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We look forward to a fully paved Lincoln Prairie Grass Trail in Coles County that will benefit both Charleston and Mattoon -- and local residents and visitors alike.

Both city councils have signed off on an application for grant funding to pave the gravel portion of the trail, which runs between the two cities. Now, the unpaved pathway can be a challenge for bicyclists in low areas where rain bogs down the rock surface.

The cities are submitting a joint application for federal funds administered by the Illinois Department of Transportation, as this newspaper has reported. As part of the grant, the trail would be extended west to downtown Mattoon and routes branch off from the trail to sites in both cities, including Sarah Bush Lincoln Health Center, located in-between Mattoon and Charleston.

It can provide a route from Eastern Illinois University in Charleston to the Amtrak station in downtown Mattoon, for example -- key destinations in the county.

The cities seek about $800,000 for trail paving and other work, with each town pitching in about $100,000 in matching funds.

The 20-year-old trail needs these improvements for bicyclists and pedestrians alike. The trail would become an asphalt surface instead of the current crushed limestone. The addition of parking, restrooms, drinking water and temperature-controlled rest areas are part of the deal.

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This trail is primarily a bicyclist's route, and the improvements will help promote this low-impact physical activity. The betterment of the trail will enhance the quality of life in this area and enhance safety for riders, walkers and runners.

Naysayers may grouse that with the horrible financial status of Illinois government, and ripple effects reaching all levels of government in the state, now is hardly the time to spend money on a non-necessity for the cities. Some may say that only a minority of people in the county benefit from such a project.

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We disagree with that kind of thinking. Adding and enhancing amenities such as this trail are things that benefit everyone in the community and, in fact, bring more visitors to our area. Cycling is a popular activity, and, as close as Mattoon and Charleston are to Amish country, it's likely that the word will spread as cycling routes improve, bringing more people to town for both shorter and longer riding throughout the area.

This improved trail will help them get to know this area and all that both Mattoon and Charleston have to offer, from Lincoln history to EIU, Civil War history, baseball tournaments and more.

We applaud Mattoon and Charleston leaders for pursuing this project and look forward to the day when more cyclists, walkers and runners are utilizing the Lincoln Prairie Grass Trail to its fullest potential.

-- JG-TC Editorial Board

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