With 487 words, Naperville’s May Theilgaard Watts changed history. Her letter to the editor of the Chicago Tribune, published on Sept. 30, 1963 proposed a public footpath. She has been recognized as the founder of the rails-to-trails movement in the United States and throughout the world.
Today, 50 years later, a series of recently-built trails now link her hometown with her Illinois Prairie Path. Residents are invited to take a journey with Mrs. Watts and the other founders, and legacy volunteers, on Sat., May 18 from 11AM to noon in the Madden Theater at North Central College. This event is free and open to the public.
Attendees will meet the founders who worked with Mrs. Watts to establish the footpath and hear Mrs. Watts being interviewed by Studs Terkel. Photographs will help re-imagine being on the path in all seasons, moving through forests, over bridges, and along rivers. Music, stories and poems will weave generations of memories together.
From a distance of 50 years, it’s possible to stand side by side with the founders and the legacy volunteers and experience their idealism, passion, and courage in the face of powerful opposition and repeated vandalism. They were pioneers. With minimal resources they ventured into a tangled path and had to forge their way through time and history. Spend an hour traveling the inner paths of remarkable people, and carry their wisdom with you, as you explore the Illinois Prairie Path.