DIXON, Ill. -- A motorcade wended through the prairies and Illinois River valley paths once walked by a young Ronald Reagan, marking the inaugural trip on a freshly marked trail tracing the footsteps of the former president.
Friday's daylong journey on the new Ronald Reagan Trail began in Dixon, his boyhood home, and ended in Eureka, where Reagan attended college. Along the way, participants took in the sights of the 40th president's formative years.
"It connects together the institutions that played a major role in the development of his character," Dixon Mayor Jim Burke told about 200 people who gathered at the city's Wings of Peace and Freedom Park, about 100 miles west of Chicago.
Reagan's daughter, Maureen, 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 any time 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 sample packages of Jelly Belly jellybeans -- one of the former president's favorite snacks.
On the Net:
Reagan site: http://www.ronaldreagan.com/
Dixon site: http://www.dixonil.com/
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