Johnson-Sauk Trail State Park is an 853-acre (3.4km2) state park in the northwest corner of the Uplands region of northern Illinois, United States. The trail passes through portions of Peoria and Stark counties. It was designated a National Recreation Trail in 2003. In 1871, two railroads built lines on opposite sides of the Fox River; one followed what is now the Sauk Trail east from Pekin to Toulon, then turned north and passed through Leland Grove before crossing under the river again at Black Hawk. This railroad served as the pattern for the present day route of the trail. A competing railroad built by James “Cashup” Davis ran west from Appleton. To serve its southern terminus, this railroad crossed over the Peoria & Rock Island line near Pleasant Hill. In order to distinguish it from the earlier road, it was called the Sauk Railroad.
The park has since grown to 703 acres, including 255 acres of lakefront. There are 50 miles (80km) of footpaths and equestrian paths, 12 miles (19km) of mountain bike routes, 6 miles (9.7km) of horseback riding stables, 2 miles (3.2km) of hiking trails, and 5 miles (8.0km) of snowmobile trails. The park also features boating facilities, cabins, camping sites, miniature golf course, swimming beach, volleyball courts, horseshoe courts, pool hall, and gift shop. The park receives about 640,000 visitors annually. On Labor Day weekend, attendance exceeds 1 million annual visitors. About half of those attending stay overnight. The park averages about 200,000 overnight visitors each season. The main entrance fee is $6 per vehicle per day. Additional fees may apply for users of the Discovery Center, which is located within the park. There is no admission charge to enter the par
When the Peoria & Rock Island completed construction of a bridge across the river, the Sauk Railroad ceased operations. At first, trains would wait until late spring to cross the river, but soon began running full speed ahead. As more travelers took advantage of the new rail service, ridership increased. By 1920, so many people were taking the train that a second branch was added from Black Hawk to East St. Louis. Trains stopped running in 1923, but were replaced by bus service which continued until 1927 when another round of track improvements brought passenger rail service back into operation.
However, by this time, the Great Depression had hit hard and the railroad was bankrupt. Passenger service ended entirely in 1931. Most of the right-of-way was sold to a group of investors who formed the Maywood Railways Company. They rebuilt some sections of the line and operated freight service until 1941 when most of their holdings were acquired by Northern Illinois Gas Company. Northern Illinois Gas merged with Phillips 66 in 1985 to form Conoco Inc., and the company later became known as Cargill, Incorporated. 255 acres of land along the trail between Black Hawk and Toulon were purchased by the state of Illinois in 2000, making it the only state park in Illinois. Prior to becoming a park, the land had been used as a prison farm.
During World War II, prisoners worked the fields, tended livestock, picked cherries, made moonshine, and even constructed buildings on the site. After the war, the property was returned to farming use. But in 1967, severe hailstorms destroyed much of the crop, leaving pecan trees still standing. An orchardist saw potential in the blighted landscape and bought up the surrounding area, creating what he called the Golden Acres Project. He applied for a federal grant for conversion of the farmland into a national recreation area. Although his initial application was denied, he reapplied in 1969 and received funding for his project, which converted 385 acres of mostly pecan trees into a 400-site campground, picnic areas, roads, and trails. The park officially opened to the public in 1974.