Englewood Nature Trail closer to reality thanks to a $20 million federal grant

The plan to convert 1.75 miles of unused railroad corridor into an environmentally rich haven is closer to reality and is being hailed as a beacon for Black Chicagoans.

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The Englewood Nature Trail would be built on an unused east-west railroad corridor between 58th and 59th streets in Englewood, between Wallace Avenue and Hoyne Avenue. Shown here is where the future trail would cross Halsted Street.

The Englewood Nature Trail would be built on an unused east-west railroad corridor between 58th and 59th streets in Englewood, between Wallace Avenue and Hoyne Avenue. Shown here is where the future trail would cross Halsted Street.

Pat Nabong / Sun-Times

It has been 15 years since residents of Englewood and West Englewood envisioned creating a nature trail along an abandoned elevated rail line that runs parallel to 59th Street.

Now, thanks to a $20 million federal grant, the plan to convert 1.75 miles of the unused railroad corridor into an environmentally rich haven for the community is closer to becoming a reality.

“We’ve been working on this for so long,” said L. Anton Seals Jr., executive director of the group Grow Greater Englewood, “and this will help propel it forward.”

The federal grant will be used to design and build the trail, which will cross 26 viaducts as it runs from Wallace Avenue west to Hoyne Avenue. The plans call for the trail to have nine entrances along its route.

The federal support for the trail was hailed by community leaders, who said it will revitalize an unused railroad corridor and also become a beacon to attract Black Chicagoans.

“We are driving this to be an unapologetically Black place and make this a place to connect to our legacy for the people who have lived in this community for the past 60 years,” Seals said. “Still, this is being built as a safe place for Black families, Latino families and families at large that live in Greater Englewood.”

Mayor Lori Lightfoot said the project will be a “major catalyst for revitalization.”

“The Englewood Nature Trail is both a physical connector and pathway to community connectivity and opportunity,” Lightfoot said in a written statement.

Seals said he hopes the nature trail will help bring Black families back to Chicago, noting that he and others are working on ways the trail can be used to help spur economic development. Part of that, he said, would be the inclusion of a “community benefit contract” to ensure that people who live nearby won’t be displaced.

Seals said the cost of the project hasn’t been determined, with design work still being done. He said he hopes renderings of the nature trail will be ready for public viewing by November.

The trail will include bike paths but will be nature-focused, he said, with the aim of not letting the bikes don’t dominate the space.

“We want nature to be a big driver, so it won’t be driven by bicycles only,” Seals said.

The project’s main financing is coming from by the grant from U.S. Department of Transportation through the Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity program.

“This RAISE grant will help provide important community benefits to Englewood and Chicago’s South Side,” U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said in a written statement.

An unused and overgrown railroad corridor between West 58th Street and West 59th Street in Englewood that will be turned into the Englewood Nature Trail.

Plans to turn an unused and overgrown railroad corridor between West 58th Street and West 59th Street in Englewood into a nature trail got a huge boost from a $20 million federal grant.

Pat Nabong / Sun-Times

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