Saturday was a day of celebration for area bicycling enthusiasts. The opening of the long-awaited Mackinaw Valley Trail brought out dozens of riders, including a man who was one of the first advocates for the trail.
Tim O'Hanlon has been looking forward to this day. About 4 years ago he and a local group of avid cyclists approached the Illinois Department of Natural Resources about creating the Mackinaw Valley Trail, a network of trails connecting the Peoria area with Bloomington-Normal.
Saturday marked the ceremonial opening of that trail network and O'Hanlon was at the foot of the River Trail in East Peoria to take the first ride.
"There were no good sanctioned cycling routes between Peoria and other major trails in the state," said O'Hanlon, whose been riding for 65 years. "This is the first link that will get us into the Illinois trail system."
Now cyclists can start out on trails in East Peoria, Morton, Mackinaw, Danvers and Bloomington and literally cover hundreds of miles.
"The really nice thing about connecting our existing trails with trails in other areas is that it allows bicycle tourists to come to Peoria and access our area and see how beautiful it is. They'll stay here and enjoy themselves while they're in the area," said rider John Chambers, also a member of the Tri-County Regional Planning Commission.
"Trails are another way of accessing places, so they create movement," said George Bellovics of the Illinois DNR, "and movement allows for commerce."
Which means pedaling those trails is not only healthy recreation, but also helps turns he wheels of the economy. Cyclists who travel to other cities and towns are likely to spend their money there.
On Saturday O'Hanlon and his group took off for Mackinaw where they met up with another group of riders coming from Bloomington and had lunch together at the Family Restaurant.
"Longer term, on a daily use, I think we're going to see some bicycle commuters who use the trail to get to and from work, especially on weekends and really nice days," predicted Chambers.
A printable guide to the Mackinaw Valley Trail is available on the website of the League of Illinois Bicyclists at www.bikelib.org .