At one time, the rumble
of freight cars reverberated through the narrow tunnel. Wooden trestles,
with their system of slanted supports and horizontal cross pieces, spanned
numerous bluffs and creeks. Passengers in Pullman cars clocked the miles
with these and other landmarks as they traveled one of southern Illinois'
most scenic routes.
Today, the railroad
is gone. The route, known as Tunnel Hill State Trail, remains.
Hill State Trail stretches for 45 miles from Harrisburg to Karnak. The trail continues
on a trails spur for 2.5 miles from Karnak to Cache River State Natural
Area - Henry Barkhausen Wetlands Center on the old Chicago and Eastern
Illinois railroad bed.
The 9.3-mile section
between Tunnel Hill and Vienna crosses trails already known to outdoor
recreationists: the River-to-River Trails, which extends from the Mississippi
to the Ohio River; the unmarked American Discovery Trails, which in southern
Illinois follows back roads and some of the River-to-River Trail; the
U.S. 76 Bicycle Route, a part of the TransAmerica Bike Route; and the
Trail of Tears, the primary route the Cherokee Indian tribe took in the
winter of 1838-39 during their forced move from the Great Smokies to Oklahoma.
The nation's history
and economy are entwined with 19th century railroad construction since
the federal government made land available to the states for developing
a cross-country railway system. Among the developers in Illinois was a
hapless Civil War general, Ambrose Burnside, perhaps best remembered for
his style of facial hair, for which his compatriots transposed the syllables
of his last name to create the term "sideburns." In 1872, Burnside
and others began the Vincennes and Cairo Railroad, named for its terminuses
at Vincennes, Ind., and Cairo, Ill. In addition to passengers, the railroad
transported coal, salt, wood products and orchard-grown peaches and apples.
The railroad changed
hands through the years. Other operators and owners included the Wabash,
St. Louis, Pacific; New York Central; Penn Central; Conrail; and , during
its most productive years, the Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago, St. Louis
line, also known as the CCC & St. Louis or Big Four. The last owners
were the Southern Line and, following a merger, Norfolk Southern Railroad.
In 1991, Norfolk Southern
gave the State of Illinois the railroad right-of-way between Harrisburg
and Karnak, where is had abandoned operations. The Department of Natural
Resources has worked to develop the railroad ballast as a trail for hikers,
joggers and cyclists, surfacing the trail with crushed limestone and gravel,
installing privy toilets and providing drinking water. The first segments
of Tunnel Hill State Trail opened in 1998. The trail was completed in
the fall of 2001.
The trail at Harrisburg
begins in flat farm country. At New Castle, the old railroad bed enters
the Shawnee National Forest purchase area, remaining there for roughly
half of the trail's length. By New Brunside, it's among bluffs, and south
of Vienna it passes through a lush wetland. At Karnak, it emerges from
the Cache River State Natural Area's ancient cypress-tupelo swamp.
As one landform melds
into another, the countryside offers ever-changing vistas. Woodland wildflowers
dot the forest floor each spring, while prairie flowers and grasses lend
their beauty to the summer landscape. Contrasting with the profuse greenery
of summer, the lack of foliage on the oak, hickory, tulip poplar, cottonwood
and sweet gum trees brings the river valleys and rocky bluffs into sharp
focus from late fall to early spring.
Wildlife abounds in
this section of the state, and Tunnel Hill State Trail offers habitat
to a variety of animals. Bluebirds and other songbirds flit through the
trees, while killdeer, dove, quail and wild turkey also are present in
the area. Squirrels often are seen scampering among the tree tops, and
white-tailed deer are frequently observed. Less noticed, but having a
presence, are red foxes, eastern cottontail rabbits, raccoons and opossums.
If the 45-mile length
of Tunnel Hill State Trail could be seen in cross-section, it would taper
to its lowest points at either end, with Harrisburg at 370 feet and Karnak
at 340 feet above sea level. The highest point is midway at Tunnel Hill,
which has an elevation of 680 feet. By mountain standards, it's just a
molehill, but it was high enough that railroad builders decided rather
than going over it, they'd tunnel through it, giving the landmark its
name. Their decision resulted in a comfortable 2 percent grade the length
of the trail.
For more than 50 years
after the railroad was built, the tunnel was longer than 800 feet, but
when a portion of the tunnel collapsed in 1929, the landmark was shortened
by 300 feet. Now 543-feet long, it is the only tunnel on the trail. The
tunnel is located 1/4 mile south of Tunnel Hill on the trail toward Vienna.
The 23 picturesque
trestles along the completed sections of Tunnel Hill State Trail feature
decking and side rails, which entice trail users to stop. The trestles
range in length from 34 to 450 feet. The longest in Breeden Trestle, which
is also the highest at 90 feet. It is located 2 1/2 miles south of Tunnel
The trail corridor,
which varies from 40 to 200 feet in width, connects numerous communities:
Karnak in Pulaski County; Belknap, Vienna, Tunnel Hill and New Burnside
in Johnson County; Stonefort in Williamson and Saline counties; and Carrier
Mills and Harrisburg in Saline County. Each has parking areas from which
hikers, runners and cyclists can access the trail.
The parking lot with
amenities at Harrisburg is city-owned and maintained. Located in Walnut
Street and U.S. Route 45, it is at the northern end of a 2.5 mile-long,
city-owned trail. The Harrisburg trail skirts the city's east side parallel
to Route 45 and runs to the city's southeast limits, where it connects
to Tunnel Hill State Trail at the intersection of Feazel Street.
In addition to the
large communities, there also are hamlets along the trail, including Bloomfield,
Sanburn and Ledford. In addition, there are a handful of locations that
could be described as ghost towns - Forman, Bender, Rago, Parker City
and New Castle. All serve as landmarks to trail users. Interpretive signs
along the length of the trail point out old coal mines and a sandstone
Tunnel Hill State
Trail is a day-use trail, offering drinking water, privy toilets and parking
at the access areas. Motorized vehicles, horses and hunting are not allowed
on the trail.
Although an experienced
cyclist should be able to travel the complete trail in about a day, hikers
are advised that the trail does not have camping facilities. Several campgrounds,
however, are located nearby. Shawnee National Forest has three campgrounds
within 10 miles of the trail: Lake of Eqypt, north of the community of
Tunnel Hill; and Teal Pond and Bell Smith Springs, both southeast of New
Burnside. A fourth, Lake Glendale , is about 15 miles east of Vienna.
Also located in the same vicinity as Lake Glendale is Dixon Springs State
Park. Two other state park campgrounds are about 10 miles from the trail:
Ferne Clyffe, west of the community of Tunnel Hill; and Saline County
Conservation Area, southeast of Harrisburg.
The site office for
Tunnel Hill State Trail is located on State Highway 146 on the east side
of Vienna. For more information about the trail, contact the site superintendent
at Tunnel Hill State Trail, P.O. Box 671, Vienna, IL 62995, or phone (618)
- Shawnee National Forest - (Scenic Attractions) – 1-800-MY-WOODS
- Gambit Golf Club - 1550 State Rt. 146 E, Vienna, IL 62995, (618) 658-6022
- Hilltop Campground, (I-57, exit 40), (618) 995-2189
- Paul Powell Home (museum) (open Fri. & Sat. 1:00pm – 4:00pm) - Rt. 146 and Vine, Vienna, IL 62995
- Chamber of Commerce -Vienna City Park, Vienna, IL 62995, (618) 658-2063
- Shawnee Winery - 200 Commercial St, Vienna, IL 62995, (618) 658-8400
- Cache River Winery - 315 Forman Ln, Belknap, IL 62908, (618) 658-2274
- Shawnee Hills Wine Trail - (618) 967-4006, e-mail: http://shawneewinetrail.com
- While groups of 25 or
more are welcome and encouraged to use the park's facilities, they are required
to register in advance with the site office to avoid crowding or scheduling
- At least one responsible
adult must accompany each group of 15 minors.
- Pets must be kept on
leashes at all times.
- Actions by nature can
result in closed roads and other facilities. Please call ahead to the park
office before you make your trip.
- We hope you enjoy your
stay. Remember, take only memories, leave only footprints.
- For more information
on tourism in Illinois, call the Illinois Department of Commerce and Community
Affairs' Bureau of Tourism at 1-800-2Connect.
- Telecommunication Device
for Deaf and Hearing Impaired Natural Resources Information (217) 782-9175
for TDD only Relay Number 800-526-0844.