TON Bike Trail

February 14, 2019

Help build the Midwest’s premier multi-use trail at SIU’s Touch of Nature Environmental Center

by Christi Mathis

CARBONDALE, Ill. — You can help create what will be one of the Midwest’s premier multi-use trail systems, expected to draw bikers, hikers and other recreationists from far and wide.

Work is already underway on the Touch of Nature Multiuse Trail System through the Shawnee Forest at Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s Touch of Nature Environmental Center, but two big trail-building days are planned this spring. Volunteers are needed.

Anyone can help, equipment provided

Trail-building sessions are set for 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on March 23 and April 13. Everyone is welcome to participate in either or both sessions.

All the tools you need to do the work will be provided, along with gloves and eye and head protection. Volunteers are asked to wear long pants and closed-toe shoes, as well as bring a water bottle.

Thirty miles of trails

Plans call for construction of about 30 miles of trails, being created to be sustainable, durable and environmentally low-impact. Planning began more than four years ago, and the project has moved forward thanks to volunteer assistance, SIU Green Fund grants, public donations and more recently, the award of a $200,000 Recreational Trails Program grant, awarded by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and largely funded by the Federal Highway Administration.

Not open yet

Much of the initial work has involved planning, archaeological surveys and some actual trail work. The goal is to complete a large enough portion of the trails, perhaps 8-10 miles, so that a section can be opened for use sometime in fall 2019, according to JD Tanner, director of Touch of Nature.  Tanner said his research indicates that the multiuse trails could, when fully completed and operational, draw 55,000 or more visitors each year.

Sign up online to help build trails

Those planning to help are asked to register in advance so organizers can properly plan and have sufficient equipment. You can sign up online.

Groups or organizations that would like to help with the project at another time are also welcome to contact Isaiah Tanner at to schedule a work session.

Financial contributions are also welcome. Contact JD Tanner, director of Touch of Nature, at for information or donate online through the Southern Illinois University Foundation.

For more information about the new trail system or other Touch of Nature facilities, events, activities or services, visit, call 618/453-1121 or email