Hannon Levee Trail open house is Saturday

Nestled just past the Monticello golf course and back along the Sangamon River is the scenic and unique Bruce Hannon Levee Trail, which will host a grand opening from 1 to 3 p.m. this Saturday.

The trailhead of the 2.3-mile route is located off of Allerton Road.

“The levee is really a gift because we’ve been able to make it into a trail,” said Bruce Hannon, the namesake of the trail and president of the Land Conservation Foundation, the group that has been buying up central Illinois land and converting it back to its native wetland.

In the case of the Hannon trail, the levee is not native to the property, but is key to experiencing the wetland area that borders the river without needing muck boots. That aspect of the route dates to the 1930s when a levee was constructed in anticipation of a gravel pit operation. The business ended before it began because there really wasn’t much gravel there.

But the levee remained.

“It is perfect because floodplain forests are typically not easy to hike because you’re either in water or mud, and this levee just makes it perfect,” said LCF Executive Director Deanna Glosser.

Hannon knows it well, having hiked it often, even before the Conservation Foundation purchased the 108 acres of Piatt County land in 2013, thanks in part to a $455,000 state grant that helped offset a majority of the $655,000 purchase price.

Since that time, the not-for-profit group has planted 25,000 trees and taken marginal cropland out of production to turn it back into its native wetland.

“It’s land that shouldn’t be farmed because it floods and you lose a lot of crops. Fifty-nine acres that was cropland is being taken out of production and we’ve planted 25,000 trees, so it will come back as native floodplain forest, which is actually the best use for that kind of land,” added Glosser. “That’s what it was.”

The ultimate goal of the LCF is to connect Lodge Park to Allerton Park with a Sangamon River water trail, as well as hiking trails. Connecting the Hannon trail with nearby Allerton should be one of the easiest tasks, since the land between is currently under Illinois Department of Natural Resources jurisdiction.

Hannon, a professor emeritus in geography and geographical information science at the University of Illinois has worked for conservation and natural resource causes for decades, including an eight-year fight between 1967 and 1975 to keep Allerton Park from being flooded by a proposed reservoir near Oakley.

And while he loves the new Monticello trail, he’s not thrilled to have it named after him.

“I don’t really like. it. Nature doesn’t know there’s been a human name attached to it, and I think it’s challenging my long, long desire for humility,” he said.

“On the other hand, you can think of it as being a part of nature,” Hannon countered.

And the LCF land is a “very high quality section of the Sangamon River,” added Glosser, which leads to annual mussel surveys and the ability to study various aquatic resources, including some that are on endangered species lists.

After shoring up the levee and increasing drainage so that bottomland on the trail does not hold flood waters for several months out of the year, the trail is open to hikers.

Open house
The trail is already available to hikers, but will be introduced officially at this Saturday’s open house. Guided walks will begin at 1:15 p.m., followed by a program at 2 p.m. featuring Illinois Treasurer Michael Frerichs, former Congressman Tim Johnson, State Senator Scott Bennett, STate Representative Bill Mitchell, Monticello Mayor Larry Stoner and Urbana Mayor Diane Marlin.

After a 3 p.m. ribbon cutting, the trail will again be open to hikers.

Acoustic music from The Young and the Fretless will also accompany the event. The group describes its style as “old-time mountain music.”

Categories (2):News, Parks and Recreation

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