WEST PEORIA — Taking the first leaf-carpeted steps on the new park district trail to Rocky Glen requires a leap of faith.

There is a small parking lot off of Kickapoo Creek Road. There is a brown Peoria Park District sign enumerating the rules of the park. A nearby post reads "Rocky Glen" above an arrow pointing into what is about an 8-foot opening in a solid wall of vegetation.

This is the way to the famous Rocky Glen, a visitor might understandably ask.

It is the way to Rocky Glen, and beginning Saturday morning, it is open for all to travel.

The new park's grand opening celebration — decades in the making — was held Saturday morning, a commemoration of the completion of the hiking trail, trail signage and trailhead kiosk at Rocky Glen Park.

"As  we prepare to celebrate 125 years of service to Peoria next year, we are grateful and honored to be able to officially celebrate the opening of Rocky Glen to the community," said Emily Cahill, executive director of the Peoria Park District. "We couldn't have done it without the generous support of the Friends of Rocky Glen (non-profit organization), and we are forever grateful for their commitment to the community and this great park."

The park is a natural anomaly surrounded by the flat agricultural plains and former prairies of central Illinois. It features a single box canyon with 60 foot sandstone walls, two small waterfalls, a number of prairie meadows and hundreds of carvings, some dating back more than 130 years.

Before this year, visitors had to sneak onto private property to view the unique geological formations and the diverse flora of the 125-acre property. The city of Peoria bought a 70-acre parcel in 2011 for $200,000 and gifted it to the Park District.  It was developed for public use by the park district and Friends of Rocky Glen.

"It is not just talk any more," said Friends president David Pittman this week before he led a Bradley University lifelong learning group on  the first tour of the new trail. "Now we have a trail."

Friends of Rocky Glen volunteers and the park district have spent more than a year developing the trail to Rocky Glen. The trail itself is about a half-mile long and rises quickly through the brush at a steep incline of about 120 feet. There are five stops and signage stations along the way that provide information on Farms to Forest, patches of prairie, the area's history of coal mining, the actual bowl-shaped box canyon and an old coal mine. There are also three side trips of about a third of a mile in length. The round-trip box canyon trail is a little less than one mile.

There are benches along the way, switchbacks and wooden steps where the grade increases and breaths quicken and posts to point visitors in the right direction. The park will be open to the public 365 days a year, from sunrise to 11 p.m.

For Pittman, it is a long-held vision shared among a committed group of volunteers that has become a reality.

"It's the newest park, and it's the oldest park," Pittman said. "Our own smaller Starved Rock."

Said Cahill: "I hear many people share their travels to Starved Rock or other destinations to enjoy scenery just like this. I encourage everyone to stay local and experience Rocky Glen."

Scott Hilyard can be reached at 686-3244 or by email at shilyard@pjstar.com Follow @scotthilyard on Twitter.