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Passionate group gathers support to turn old train embankment into Bronzeville Trail

Backers gather support to turn old train embankment into Bronzeville Trail
Backers gather support to turn old train embankment into Bronzeville Trail 02:19

CHICAGO (CBS) -- A goal of creating a nature trail along a historic site is growing toward reality in Chicago's Bronzeville neighborhood.

As CBS 2's Steven Graves reported Friday, the diehard group behind the Bronzeville Trail is seeing plenty of success in garnering support.

Walter Freeman has his day job, and then focuses on the trail as his passion project.

"It felt like it was a calling; that I needed to get involved," he said.

It takes a lot of his time.

"And it's hard work. It is," Freeman said.

But what looks like hopeless, abandoned train tracks in his Bronzeville neighborhood looks hopeful to Freeman for major development.

"I think that people are excited about change," he said.


The Bronzeville Trail would be built on the right-of-way for the old Kenwood Branch Chicago Transit Authority 'L' line. The concrete railroad embankment runs east-west along 40th and 41st streets in Bronzeville.

The Kenwood 'L' line once ran from the Indiana Avenue stop on what is now the Green Line to 42nd Place and Oakenwald Avenue – sharing tracks with the Chicago Junction Railway.

But 'L' trains have not run on the line since 1957, and Chicago Junction Railway freight trains have not run on the tracks in decades either. The overhead street crossings are long gone, but much of the concrete embankment remains.

The Bronzeville Trail would be similar in concept to the Bloomingdale Trail at The 606 in Bucktown and Logan Square, The High Line on the West Side of Manhattan in New York City. The trail would be a potential place for walking, biking, and connecting to the lakefront.

The Bronzeville Trail stretches along the embankment about two miles from 40th and Dearborn streets to 41st Street and Lake Park Avenue.

Bronzeville Trail Task Force

Decades ago, the trains that ran on the line played a huge part in the Union Stockyards development and Black migration from the South.

"They got on that train and found employment right in the Chicago Union Stockyards," said John Adams, founder of the Bronzeville Trail Task Force.

Right now, the rust and blight of the railroad embankment make it hard to spot - unless you see the bright murals in some spots.


"People in the community have no idea of its potential," Adams said.

That thought made him and a group of professionals from different backgrounds - including Freeman - hold events to grow support. CBS 2 was there Friday as they held a meeting with ministers, where they heard from architects who are

already on board.

"Having worked on other trails, this is quite amazing how far we've come already," said Hannah Higgins, an architect with the Smith Group.

September marks two years since the Bronzeville Trail Task Force got going.

They hope grants and donations help them meet the $100 million price tag.

The group says it has already cleared a really big step in securing $250,000 from the city. That would go toward a study to see how the trail would really look and work.

Another encouraging sight was seeing Englewood get $20 million in federal funds for its similar abandoned railway nature trail.

The Bronzeville Trail planners also got input from those who helped plan the 606 Trail.

Now, they hoping others get on their train in redeveloping the place they call home.

The group is planning a series of public events this month to raise awareness. The first this month was a ministers' breakfast that was held Friday at Truth Italian Restaurant in Bronzeville.

Also planned for this month:

  • Friday, Sept. 15, 6:30 p.m. – 10:30 p.m.: "Bronzeville Trail Night LIVE" - a "Friend"raiser event. National Association of Letter Carriers Union Hall, 3850 S. Wabash Ave.
  • Sunday, Sept. 17, 11 a.m. – 2 p.m.: "Bronzeville Trail Day on the Bloomingdale (606) Trail," 1805 N. Ridgeway Ave.
  • Friday, Sept. 29, 11 a.m. – 2 p.m., "Women Leaders for the Bronzeville Trail" Community Luncheon, National Association of Letter Carriers Union Hall, 3850 S. Wabash Ave. Mayor Lori Lightfoot, U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Illinois), Illinois Lt. Gov. Julianna Stratton, and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle have been invited to speak.
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