ENGLEWOOD — As the nearly two-decade-long dream of bringing a nature trail to Englewood moves forward, neighbors in the community are steering the designing process.
While music from a community-selected playlist played and the smell of barbecue from Bill’s Grill wafted in the air, neighbors gathered Thursday evening at Hermitage Park to discuss the future of the Englewood Nature Trail.
The 1.75-mile park will run along a long-abandoned city-owned rail embankment behind 58th and 59th streets between Wallace and Hoyne avenues.
The trail will be an “agro-hood,” where neighbors in Englewood and West Englewood can connect and benefit from the land, leaders at Grow Greater Englewood, the organization spearheading the project, said.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced in April that $6 million in city funding and “pending” federal assistance would push the long-awaited nature trail forward.
In June, officials with the Chicago Department of Transportation announced the city applied for $35 million in grant funding through the United States Department of Transportation’s RAISE Grant to go towards constructing the trail.
The boost of federal dollars could see the nature trail complete by the end of 2027, officials said.
Gensler, an architecture firm, will tackle urban design and project management for the trail. Planning Resources Inc. and Botanical City will lead the landscape architecture.
As neighbors gathered with representatives from the design team to share their visions for the trail, they replayed memories of Englewood’s past and what they would like to see going forward.
Neighbors were asked to choose access points and plant flags on a 3D print of the trail that showed the businesses and types of agriculture they wanted to see.
Gloria Williams, an Englewood resident for more than 50 years, remembered playing basketball and softball tournaments against nearby streets, she said.
Englewood once thrived, but years of disinvestment snatched away the peace and love in the community, she said.
She wants murals and photos dedicated to Englewood’s history along the trail so neighbors in and out of the community can see what once was a bustling Black hub, she said.
She supports adding the nature trail to the community, she said. But the best way to move forward is to get all neighbors involved so that everyone is satisfied with the results, she said.
To make sure that happens, she plans to go door to door to let her neighbors know what’s happening in their neighborhood.
“I’m happy something positive is coming here,” Williams said. “Everyone might not be for it because it’s a change and an adjustment, but it’s important to have people come out and be involved.”
Desiree Robinson, an Englewood resident for 40 years, is the nature’s trail first block steward. Block stewards connect residents and collect feedback from neighbors near the trail.
She said she wants the trail to be a place where kids can feel safe walking, biking, or playing with their families.
Most importantly, she wants the trail to welcome more investments in the area, so neighbors no longer feel like they have to leave to the suburbs for the life they want, she said.
“This trail will give people something to look forward to,” she said.
The next meeting for the nature trail will be at 6 pm Aug. 4. Neighbors will discuss community wealth and building strategies.
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