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Trail Angels

Harv Koplo  | Published on 10/11/2020

Area 1BVarious folks imagine and pursue ways of greening up Springfield and moving our fair city in a sustainable direction. One of those groups we are blessed to have in town is a team of “trail angels” who have been quite active.

Joel Johnson, Greg Feeny and Pat Ryan are a team of three who have taken it upon themselves to beautify the Interurban Trail that runs from Springfield to Chatham. Under the auspices of the Friends of the Sangamon Valley (FOSV) and Springfield Park District they have been removing unwanted exotic species like honeysuckle along the trail, and restoring the areas with native Illinois flowers, grasses, shrubs and trees.

Joel and Gregg’s original previous year restoration & plantings were done near the crossing at Woodside Road – on the north side - but it will be lost with the upcoming Woodside widening/overpass project. They have rescued and will continue to rescue more of those plants to be used elsewhere along the Interurban.

Three main areas along the trail that the group has been restoring are visible to all who enjoy the Interurban. One is on the east side of the trail just south of the I-72 overpass. There is a second area across from it where they have planted a grove of small dogwood trees. The third, far larger undertaking is about ¼ mile north of Woodside Road, on the west side of the trail.

Yet another major development is at the edge of Springfield’s MacArthur extension - north of the old railroad overpass near the start of the Interurban. A berm has been planted with bushes, wildflowers and native grasses and nicely accented with rocks - Pat's landscaping touch. The adjoining area includes a small native bush grove followed by a prairie-type garden. Greg is also developing native plantings in a couple woodsy areas he has cleared and maintained south of the two I-72 sites mentioned above.

After working on removing the honeysuckle from these areas, they got Chuck Smith from the Springfield Park District to dump a pile of mulch at the Hazel Dell parking lot north of the overpass and at two other locations along the trail. The industrious team used wagons to haul the plants and mulch to the restoration areas. Because the plantings needed water, Greg lugged 4 one gallon jugs at a time on his bicycle while Joel used a wagon to deliver five gallon Jerry cans of water to the areas.

Funding for the project has come out of their pockets, with helpful advice and the use of a chainsaw and chemicals from FOSV which Greg has utilized. Greg managed the attack of the honeysuckle jungle that was taking over the trail and, along with Joel’s use of a special “honeysuckle popper” tool they rid the area of the insidious plants. Then they brought in grasses and flowers to plant, many of which they both grew at home or that Greg purchased from the Illinois Native Plant Society (INPS). FOSV also provided seed for broadcasting. Pat filled in with her esthetic abilities to add much of the landscaping artistry – rocks and other landscaping – that finished the beautification of the restored areas.

Luckily for us, Joel and Greg love going out to the trail to do this work. But there is a limit to what two or three can do. At this point, they are in need of other volunteers to come and help them with their trail project. As the weather cools, they are interested in clearing more honeysuckle from the trail in preparation for more planting. They are very willing to train folks who could then go out on their own – even if only a couple hours a week – to help.

To find out more about the project, contact Joel Johnson at 217-528-6942 or johnsonjoeld@yahoo.com. And as you ride down the Interurban Trail, when you see a humble man working to make it a more interesting place for your ride, give a shout out to Joel or Greg. Take a short break as you come upon white signs that proclaim “This Area Under Restoration!” and take in the beauty of the gardens that these three trail angels have produced for you!

More images of the trail project are located in the Trail Angels Photo Album