WEST ENGLEWOOD — Plans to transform a 1.75-mile abandoned railroad line into a prime destination for Englewood neighbors are moving forward with a construction date slated for spring 2026.
Englewood residents gathered Tuesday at Evening Star MB Church, 2050 W. 59th St., to discuss the next phase of the Englewood Nature Trail, a multi-use elevated path that will run behind 58th and 59th streets between Wallace and Hoyne avenues.
Dreams to develop the nature trail were ignited more than a decade ago by neighbors and leaders at the local community organization Grow Greater Englewood.
The city obtained the abandoned railroad line in 2014 from Norfolk Southern Railway, a company that in recent years has gained attention for its role in tearing down homes in Englewood to expand its intermodal yard and the freight train derailment in Ohio that sent toxic fumes in the air.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced last year the nature trail would finally move forward thanks to $6 million in city funding and “pending” federal assistance.
In August, the Mayor’s Office announced city officials and community organizers received $20 million in federal funding to design and construct the nature trail.
On Tuesday, neighbors learned the city received another $407,000 in funding from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources’ Open Space Lands Acquisition and Development Grant.
With about $26.4 million in federal, state and city funding, the Chicago Department of Transportation will begin its first phase in creating the trail — an engineering and environmental study, said project Director Lubka Benak.
Environmental studies must first be approved by the National Environmental Policy Act before federal funding can be used for construction, Benak said. Preliminary conceptual designs created with input from the community must also be approved by the Federal Highway Authority and Illinois Department of Transportation.
The Englewood Nature Trail is a “large investment requiring several funding sources for it to happen,” Benak said.
The total cost to construct the 12-foot-wide multi-use trail is about $72 million, Benak said. The city is “actively searching and filling in applications as much as we can” to gather the estimated total, Benak said.
Construction is “anticipated to start spring of 2026,” Benak said. To use the RAISE grant, the city must begin work on the trail by September 2026, Benak said.
But if the city doesn’t obtain $72 million by the September 2026 deadline, “we will use the money that we do have to at least construct part of the trail, or maybe phase it out,” Benak said.
“Hopefully, by the next time we meet, we’ll have more great news,” Benak said. “Given that the project is federally funded, we do not foresee any issues with the project moving forward in the next several years, so we’re in a really good position to make this happen.”
Englewood neighbors have been at the forefront of the planning and design process for the nature trail. Anton Seals, lead steward at Grow Greater Englewood, has helped spearhead the work.
As the trail begins to form, the goal is to make neighbors feel at home in their community, not displaced from it, Seals said in April.
To guarantee all neighbors’ voices are heard throughout planning and designing, Englewood block stewards will connect and collect feedback from residents near the trail.
Neighbors will also create a community public benefits framework to guarantee equitable development. The plan will call for good infrastructure, a green neighborhood plan, public safety and the anti-displacement of long-term residents.
The next meeting for the nature trail will be in the summer, Grow Greater Englewood representatives said.
Neighbors are encouraged to send their input on the trail to firstname.lastname@example.org by April 11.
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