JOLIET TOWNSHIP – Leon Bilbrew calls the corner of Brandon and Patterson roads in Joliet Township his home — just as he has the last several decades.
To the south of Bilbrew's home lies Boyd's Quarry — and to the north lies the U.S. Army Corps-managed Brandon Dam and Locks, an area listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2004. Nearby, there's the historic Zarley Cemetery, one of the county's oldest cemeteries.
But the average out-of-towner wouldn't know it, he said.
“It's just an area that's lost in the shuffle,” Bilbrew said.
The historic nature and recreational opportunities in the township community located in the cross sections of Brandon and Patterson roads are among the reasons Bilbrew and Patty Nugent are hopeful about county plans to redevelop the Route 66 corridor.
Earlier this year, the county board approved the Route 53 Corridor plan, which aims to amp up the area's attractions as designated tourists stops just off historic Route 66, as well as create new ones.
Nugent and Bilbrew are with the Will County Environmental Network, which will hold an event Saturday at Mt. Zion Church in Joliet Township to give community leaders a close-up look at some the corridor's hidden gems, Nugent said.
“Everyone who takes Brandon probably sees the quarry and the industry here, but there's hidden gems all around,” Nugent said. “If you go onto Google Earth and put in the '1400 block of Brandon Road,' you'll see this body of water has such an azure blue, such a difference in color between even other quarries in the area. That's Boyd's Quarry. As you drive by, you would never know that.”
The county's Route 53 Corridor plan calls for the development of a recreational riverfront park and preservation area on a heavily wooded parcel of land just to the southeast of the Brandon Locks and Dam, she said.
Trails could lead to the water's edge, whereas today, the area lacks a safe vantage point for visitors to view the dam or fish, and there are no signs letting visitors know about the area's history.
Saturday's event starts at 10:30 a.m. at Mt. Zion Church. Following a presentation about the Route 53 Corridor Plan from the county's land use project planner, Steve Lazzara, the group will march from the church to the historic Zarley Cemetery, view the recreational possibilities at Boyd's Quarry and then reconvene to further discuss ideas.
The event's keynote speaker will be State Sen. Pat McGuire, D-Joliet.