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A new 3.7 million-square-foot all-natural health club started construction recently and promises free access to the 1.5 million people who live within 15 minutes of it.

Offering 26 miles of exercise space through 14 communities, this health club, known as the Cal-Sag Trail, turns a disused and ignored riverfront into a natural recreational resource and is sure to attract the attention of residents and out-of-state visitors.

The Friends of Cal-Sag Trail, Cal-Sag Trail Coalition, state and local officials and others broke ground recently on the western portion of the trail.

This major step forward is 10 years in the making. The ideas that were seeded back in 2004 at a small gathering at Lake Katherine Nature Center and Botanic Gardens in Palos Heights have now blossomed into the longest paved trail in the Chicago Southland and the backbone of the future 100-mile Southland Century loop.

The Cal-Sag Trail connects six nature and forest preserves, five regional multi-use trails, four marinas, three golf courses and two counties, all for the cost of one expressway interchange. The trail will turn a working waterway into a waterway that works for everyone.

In the big picture, the trail answers to a triple bottom line. It improves people’s lives by expanding opportunities for recreation and healthy lifestyles. It strengthens local economies through new local businesses opportunities to serve trail users, and it attracts more potential customers who are coming into the community.

Finally, it reinforces and protects the corridor’s natural and historical legacies by underscoring the suburban inner-ring heritage as a manufacturing and transportation hub, linking existing industry and infrastructure to the storied remnants of the Big Steel era. It is also the most dramatic statement of the Calumet region’s new direction of environmental stewardship, the Millennium Reserve.

Illinois Department of Natural Resources Director Marc Miller said it best when he discussed how strategic trail connections are a top priority for Millennium Reserve partners, and how the Cal-Sag Trail exemplifies the collaborative spirit and goals of economy, ecology and community that are at the heart of Gov. Pat Quinn's vision for the Millennium Reserve.

Congratulations to the 14 communities collaborating to bring the trail together with the Cal-Sag Trail Coalition, regional partners like the Forest Preserve District of Cook County, Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago and the Friends of the Cal-Sag Trail, who have raised more than $90,000 to match over $450,000 in trail building funds that helped keep the trail on track.

They are not done yet; there is still fundraising to finish the eastern half of the trail, which runs from Cicero Avenue in Alsip to the Burnham Greenway near the Indiana border. I encourage you to visit to learn more about the Cal-Sag Trail.

Jim Garrett is president and CEO of the Chicago Southland Convention & Visitors Bureau. The opinions are the writer's.


Porter County Government Reporter

Senior reporter Doug Ross, an award-winning writer, has been covering Northwest Indiana for more than 35 years, including more than a quarter of a century at The Times.