Sunday, July 31, 2011

Biking Michigan's Musketawa Trail

This 26 mile paved trail travels past farmlands, wetlands, over creeks, and through quaint villages. It gets its name from its travels through both Muskegon and Ottawa Counties as it goes from Muskegon to nearly Grand Rapids. (Click to enlarge map.)


I began in Ravenna, pedaled east for 10 miles, returned to Ravenna, then pedaled west another five miles, for a 30 mile trip. The section heading east had more cover from the hot sun since it was more tree shrouded than the western segment, and I also missed the industrial area in Muskegon. The former Grand Rapids and Indiana Railroad used to run on this corridor, and a few mementos from the old railroad days are located in Ravenna, including a replica water tank. Ravenna also offers snacks and food a bit north of the trail.  (A map of the town is located along the trail.)



This interesting rest area at a bridge is the first I've seen like this in all the 130 trails I've biked across the country.  Nicely done!


I hit the town of Conklin at the 20 mile mark and enjoyed a pop and ice cream bar from the general store (the brown-beige building in the distance -- not that you'd have trouble finding it in the tiny town.) A nice shaded park is located at the trailhead lot and I spent an enjoyable 10 minutes talking to a local biker who did the trail regularly.




Friends of the Musketawa Trail website (including maps)

There are 3 trailhead parking lots:

The Marne lot can be reached from Grand Rapids via exit 25 to the stop sign, then left 2 miles. The lot is on the left.

The Broadway lot from Muskegon -- take U.S. 31 to Sherman Blvd., then east to Broadway. The lot is a mile ahead on the left.

The Ravenna lot is off M-46 on Ravenna Road and south to the lot which is on your left.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Biking Michigan's Kal-Haven Trail State Park

This crushed gravel trail runs 34.5 miles from Kalamazoo to South Haven, the two end points from which the trail name derives.  This large map is in a kiosk at the South Haven trailhead (click to enlarge):



The route of the Kal-Haven originally was a railroad completed in 1870, and the railroad bed has been converted to a trail with a limestone/slag surface. It is usable for all non-motorized bicycles, hiking, and snowmobiling when there is a 4-inch snow base.

You'll immediately bike through lovely woods for several miles and reach tis quaint (but new) covered bridge over the Black River...


Much of the trail is tree-shrouded -- on hot days providing much appreciated shade...




...but you'll also find open stretches where the trail passes between corn fields and the sun bakes you along with the corn...



Outhouses and rest benches are located along the trail for your convenience. The trail is in decent shape in most places and road crossings were not a problem and the bigger roads have underpass for the trail. An equestrian trail parallels the bike trail for 11 miles.


To reach the Kalamazoo trailhead, take Interstate 131 to exit 38. Turn left on 10th Street and follow 10th Street for for 2 miles. The trailhead is on your left. 

To access the South Haven trailhead, take Interstate 196 to exit 20. Take Phoenix Road west to Bailey Road. Turn right (north) on Bailey Road and at Wells Sreet (a new round-about) go straight and you'll immediately see the large trailhead parking lot on your right. 


Official page

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Early Morning Bike Rides

With this hot spell of 6 days above 90 degrees, I've been starting my 20 mile bike rides on the Millennium and Ft. Hill Trails before 6:30 in the morning. I've been surprised by how many others have had the same idea -- walkers, runners, and other bikers -- but a nice side benefit is seeing more wildlife that early, including deer, sandhill cranes, swans, great whites and great blues, red-tailed hawks, to name a few...




...and here's a favorite view of mine from the loop trail in the former Four Winds Golf Course property on the Ft. Hill Trail...

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Biking Middlefork Savanna Forest Preserve

Home to a rare tallgrass savanna, Middlefork Savanna features a mix of oak savanna and woodlands, wet and mesic prairies, sedge meadows and marshes. Middlefork provides valuable protection for state and federally listed species such as the Blanding's turtle. A 25-acre parcel here is considered the highest quality tallgrass savanna of its kind in the nation and recognized as a globally threatened ecosystem.

Once part of a large glacial lake, Middlefork Savanna (686 acres) provides safe harbor for endangered plant and wildlife species, and several environmentally sensitive wetlands that feed into the North Branch of the Chicago River. Chicago Wilderness has identified Middlefork Savanna as one of the most important sites for biodiversity in northeastern Illinois. Because of its size, Middlefork supports an impressive list of uncommon birds, butterflies and other species that require large open areas for survival.

Though you'll only get about an 8 mile ride round-trip, the scenery is spectacular as seen in the following photos, and the northern end connects to the North Shore Path, which in turn connects to the Des Plaines River Trail, the McClory Trail, and the Skokie Valley Bike Path.









The entrance and parking area are located off of Waukegan Road (Route 43), north of Route 60 and south of Route 176. At the light for Middlefork Drive/Westmoreland Road, turn west onto Middlefork Drive. Proceed to the end of Middlefork Drive, bear left at the fork to enter the preserve parking area.

Biking the Skokie Valley Bike Path

Posted 7/4/09
Updated 7/13/11

The Skokie Valley corridor was once a bay of glacial Lake Chicago whose waters were held in place by increasing elevation to the north and two parallel, hilly moraines of gravel and rock on the east and west. Early settlers preferred to build at higher elevations, leaving the Skokie Valley under-developed and less populated, which the railroad and utility companies took advantage of by building within the valley.

The Skokie Valley Trail runs 10 miles north and south between Lake Forest and Highland Park (from Illinois 176 to Lake-Cook Road) following the ComEd right-of-way and railroad tracks. The trail is paved, is in very good condition, and has mile markers every half-mile.

The sole dedicated parking lot is on Laurel Avenue west of Green Bay Road in Lake Bluff (about 1.5 miles south of Route 176.) You park at the dead end of Laurel seen in the photo below. The access is between the nature walk and a golf course. You could also park in one of several shopping centers around Lake-Cook Road and Skokie Highway at the southern terminus.



For most of its length, the trail is shrouded on both sides by tall bushes and trees that eliminate views of but not noise from the double-main line Union Pacific tracks on the west and Skokie Highway vehicle traffic to your east. The hum of the overhead electric lines (3 sets of lines, 2 of which are high-voltage) can also be discerned. As you reach the Highland Park segment, you'll begin seeing industrial/commercial concerns along the trail.



The trail was well-used the day I biked, which was a holiday. With the limited parking, I assume most users were local who could bike to the trail.

The recent 1.5 mile extension from Laurel north to Route 176 connects to the North Shore Trail which parallels Route 176, including a tunnel under the existing Union Pacific tracks.




The North Shore Trail along 176 in can be taken west to the Des Plaines River Trail, or east to the McClory Trail.


An 8 mile southern extension into Cook County is in the planning stages (budgeted at 1.2 million dollars) which will include a bridge over busy Lake-Cook Road and travel through Northbrook, Northfield, Glenview and Wilmette, and have a connection with the North Branch Trail which goes to the northwest area of Chicago.

The corridor has stunning natural biodiversity and is inhabited by a large variety of plants, birds, and other animals. Natural grasses, flowering plants, berry bushes, and shrubs flourish because the area is generally undisturbed by vehicles, landscaping or lawn mowers.

For more Chicagoland bike trails, go here.

For more bike trails from across the country, go here.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Biking the Des Plaines River Trail (Cook County section)

The Cook County Forest Preserve District began in 1914 and purchased its first property in 1916 -- the 500 acre Deer Grove Preserve in Palatine.  It now comprises 22 preserves and over 300 miles of trails and is the largest forest preserve district in the country at over 69,000 acres.  It also has served as the model for the surrounding five counties to begin their own forest preserve systems which together total over 200,000 acres and make Chicagoland a mecca for outdoor natural recreation.

The Cook County section of the Des Plaines River Trail begins at the Lake-Cook Road overpass (just south of Milwaukee Avenue) and continues south 23 miles to River Forest (North Avenue), all on packed dirt and stretches of gravel.  (The easiest place to park is in Wheeling, off Dundee Road just east of Milwaukee Avenue.)  Links to PDF maps of the trail and trailhead parking are available at the end of this post.

Beautiful forest surrounds you, and in some sections you follow alongside the river. In wet season, most sections of the trail remain dry, but mud holes and even flooded sections can exist. Access is available at any forest preserve parking area on the east side of the river. Most road crossings are safe, thanks to overpasses at both Lake-Cook Road (shown in photo below) and Palatine/Willow Road, as well as underpasses or traffic signals at other road crossings, although care must be taken since some road crossings occur away from intersections, such as at Dundee, Central, Milwaukee, and Rand.



Most of the trail is about 6 feet wide, but some double track and single track also exist. Side trails to the east often allow the adventurous to explore other areas of forest preserves the trail passes through, as seen in the next two photos. 





A stop at one of the dams is always fun, though in 2015, both Lake and Cook Counties began the process of removing these old farmers' dams which will improve the ecology of the river and improve fish habitat.



For those former Boy Scouts who remember overnight camping at the old Camp Fort Dearborn in Rosemont, a short side trip to the west just south of Devon Avenue will bring back many fond memories . The main trail then veers east and crosses the Kennedy Expressway/Northwest Tollway (I-90) on the East River Road/Dee Road bridge, but you can also follow a single-track which takes you west under the expressways alongside the river.

In the Schiller Woods section, south of Irving Park Road, you might see the moguls just east of the trail inviting you to try them out...





Fall is an especially beautiful time to bike the section just south of Dundee Road where a mile of yellow leaves will thrill you...





Road bikes are not recommended due to a few rough sections, though the popular crossover/hybrid bikes do fine on the trail. I seldom see other bikers and only occasionally see walkers or fishermen, so a sense of solitude is possible even in an urban setting.  The last few years, the preserve district has upgraded much of the trail to fine-crushed gravel, making it safer and more "civilized," and much of its length is now as well maintained as the Lake County section of the trail.



Twice the main trail appears to end. These directions are for a southbound ride.

1) At Winkelman Road (the next road South of Palatine/Willow Road), turn right, pass the two hotels, cross Milwaukee Avenue (Route 21), ride a few hundred feet into the Alison Woods parking area, and you'll see the trail resume on the left at the tree line.

2) At the railroad crossing south of Central, go up the embankment, carry your bike over the two sets of rails, go down the other embankment and the trail continues to the right.


3) At Ballard Road, the trail now turns right/west.  Just follow it and it takes you along the river to the next section of the forest preserve.


========================================================================

Map of the north half of this trail

Map of the south half of this trail

 Lake County section of the Des Plaines River Trail

Lake County Forest Preserve District website

Forest Preserve District of Cook County website

Monday, July 4, 2011

How Trains are Assembled into Trains: A tour of the Rice Hump Yard in Waycross, Georgia

In 2004, we toured Waycross, Georgia's Rice Hump Yard, observing from the control tower and watching as new train consists were assembled in the yard below us, as the superintendent explained the procedure for us. (Sorry about the poor camcorder footage, but you do get the feel and sound of the experience.)


Friday, July 1, 2011

How a Trail is Built

Volunteering for a trail project provides hikers with additional or improved trails to traverse into America's magnificent wilderness areas, and these volunteer projects also reward the volunteers with pride and a sense of having contributed important work to the hiking community.  With the budget cuts inflicted upon national parks and national forests over the last several decades, much needed trail work would go undone without volunteer assistance.

Here's how a new trail is created...

First, the trail designer “flags” the proposed route (note orange flagging on bushes in center of photo)...



Small standing trees and bushes that are in the trail corridor are cut down (large trees are generally avoided by routing the trail around them)...


Next the trail corridor is cleared of fallen branches, underbrush, rocks, etc., a procedure called "swamping the corridor"...



 ...including the removal of fallen trees...



...regardless of their size.  Trees of large circumference as the one below require 3 cuts -- which creates 2 cutoffs -- which can be individually rolled off the trail corridor, because one large cutoff would be too difficult to move by hand...


Leaning trees often require several cuts to remove them from the corridor...


Rocks that are buried in the trail tread are removed with a long, sturdy, metal pry bar, also called a rock bar...


 Stubborn buried boulders are dug up and removed when possible, sometimes requiring many hours of labor...



Each volunteer takes a 20 foot section, creates the new trail tread, then jumps ahead to a new section...


 ...but always keeping a safety zone between workers because trail tools are sharp and dangerous.


A steep mountain slope requires a deep cut into the hillside and the removal of much dirt (the orange vests and caps were required because it was hunting season)...



A “finishing” crew assures the trail is smooth with only mineral material remaining (with no vegetation growing in the trail corridor.)



Really steep inclines can require switchbacks...



 ...or wooden steps...


...or stone stairways...


 The steps might even be quite elaborate like these we built in Cape Cod National Seashore...




Trail sections that are prone to getting wet will erode quickly, so a raised “turnpike” may be needed with drainage along each side...



...and sometimes you have to divert the water to the other side of the trail for drainage...



...or a bridge may be constructed if the trail is crossing a creek or a wetland area...


The bridge might be rather simple, as this one in South Carolina’s Francis Marion National Forest...


... or more involved as this 31' bridge we built up at 9,000 feet in Utah's Manti-LaSal National Forest...



A simple solution to a short section of wet trail is called a corduroy, simply laying branches transversely across the trail in the wet area as seen below. Though neither an elegant nor permanent solution, it will suffice for a while, make the area safer to traverse, and prevent further erosion of the trail until further remediation can be effected...




A very unusual project was rebuilding this trail in Maine's Acadia National Park near the Atlantic coastline.  Over a number of years, several hurricanes had deluged the trail, washing it away, so we dug a drainage ditch alongside it (removing boulders and roots)...


...and we also "mined" the surrounding hillsides for large rocks and boulders which we “flew down” to the trail with a high-line grip hoist (pulley system)...



 ...which we then sledge-hammered into small rocks, creating a rock base to prevent the trail from being washed away again...


Finally, we covered the rock base with dirt, creating a beautiful and immovable, erosion-proof trail surface...


So the next time you hike a trail, I hope you'll take a look at its construction and perhaps appreciate the time and effort and thought that went into its construction.  And if you really feel moved, sign up for a volunteer trail project through the American Hiking Society.