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Posted 8/19/2014

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By Sue Casseau
St. Louis District Public Affairs

Popular recreational areas are often victims of their own success and need a little TLC to bring them back to full usefulness. Chief Illini Trail is among the more popular trails in the St. Louis District, but the effects of literally millions of visitors over the years were beginning to show. A new partnership and the hard work of dedicated volunteers are helping restore the popular trails.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers manages the water and land around Lake Shelbyville, a multipurpose reservoir in central Illinois fed by the Kaskaskia River. The area is popular with campers, hunters and boaters, and a source of pride to the surrounding community.

Jerry Yackey, chairman of the nationally recognized General Dacey Trail along Lake Shelbyville, recently faced the facts that his city’s trail needed attention as much as its neighbor, Chief Illini. Erosion and run-off had altered the original pathways, brush and trees had become obstructions, and steps built into the original plan really needed to be eliminated from the trail. Despite its recognition, the trail needed work.

“I soon found out that recognitions don’t automatically translate to dollars,” says Yackey.

Yackey began networking with local, state and federal interests forming partnerships among 10 public and private entities that cast a wide net for financial and physical support. Eventually, a group called Making Trails Work selected Lake Shelbyville’s trails as their first project in the country. Volunteer opportunities followed, including the introduction of the Maple 1 team of AmeriCorps.

AmeriCorps’ Maple 1, consisting of eight young adults between the ages of 18 and 24, were eager to serve their country at home. Initially gathering in New Jersey, their assignments moved them across the country, including a six-week stay at Lake Shelbyville.

The team arrived June 30 and set up camp at Lone Point campsite, which was their home until August 6. The local community supplied a variety of meals, provided a couple of bicycles to get around the camp grounds, and occasionally families took the whole team into their home for an evening of fun and fellowship.

Tools and training were provided by Illinois Trail Corps. For 30 days, Trail Coordinator Steve French and Corps of Engineers Ranger Phil Manhart worked with Maple 1, resulting in what they call “educated feet.” The phrase refers to knowing the proper feel of a well-designed and maintained nature trail.

As Maple 1’s Shelby Smith explains it, “I’ll never walk a trail the same again. I’ll feel the slope and see the clearance. And when I’m on this trail, I’ll know I made it happen.”

Initially, the Making Trails Work team hoped to revitalize a portion of Chief Illini Trail. AmeriCorps’ Maple 1 worked hard every day of their work weeks, and completed the work for the entire 11 miles.

The good work of the partnership is continuing with a new group from the Student Conservation Association who arrived August 8 to camp at Lone Point for 50 days as they build a new seven-mile mountain bike trail.

For more information, visit Lake Shelbyville: http://www.mvs.usace.army.mil/Missions/Recreation/LakeShelbyville.aspx or the variety of recreational opportunities that surround Lake Shelbyville: http://www.lakeshelbyville.com/recreation.htm