Anyone who has access to the internet has access to the online guide to the Illinois Prairie Path Collection at North Central College. Enter the link above and you will be directed to the site. Click a topic that interests you to find the box number and file number where your information is located.
If you are doing research on a particular topic, the online guide is like a file cabinet – you can see how the information is organized and you will know where to find it. You are not able to view the information in each file, but if you are planning to visit the Archives, you will know what boxes to request during your visit. For instance, if you cllick Record Group 4: Individuals, the names of all of the founders and legacy volunteers will appear. The Paul and Jean Mooring Slide Collection (with over 10,000 slides) is also categorized by topic.
The Illinois Prairie Path (IPP) began on Monday, September 30, 1963 when the Chicago Tribune published a letter to the editor from May Theilgaard Watts advocating for a public path on the abandoned route of the Chicago, Aurora and Elgin Electric (CA&E) rail line.
Public response to her letter was immediate and enthusiastic. However, the complexities and challenges involved in developing a public path on the CA&E land were monumental.
Many volunteers donated their time and talents to secure a public path especially the 14 founders: Mrs. Watts, Helen Turner, Lillian Lasch, Elizabeth and Samuel Holmes, Phoebe and George Ryerson, Jane and August Sindt, Dr. Warren Keck, Bill and Betty Nemec, John Heddens and advisor Gunnar Peterson of Openlands. They organized a board, developed
an organization, developed communications, recruited members and volunteers, conducted an intensive grass roots campaign to rally public support for a public path, and met with local, county, state and national government officials. In just 953 days or 2.6 years, they secured a 12-year lease from the largest owner of the right-of-way land – DuPage County – to develop 27 miles into a public path. The founders didn’t have the money, materials, or government assistance to build a path. They signed the lease, determined to proceed. (Click Here to read the Early History of the IPP.)
Mile by mile, individuals, families, neighbors, organizations, businesses, schools and scout
troops volunteered to remove tons of rubbish along the 27 miles of Path in DuPage County. Volunteers and public works departments in a number of communities donated limestone screenings – and donated their time to spread the screenings on the path. In 1970, the IPP board – the Illinois Prairie Path not-for-profit corporation (IPPc) – was granted space for an office in Rathje Park in Wheaton. By 1971, 19 of the 27 miles (70%) of the IPP were “adopted” and maintained by volunteers. In June 1971, the U.S. Department of Interior, after many inspections, honored the Path with a “National Recreation Trail” designation, the first trail to receive this designation in the state of Illinois. Early on, some acts of vandalism wiped out weeks or months of work on a project. A bridge over the East Branch of the DuPage River had to be replaced six times due to flooding and vandalism.
In 1972, Path expansion was underway. A 20-year lease was signed between the Illinois Department of Conservation and the Kane County Forest Preserve and approved in Springfield, IL – extending the Path to the Fox River via Elgin Branch, Aurora Branch and Batavia Spur, with the exception of privately owned areas. In 1979, expansion of the Path eastward was approved in four communities in Cook County – Berkeley, Bellwood, Hillside and Maywood. In 1982 and 1983, volunteers mounted their most challenging project – building a bridge in Wheaton. Bids for the project were over $250,000. Volunteers built the bridge for $25,000 with significant material donations from local businesses, and with welding provided by high school students from DuPage Area Vocational Education Association (DAVEA). In 1986 during the national liability insurance crisis, the IPPc lost its coverage. That year, DuPage County agreed to take over the maintenance of the Path and the IPPc agreed to continue its focus on recreation, prairie restoration, land preservation and conservation, and interpretation of historic sites.
Segments of the Path are maintained by DuPage County, Kane County Forest Preserve District, Fox Valley Park District, Elmhurst Park District, Wheaton Park District, Villa Park, Glen Ellyn, Warrenville, Berkeley, Hillside, Lombard, Maywood, with support from the volunteer board of the Illinois Prairie Path (IPPc). Once the Illinois Prairie Path was developed, it became the hub for the regional development of greenways.