Reagan Trail Dedicated in Illinois

Friday, August 25th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

DIXON, Ill. (AP) — A trail that follows President Reagan's early life was dedicated Friday as residents recognized sites that played an important role in their native son's formative years.

Marked with signs bearing Reagan's profile, the trail runs through the town where he was born and the one where he attended college.

Ceremonies to mark the opening of the trail began with about 200 people gathering in downtown Dixon, where the trail starts, for the first event of a daylong tour.

Mayor Jim Burke said the trail follows the roads Reagan drove and hitchhiked while growing up in Illinois. He was born in Tampico and went on to Eureka College before leaving the state to become a broadcaster and later an actor.

``It connects together the institutions that played a major role in the development of his character,'' Burke said.

Reagan's daughter, Maureen, represented the family. She said the trail represents the beginning of her father's accomplishments, including his contribution to ending the Cold War. Reagan, 89, suffers from Alzheimer's disease and no longer makes public appearances.

``The trail that starts in Dixon is a very long trail,'' she said.

The trail is an effort to bolster tourism in Illinois, also the former home of President Lincoln. Nicky Stratton, executive director of the Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau, said historic sites linked to Lincoln draw about 500,000 visitors each year.

``I think anytime you can theme an area for visitors, it creates the feeling of a cohesive experience,'' she said. ``When you create a heritage district of some kind, it makes it easier for the traveler, because it gives them a package.''

On Saturday, Dixon officials planned to host the first Ronald Reagan Film Festival, which they hope to turn into an annual event. The former actor's films will be shown, with free tours of several buildings, including Reagan's childhood home.

They also planned to give away more than 5,000 sample packages of Jelly Belly jellybeans — one of the former president's favorite snacks.