Thursday, August 9, 2018

Biking the Ft. Hill and Millennium Trails in Lake County, Illinois' forest preserves



Chicago is surrounded by six counties, and over the last 100 years, these counties have each created forest preserve districts. I have a brief history of this process here.


I live in Lake County and my subdivision abuts the Millennium Trail which connects to the Ft. Hill Trail. Lake County Forest preserve District protects nearly 31,000 acres and is the second largest Forest Preserve District in Illinois. Below is a pond alongside the Millennium Trail and this year the resident swan family has four kids seen here. I see them most every time I bike past here.





The trail traverses the back section of the former Wauconda Orchard. Most of its fruit trees had been sold off, but some remain and each spring the trail is ablaze with blossoms...



The Millennium Trail takes me four miles to Lakewood Forest Preserve where I can turn onto the Fort Hill Trail which is now ablaze with colorful wildflowers seen below in Ray Lake Preserve. On today's ride, an otter scampered across the trail in front of me. Cute sight!




There is a "rest stop" at the large pond where you can often observe water fowl...



The Ft. Hill Trail passes through the former Four Winds Golf Course, and a short detour onto the Loop Trail (the old paved golf cart path) rewards you with



A water hazard from the old golf course provides more scenic views as seen in the next few photos...


I was frightened by a huge adult great blue heron as I crossed this bridge a few years ago. It had been sleeping in the tall reeds and my passage frightened him and he took off nearly hitting me with his enormous (and powerful) wingspan...


Here's the view looking the other way from the bridge (you can barely make out the bridge at the far end of the water hazard)...



When they opened this area up to hikers/bikers, they improved the bridge deck and added the railings. Previously, there was just a 4x4 on each side to keep golf carts out of the water.



Here's one of my favorite shots at the old golf course. It must have had lovely landscaping back then, and over the years, the flower beds have reverted back to Mother Nature's wishes. It's very interesting to watch every year as forests of saplings take over the old fairways and greens.



I often see wildlife on my rides, and this sandhill crane family is around every year...



Deer are also a regular sighting along the trail...








Last October I noticed that beavers had taken on a huge project. I've been watching each ride, but so far no sign of them continuing their efforts. I wonder if the preserve biologists captured and moved them? The tree is already dead, so I doubt they were captured.


Fall is also a lovely time on the trail...










Friday, July 27, 2018

Author Info


(I came across my previous "author info" post and it was over 10 years old, so I thought I should update it.)


This website began in January of 1996 as "Chuck's Backpacking Bonanza" and was one of three sites dedicated to providing info on backpacking. The Internet was in its infancy and quite rudimentary then. My access was via CompuServe which was later bought out by America OnLine (AOL). Dial-up telephone modems were slow and it would take minutes to upload text pages and low quality photos took far longer.


Author Info

I was born and raised in Chicago and developed my deep and abiding love for the outdoors through the Cub Scouts and then the Boy Scouts. I'm now in my 70s, have been retired from teaching for 17 years, and live in far northwest suburban Lake County, about 40 miles northwest of Chicago. 

Biking, hiking, and paddling are my favorite outdoor activities, and from the index in the right sidebar of this page you will find links to all my outdoor adventures on foot, on water, and on a bike. 

Hiking and biking are available in several dozen forest preserves in my area. In fact, the six counties around Chicago offer over 200,000 acres of forest preserves for recreation, with over 500 miles of biking trails (paved and unpaved) available. Within a 15 minute drive of my house, I have a choice of a dozen forest preserve or state park trails of three or more miles for hiking, a number of biking trails, and I can even bike the Millennium Trail which borders my subdivision and continues 8 miles north or 10 miles south and connects to other trails along the way. 

I've been averaging over 2500 biking miles each year over the last decade, and on my twice annual six week road trips (with my bike in my van), I've biked over 230 trails across the countryI do not bike on roads because I don't trust distracted drivers, plus I much prefer to do my mileage in forest preserves where I can enjoy Nature. See the sidebar to the right for links to these trails.








I derived my love of Nature at an early age from the Cub Scouts. Here's the Woodpecker Patrol of Pack 3886 in Chicago back in the 1950s (I'm the geeky kid at bottom left)...










Then I entered Boy Scout Troop 808, where we did a lot of camping and hiking and even a bit of backpacking. I was awarded Order of the Arrow status and later became Junior Assistant Scout master. I left scouting when I went to college, but after graduation, I volunteered at Chicago State Mental Hospital (Dunning) and for five years was Scoutmaster for a dozen multiply-handicapped boys. We were a chartered troop in the Chicago Boy Scout Council which managed to get us hand-me-down uniforms from other troops. Once or twice a month the nursing staff got the boys into their uniforms and the kids were always excited and proud. Their mothers gladly sewed the proper patches on the uniforms.







And yes, we took them camping, first on the neighboring grounds of Reid Center, and when that was successful, we then were granted permission by the Chicago Boy Scout Council offices to have overnight campouts at the Chicago Boy Scout's Camp Fort Dearborn in the forest preserves. I was informed that our campouts were the only time that females (my fellow volunteers) had ever been granted a waiver to spend nights at the Scout camp!









Backpacking was my primary outdoor activity for 20 years during which time I did over 60 backpack trips in 52 different wilderness areas across the country. Some were with my wife and sons, some with my buddy, Len, and many were solo trips. All my backpack adventures have photos and info in the right sidebar.  Age and arthritis have ended my backpacking days, so my main outdoor activity now is biking (during clement weather) and hiking when the temperatures fall below 40 degrees. Below is Montana's Bob Marshall Wilderness as I embarked on a 10 day backpacking trail project with American Hiking Society.







Below is a view from the Continental Divide Trail in Colorado's Weminuche Wilderness.






Hiking, especially in national parks (I've been to 51 of our 59 national parks) is another favorite activity of mine. Below I'm hiking The Narrows of the Virgin River in Zion National Park -- three hours in cold water through a narrow slot canyon. Great fun! Yes, my national park adventures are in the sidebar, too.









I also love to paddle a canoe, kayak, or raft, and have done so on 61 bodies of water. Week-long river expeditions where you camp each night on the shore are another favorite adventure, and I've been on 16 such expeditions. Snorkeling is also a hobby. All of these water adventures also have webpages with photos and info available in the sidebar. Below is North Carolina's Nantahala River...




Snorkeling Orange Sink in Florida with Sierra Club...




Paddling 150 miles on the Mississippi River with The Great River Rumble...







Each year I do at least one week-long volunteer trail project, 32 projects so far, and again, each has its own webpage. I've done projects from Maine to Arizona and from Washington State to Florida. It's great to spend a week camping and working with people who love the outdoors as much as I do, all while accomplishing important work for the hiking community. Below I'm cutting new trail tread in Tennessee for the Cumberland State Trail...






Here I'm helping to clear fallen trees on a trail project in Washington State's Pinchot National Forest in the Goat Rocks Wilderness. Since it is a wilderness area, we must use hand saws as no motorized equipment is allowed in designated wilderness areas.
 These huge tree trunks require three cuts, one on each end of the trail and one in the middle, because the huge piece left after two cuts is too heavy to move off the trail!





Here's the completed bridge we built up at 10,000 feet in the Manti-LaSal National Forest in Utah...






Several times a year I go on lengthy (5 or 6 week) road trips on which I bike, hike, and paddle, plus camping, hiking, visiting family and friends, etc. I often include an active outdoor Road Scholar (Elderhostel) program and have done 40 of them, and also I've participated in 16 Sierra Club Outings.



Family

My oldest son received his Bachelors and Masters in Architecture degrees from the University of Illinois and is now a licensed architect He also plays flute for the Palatine Community Band and his church orchestra. He and his wife have two young sons ages 5 and 3.

My younger son graduated magna cum laude (economics) from Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois, where he was honored with the Byron Rivers Award for the school year 1996-1997 as the Overall Best Disk Jockey. He currently works as a financial planner. He and his wife also have two young children, a daughter who is 3 and 6 month-old son.


Videos

I love photography and computers, and the natural coupling of these two passions is the creation of videos. Over the last decade and a half, I've put together videos of my adventures across the country and have over 150 of them on my YouTube channel. They have been viewed more than 450,000 times and I have over 400 subscribers. Click on PLAYLISTS to see the categories.


Music



I love music and have sung in church choirs continuously for 58 years. I also sing in a local community chorus which performs two concerts per year along with appearances at a variety of community events. Our membership ranges from 30 to 40 voices, depending on the concert. Occasionally I bring out the banjo or guitar and accompany the group. I also video the concerts and make DVDs for the participants.











It’s better to be lost in the woods than found in the city.




–Ollie Olsen–

Monday, June 4, 2018

Biking Denver's Cherry Creek Trail

In August of 2008, after driving 600 miles, much of it in rain, we checked into our extended stay room in Aurora, Colorado (abutting Denver.) An hour or so later, the rain stopped so we drove around looking for the trailhead for the Cherry Creek Trail. We found the Wheel Park/Olympic Park complex near our motel and biked 19 miles on both the Cherry Creek Spillway Trail and then the Cherry Creek Trail segment within the Cherry Creek State Park. The photo below shows some of Denver’s tall buildings in the distance as seen from the Spillway Trail…
… and the prairie dog community along the Spillway Trail seen below.
We had been told that the paved bike trail circled the entire reservoir, but that was incorrect. The state park and reservoir are quite large, but the trail only nears the lake for a short time as seen here…
… but most of the time the reservoir is not even in sight. Due to our rain-delayed start, we knew sunset was drawing near, and when we realized the trail didn’t circle the lake, we worried about getting lost and getting caught by darkness while still away from the van. Fortunately, the combined Google Maps/GPS feature on my new iPhone saved the day, showing us the route to take through a subdivision and then on unmarked dirt trails through the dog exercise area to get us back to the Spillway Trail and then back to the van. What an adventure!
A tasty seafood supper at Joe’s Crab Shack then topped off the evening.

Monday, May 21, 2018

2018 AHS Volunteer Trail Project at Big South Fork in Tennessee

Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area protects 125,000 acres of the Cumberland Plateau in Kentucky and Tennessee as well as its namesake river, the free-flowing Big South Fork of the Cumberland River and its tributaries. I backpacked here in 2000 and was excited to be able to return and help the park repair/improve a bit of its massive 500 miles of trails as part of this American Hiking Society Volunteer Vacation.

Early in the 1900s, this area was stripped of much of its marketable trees and coal, and debris from these operations denuded the land and polluted the streams. Life was hard for the local residents who had depended on the natural resources for their very lives so two federal agencies were commissioned by Congress to alleviate the problems. The park is the successful joint effort of the Army Corps of Engineers, which acquired and developed the property, and the National Park Service which was chosen to operate and maintain the land for the benefit and use of the public. New growth now covers the logged-over land and environmental controls have restored water sources to good health, and this immense park with its rugged and scenic landscape is now a recreational playground for users who wish to hunt, fish, rock climb, hike, horseback ride, camp, mountain bike, and whitewater canoe and raft and kayak. In fact, the park is actually the first to be designated as both a national river and a national recreation area!

The park provided us with nine campsites in the Bandy Creek Campground, and on one of the sites installed a huge tarp, tables, camp stoves, coolers with a daily supply of ice, kitchen necessities, storage for the tools, and bear proof storage for the food. We also had a water spigot nearby and a washroom with hot and cold running water and even showers just a short walk up the hillside.


Our AHS crew leader, Richard, also provided kitchen equipment, prepared menus, and with the help of Effie from the park staff, shopped for all the food.



All of us pitched in with food prep, cooking, and cleaning up after meals.



Regarding our assigned work duties, we were charged with clearing and rebuilding sections of the John Litton Loop Trail in the Bandy Creek area as well as Slave Falls/Charit Creek Trail.

Below is our group rebuilding a section of trail...



...and installing water diversion bars where needed...




Hikers sometimes break the rules and cut switchbacks short which damages drainage as well as the ecology. We rebuilt a number of these switchbacks to discourage such abuse...




Here's another section being widened and made safer from tripping hazards such as roots and rocks. We also lopped back the overgrown vegetation which impeded hikers...



Several bridge structures needed repair so we carried wood, nails, and hammers with us...




A big problem is blowdowns. The sandy soil atop the limestone and sandstone rock base makes for shallow-rooted trees, and big gusts from wind storms can topple trees, blocking the trail. The ranger crew carried chainsaws and took care of these larger obstacles. Over a dozen large trees like the one below were cut into pieces by the National Park Service professional trail crew...



... and then we helped remove the cut-off pieces after they finished...




One area had half-a-dozen trees across the trail, criss-crossing each other. I've done this kind of tree removal in wilderness areas out west where power tools like chain saws are not allowed. On those projects, we had to use hand tools -- two-man, six foot long crosscut saws -- and a large tree took half a day to remove. The professional trail crew rangers made short work of these trees with their chain saws!




Below are two of the blow-downs we encountered.  The huge root balls were 10 or more feet high and just as wide, so we tried to make it easier for hikers to get through the mess. Both root balls had completely obliterated the trail necessitating a future re-route. Sights like this demonstrate the power and ferocity of the wind and the shallowness of the root structure of some of these very tall trees.







A sharp-eyed member of our crew noticed this copperhead snake sleeping just off the trail...




We stopped to admire Slave Falls...



...and also Needle Arch...




Here's our stalwart group of hiker-volunteers as we pose at Needle Arch:

(l to r) Chuck, Richard (our AHS crew leader), Rhys, Eric, Tom, Andy, Michael, Jeff, Alina, and Krista.



Our Big South Fork NPS trail crew leaders, Ronnie and Don, were true professionals and also a joy to work with and learn from!




These photos and others are available for download here.

Here's a video of our week together...

 


Sunday, May 13, 2018

Biking Chattanooga's South Chickamauga Creek Trail

This trail exists in two as yet unconnected sections, and when the missing center segment is finished, it will run for 14 miles. I biked the northern section (which currently extends 4.5 miles) beginning at the Riverpoint area of the Tennessee Riverpark off the Americola Highway. If you want a longer ride, I suggest you still bike this lovely trail, and when finished, head either direction on the also lovely Chattanooga Riverwalk Trail which hugs the Tennessee River for over seven miles.



The trail that will take you to to the South Chickamauga Trail can be reached by taking either the paved path that runs below the ramp up to the bridge over the South Chickamauga Creek (for the Riverwalk Trail) or the "Woodland Walk" trail seen in this map going under the white highway...



After less than a mile on this paved trail...




... you'll cross the lovely South Chickamauga Creek seen below...





In addition to being verdant and scenic, the trail is a construction wonder because a good mile or more is wooden boardwalk! In order to protect fragile wetland areas and to avoid floodplains, you'll be amazed at how much wood has been used to build the trail! To emphasize this fact, three photos follow...











For a short section, you'll bike on a driveway for some industrial concern, and later you'll skirt two sides of a nice subdivision.



At one point you'll pass this sign, showing some of the significance of the area...



At the 4.5 mile mark the pavement ends and becomes a gravel road. I went a bit of the way on it but was out of time so I turned around.



Parking is available at the southern end of the trail in Camp Jordan Park (323 Camp Jordan Parkway, East Ridge).
For the northern segment, trailheads are available at Riverpoint off the Americola Highway, as well as Faith Road, Sterchi Farm (2700 block of Harrison Pike), and the 3900 block of North Hawthorne Street.