The 33 miles of Heartland Pathways all tie in with Monticello and with the 7-mile corridor managed by the Railway Museum.
From the east end of the Museum's track in White Heath, Heartland Pathways extends four miles eastward, ending at Camp Creek near Seymour. This section contains some of the best prairie of the entire trail system, and is often visited by biology classes. Adjacent to the trail is an abandoned inter-urban train line, equally rich in prairie life. The old inter-urban corridor increases the width of this valuable wildlife and native-plant habitat. Along a three-mile stretch, an abandoned highway augments the useable corridor even further.
Regular burning has greatly improved the diversity of plant life along this trail section. From the hawks that glide high above, even first-time visitors can tell that small animals also enjoy this rich habitat.
Lying just south of Route 10 and running parallel to that road, this 4-mile trail section is accessible at the many places where section roads cross the path, as well as at the two endpoints in White Heath and Seymour.
From the western edge of White Heath, the longest section of Heartland Pathways extends westward 25 miles to just outside the city of Clinton. Leaving White Heath the trail curves under I-72 and down to the Sangamon River forest habitat. As it crosses the river, the trail bisects Shady Rest, a natural area once owned by the Price Family, friends and supporters of Heartland Pathways. The site is now owned by the Piatt Country Forest Preserve. Visitors here obtain excellent views of life on a riparian flood plain as they walk along the lengthy trestle and truss bridge. In the spring, blue phlox and other woodland wildflowers color the awakening land.
From Shady Rest, the trail continues to the northwest, through patches of woods and over scenic Madden Creek to enter the farming community of Lodge. Here and in several towns to the west, the trail is broken by short sections owned by local grain elevators. Visitors, however, can easily stroll through these small towns and rejoin the trail a few blocks further along. From Lodge the trail slowly curves to head due west toward Clinton, crossing excellent prairie remnants at several places. Because the trail here is distant from any highway, the sounds of prairie life are easier to hear. In Deland, travelers can see the smallest Carnegie Library in the state. In Weldon, elevators display five eras of grain storage.
As the trail progresses westward, it eventually approaches the town of Lane and the natural areas surrounding Clinton Lake. Here begins a 5-mile trail stretch that offers particularly exciting possibilities. Clinton Lake, managed by the state Department of Conservation, provides a wide variety of recreational opportunities. Some 5 miles to the west, along a route almost entirely supplied by Heartland Pathways, lies Weldon Springs State Park, a summering spot for generations of residents of Clinton and Decatur. Years ago, trains from all directions carried visitors to Chautauqua celebrations at Weldon Springs, where visitors could enjoy the artestian waters and listen to celebrated speakers like William Jennings Bryan. With the acquisition of a few short easements, Heartland Pathways could connect the Clinton Lake area with Weldon Springs. Weldon Springs could serve as an ideal starting place for trailway travelers.
The visitor who begins the final trail section from the village of Lane follows a route westward, heading gently downward alongside a creek as woods increase on either side. A major truss bridge spans Salt Creek. From the bridge, the traveler can survey the bottomland topography, including meander scars and ox-bows. Cattle graze along the banks of this clear stream, extensively studied by scientists before Clinton Lake was built. After crossing Salt Creek the trail slowly ascends the Hensley Morraine, skirting an old-growth forest, crossing rolling terrain, and passing over several trestle bridges, one rising a full 30-feet above the water. On a nearby hillside stands a stately farmhouse, moved there from the Chicago Columbian Exhibition a century ago.
A final section of Heartland Pathways extends westward from Monticello for 6 miles to the town of Cisco. This trail begins at the edge of downtown Monticello and immediately enters a bottom-land forest to cross the Sangamon River on a long truss bridge. The City of Monticello will soon lease the initial trail section of one mile, and develop it into a demonstration hiking and biking trail. Once completed, visitors to this enjoyable section will gain a clearer sense of the potential for the entire Heartland Pathways trail system. One day this section could serve as the beginning point for a scenic hiking trail to nearby Allerton Park, one of the most important attractions and natural areas of East Central Illinois.
The trail section to Cisco lies adjacent to a quiet country road. Prairie quality in many places is excellent, with nearly 100 plant species represented. Recognizing this quality, the Illinois Nature Preserves Commission plans to designate this section (and perhaps others) as a Land and Water Conservation Site. Many visitors to this trail section are participants at conferences held at Allerton Park; others come from the nearby 4H camp, which hosts frequent gatherings. To expand this valuable natural area, the Illinois Department of Transportation has allowed the prairie to extend to the roadside edge.
In years to come, Heartland Pathways hopes to develop visitors' centers to help orient and educate pathway travelers. Until then, maps are available and visitors are encouraged to find their way to Heartland Pathways anywhere along its 33 mile trail.
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