Mar 13, 2015

Plank Road Trail

The Plank Road Trail is a nice bikepath / trail that runs east-west across Will and Cook County south of Chicago.The conversion of the old railroad to a trail was proposed by the Northeastern Illinois Planning Commission and the Will County Forest Preserve District in their Acquisition Plan prepared in 1973-75. I worked on that plan.

The project was referred to as “The abandoned Penn Central Railroad Right of Way”, which is not exactly a great marketing name. "Abandoned Penn Central Railroad Right-of-Way," didn't have the magic to stir men's souls.

The rails were removed in 1981. Bob Sullivan AICP and I prepared the The Plank Road Trail in 1981, which gave the project a much more marketable name. The project was originally proposed as a Plank Road, which was a toll road. It was never built as a Plank Road but was changed to a railroad.

In searching for a name that supporters could like we found that the project had originally been named the "Oswego and Indiana Plank Road" name that had been proposed for the route in 1849. It was never built as a Plank Road (Toll Road with planks for pavement), but we dubbed it the Old Plank Road Trail and the name caught on.

Carl Glassford formed an action committee which worked hard and successfully to get support from the communities of Matteson, Frankfort, Park Forest, Mokena, New Lenox, Will and Cook Counties, and the State of Illinois. I can remember one evening in the Matteson Village Hall. The Council was opposed to the trail - sounded like a boondoggle to them. Carl and his committee made a presentation to the Board, and they completely changed their mind. They got it that a lineal park running through their historic downtown and connecting to their regional mall and many of their residential neighborhoods was a good thing.

The State of Illinois, the Northeastern Illinois Planning Commission, the Will and Cook County Forest Preserve commissions, and the Open Lands Commission supported the concept. They began to work to gain control of the property.

It took 17 years from the time we gave it the name of "Plank Road Trail" until you could walk on the paved path.  Public projects take a long time to bring into fruition.

The development of the trail positively enhanced the image of the southern suburbs. The trail connected the historical business districts of Frankfort and Matteson to Lincoln Mall and the Matteson ICG station. Visitors to the area can take pleasant walks through these communities.
Much more about the Trail at

The Trail is part of the American Discovery Trail which cross the entire United States - a seriously long walk.

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Rails to Trails: