CARRIER MILLS - A new project will make southern Illinois a destination for off-road riders, Gov. Rauner said while announcing development of a 26-mile off-highway vehicle trail system at Sahara Woods State Fish and Wildlife Area.

“Demand is growing for off-highway vehicle recreation, and this state-of-the-art facility will give riders from across the Midwest a place to enjoy the outdoors,” Rauner said. “Not only will this trail bring additional resources to southern Illinois, it’ll also put Illinois on the map when it comes to offering diverse outdoor experience for riders of all ages.”

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The Illinois Department of Natural Resources received a $1.2 million grant from the federal Recreational Trails Program (RTP), which allows the state agency to move forward with the project. IDNR will pitch in an additional $303,000 from its state parks fund to complete the trail.

This will be the first state-owned off-highway vehicle trail facility.

IDNR will oversee design and development of the project. The setting is ideal, agency Director Wayne Rosenthal said.

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“There used to be a coal mine at Sahara Woods,” Rosenthal said of the location, which is just west of Harrisburg. “The topography of the reclaimed, strip-mined land will allow us to develop some challenging trails that should attract a lot of interest from OHV enthusiasts.”

Some mine reclamation projects already are ongoing at the site, including interior roadway and boat-access development, as well as openings for limited fishing and hunting programs. State Sen. Dale Fowler, R-Harrisburg, said the wildlife area already is a southern Illinois gem, one the new trail system will aid in promoting.

“Expanding on the treasures that Sahara Woods already offers could translate into increased job opportunities and a much-needed economic boost for the region,” Fowler said. “It will go a long way in boosting tourism in Saline County, giving us a platform to continue promoting southern Illinois in the future.”

Federal RTP grants are funded through a portion of motor fuel excise taxes collected from non-highway recreational use, including all-terrain vehicles, off-highway motorcycles, and snowmobiles. Federal law requires that a portion of each state’s RTP funding must be earmarked for motorized trail projects, including trail construction, support facilities, and restoration of areas adjacent to trails.

The recreational area is expected to be ready for riders in spring 2019.

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