ENGLEWOOD — A community organization leading the charge to transform an abandoned railway line and nearby vacant land into a vibrant agro-eco district received another boost in funding Monday, pushing the nearly two-decade-long dream forward.
Grow Greater Englewood received a $3.8 million grant from the Bezos Earth Fund to continue work on the Englewood Nature Trail, a 12-foot-wide, ADA-accessible, multi-use trail. The elevated path will run behind 58th and 59th streets between Wallace and Hoyne Avenues.
Chicago-based nonprofit Blacks In Green also received $1.5 million in funding to scale its Sustainable Square Mile pilot in Woodlawn. The Black Oaks Center for Sustainable Renewable Living received $1.75 million to support local farms and farmers. A complete list of Bezos Earth Fund awardees is available here.
The funding was awarded as part of the Greening America’s Cities initiative, a $400 million project launched by the fund to improve green spaces in underserved urban communities nationwide. Jeff Bezos, the Amazon billionaire, founded the $10 billion Bezos Earth Fund in 2020 to combat the global climate crisis by 2030.
“Green spaces are critical for people and the planet. The Bezos Earth Fund is proud to partner with local communities and government to expand urban green spaces,” Andrew Steer, president and CEO of the Bezos Earth Fund, said in a press release. “In partnership, this new initiative will support historically underserved communities, supporting their health and well-being.”
The Englewood Nature Trail is central to the organization’s overall mission to build a bustling agro-eco district in Englewood, said Anton Seals, lead steward at Grow Greater Englewood.
In addition to the 1.75-mile trail, the organization is partnering with the city and local leaders to use nearby vacant land to build farms, food production buildings, farming entrepreneurship centers and more to help neighbors attain wealth and local ownership, Seals said.
Neighbors will also create a Community Public Benefits Compact to guarantee equitable development, Seals said. The compact will call for good infrastructure, a green neighborhood plan, public safety and the lanti-displacement of long-term residents.
“In our communities, we see what is growing in terms of the economic structures in our city,” Seals said. “We know food, energy, health and health tech are big capital drivers in Chicago. All this stuff is interconnected, but none of those companies or growth strategies are in communities like Englewood that need the most jobs and wealth creation through work and ownership.
“This funding helps us coordinate and convene all of the different stakeholders. It also helps us all learn as a community and learn what it means for the Black community to claim a space unapologetically and make it our home for our children.”
The $3.8 million in grant funding brings Grow Greater Englewood and city partners one step closer to meeting the estimated $72 million financial goal to build the nature trail.
Former 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.
At a March community meeting, Englewood residents learned the city received another $407,000 in funding from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources’ Open Space Lands Acquisition and Development Grant.
And in April, Gov. JB Pritzker announced the Chicago Department of Transportation would receive $3 million under the Illinois Transportation Enhancement Program to build the trail.
Construction on the trail is “anticipated to start spring of 2026,” CDOT Director Lubka Benak said in March. To use the federal grant, the city must begin work on the trail by September 2026, Benak said.
If the city doesn’t reach its $72 million funding goal by September 2026, “we will use the money that we do have to at least construct part of the trail, or maybe phase it out,” Benak said.
“It’s exciting to see this coming together through this modality around healing and food,” Seals said. “An agro-eco district is a place where you want to live, where you want your kids to live. We deserve beautiful spaces.”
Listen to the Block Club Chicago podcast: