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Found at the market: new outdoor opportunities in Champaign County

Writing the “Found at the Market” column over this past summer has allowed me to meet many passionate and talented individuals in Champaign-Urbana, eager to share their interests with market-goers of all walks of life. Whether you’re looking to buy local handmade goods, get involved in environment-friendly organizations, or learn about the medieval times, the ever evolving Urbana Market truly has something for everyone. This week, I had the pleasure of chatting with the Champaign County Forest Preserve, a group that is working very hard to make a long-lasting impact the community we know and love. Their latest exciting projects? Preparing for the Kickapoo Rail Trail grand opening and certifying Middle Fork as an official Dark Sky to reduce light pollution.

The Champaign County Forest Preserve is making exciting moves to offer new outdoor adventure opportunities while protecting the environment around the area. Our first item of discussion was the much anticipated opening of the Kickapoo Rail Trail. On August 25th, all are welcome to the grand opening of the first completed portion of the trail, the 6.7 mile stretch from Urbana to St. Joseph. The event will have booths, drinks, and a ribbon-cutting. Future extension plans are already underway to continue the trail all the way to Kickapoo, but they are hopeful that this first portion will put the many St. Joseph businesses at the forefront for Champaign- Urbana bikers, walkers, and runners.

Local nature-lovers will be delighted to learn that a Dark Sky Program is currently underway for the Middle Fork campground and forest area. The International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) is working to preserve the night sky for future generations by limiting light pollution with eco-friendly outdoor lighting and educating policymakers and the public. The Dark Sky Program was started in 2015 when the Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC) partnered with the Staerkel Plantarium and the Champaign Urbana Astronomical Society to work towards certifying the Middle Fork River Forest Preserve. Local Champaign County Forest Preserve representative Marianne learned more about the organization while vacationing with her family in Utah, where a large program already exists. She learned that in order for an area to become a certified dark sky, lights must be carefully measured so as to fulfill the specific requirement set forth by IDA. Doing so can drastically improve stargazing, human health, economic resources, and wildlife that depend on the daily light and dark cycle. The project for Middle Fork is in collaboration with the CU Astronomical Society and has no set finish date. However, funds are allocated and leaps forward have been achieved, such as light-controlled enclosed fixtures in the restrooms and campground areas.

The Kickapoo Rail Trail and the Dark Sky Program at Middle Fork, together with the other environmental educational opportunities provided by the Champaign County Forest Preserve are quickly making the area a popular destination for environmentalists. Stop by their booth at the market the next time you’re shopping local to learn more and to get involved.

Photos from Facebook.

*Article edited to correct the origins of the local Dark Sky program. 

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