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Southern Illinois 100

Watch now: Cyclists of all sorts wheel through Southern Illinois

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SIU Touch of Nature Mountain Bicycling

A mountain bike rider negotiates one of the trails at Southern Illinois University Carbondale's Touch of Nature Environmental Center

Southern Illinois is ripe with opportunities for bicyclists regardless of which form of two-wheel transportation they may choose. From mountain bike riders on trails specifically designed for their off-road sport to touring cyclists traversing the region as part of a cross-country tour, the diversity of cycling options in the region is staggering.

“There’s something for everyone on two wheels,” explained Carol Hoffman, executive director of Southernmost Illinois Tourism. “And we’re moving to having even more offerings across the whole area.”

Hoffman pointed to the growing number of facilities open to mountain bikes in the region as one example. She said the U.S. Forest Service recently opened nearly 20 miles of trails between the Glendale Recreation Area and Dixon Springs State Park for dual use by hikers and mountain bikers.

At Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s Touch of Nature Environmental Center, more than ten miles of trails dedicated for mountain bikes are open – and there are plans to triple the trails. The center has begun holding races as well as events for families.

Touch of Nature director J.D. Tanner told The Southern earlier this year he hopes the trails make the region a sort of mecca for mountain bike enthusiasts.

“We wanted it to be a new quality of life enhancement for our locals,” Tanner said. “The other big part of this is the economic impact we have on the community with big festivals and events. We’re going to discuss putting together a series of racing events over the year.

“We’re shooting for 8-9 bigger events every year on the system. What we really hope to see is to start some middle school and high school racing leagues. That would bring in teams from surrounding states to race on our trails. Mountain biking is a collegiate sport as well. If the interest is there from the university we might develop our own racing club, if not racing team. There is a lot of potential in the mountain biking world.”

For recreational cyclists, opportunities are growing as well. Some of a planned bicycle path stretching from Murphysboro to Marion along the Route 13 corridor is complete, with more coming. Additionally, cities are adding bicycle lanes to roadways to encourage cycling. The League of American Bicyclists has named Carbondale a “Bicycle-Friendly” community every year since 2016.

The community is a frequent stop for cyclists making the 4,228 mile coast-to-coast journey on the TransAmerica Bicycle Trail, a national cycling route that crosses the region from Chester to Cave-in-Rock.

Other places cater to cyclists of all skill levels, including the Tunnel Hill State Trail, a 45-mile trek over the former bed of the Cairo and Vincennes Railroad.

“Of course, the Tunnel Hill State trail, which was the Rails to Trails project, is very popular and a scenic route for hiking and biking,” Hoffman explained.

She said all of the forms of cycling not only are popular with Southern Illinoisans, but also with tourists.

“The trails, the mountain biking and all of the other bicycle attractions give us other avenues to promote the area and welcome visitors and vacationers who like to bicycle,” she said.

The Southern's third segment of "The Southern Illinois 100," items that are synonymous with Southern Illinois.


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