campsites, to canoe put-in points along the river, and to rest areas under towering oaks.
The golden era of passenger train travel may not return, but the allure of the steam engine remains strong today. Located on the edge of Monticello, the Monticello Railway Museum brings alive the history of railroading with an extensive display of memorabilia, a gracefully restored train station, and a growing collection of train cars. From the rail yards at Nelson's Crossing, visitors board trains to journey 3 miles to the old depot in downtown Monticello, also restored and now home to a Vistors' Center. Plans are being prepared to extend the train's route northeast into the town of White Heath. When this extension is completed, train travelers will experience the open fields and prairie patches so typical of the region, as well as the forested riparian habitat that the train route now traverses.
Recreational train travel is very much a part of what the rails-to-trails movement is all about. Working with the Railway Museum, Heartland Pathways plans to explore possibilities for extending the train line westward from White Heath to the Sangamon River so that visitors can enjoy the riverside. Perhaps one day train routes will carry travelers on an exploration, through the full diversity of natural communities and open fields surrounding Monticello.
Some HP corridors can take advantage of abandoned parallel inter-urban tracks that can permit active lines to exist in conjunction with an adjacent trail.
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