Thursday, July 26, 2012

Biking Manitowoc, Wisconsin's Mariners Trail

Mariners Trail runs from Manitowoc to Two Rivers and delights bikers with 6 paved miles of unending vistas of beaches, parks, and enchanting waters of Lake Michigan. Along the way, at all the parking lots along Memorial Drive and Maritime Drive (same road, different town) boast lovely, well-maintained, colorful trailside gardens and public art pieces, as you travel between the downtown  of Manitowoc on the south and Two Rivers on the north.  There are no road crossings along the route (just a few driveways) as the trail hugs the lakeshore with the road on the west as seen here...

The route is easy and pleasant being relatively straight and flat with numerous parks and restaurants along the way offering places to rest and dine. And when you are not passing through a park, you'll be delighted by the profusion of wildflowers between the lake and the trail. The downtown of Manitowoc is visible in the distance in the photo below...

Rest benches are available all along the trail, all dedicated in someone's memory, and art sculptures like the bald eagle below, and elsewhere a trio of dancing sandhill cranes, are two examples of the trail art you'll see. Mileage posts every half mile let you know how far you are from each downtown, and several places have mounted telescopes to view the other shore of Lake Michigan.

In Two Rivers, you'll see directional signs leading you to the gravel Rawley Point Trail that will take you 5 additional miles to and through Point Beach State Forest's pine and hemlock forests, dunes, and fields.  Unfortunately, the bridge in downtown Two Rivers to get you to the Rawley trail is closed and under reconstruction.

Washroom facilities are available just south of the lighthouse, another halfway down the trail, and a third at the Two Rivers parking lot.

The Manitowoc Breakwater Light is a short detour off the trail just north of the downtown. You can bike to the breakwater and walk the rest of the way and then climb the few stairs to the first level.

On the far south end of the trail in Manitowoc, trail-goers also have access to the Wisconsin Maritime Museum, where visitors can learn about the sailing and shipbuiding heritage of the region. In 1939, President Roosevelt called Charles West, president of the Manitowoc Shipbuilding Company and requested they build submarines for the war effort. Eventually, 7000 workers in three shifts, operating 24/7, built 28 subs.  Four of these subs went down with 336 officers and men.  The Cobia, one of the Manitowoc subs, is on display here and can be toured from the museum.

Parking can be found at Lake Shore Park (Memorial Drive, Two Rivers) and Lakeview Park (Maritime Drive, Manitowoc).


Mariners Trail (Friends of Mariners Trail)

Rawley Point Trail (Friends of Point Beach)

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Biking Lansing, Michigan's River Trail

The Lansing River Trail runs through numerous parks and wetlands and woodlands as it traverses 13 miles along scenic riverbanks. It follows the Red Cedar River from Hagadom Road on the MSU campus border west to its confluence with the Grand River which it then follows  north through Lansing. A spur trail heads south from Potter Park through Shubell, Scott Woods, and Hawk Island County parks to end at E. Jolly Road.

The path is paved but has many sections that could use some repaving as root and frost heaves have made it bumpy, easy for hybrid and mountain bikes but also still acceptable for road bikes if you take it easy.  An interesting engineering trick builds the trail out over the water in sections where they couldn't acquire land, and these wooden boardwalks take you under highways and skirting out over the water, avoiding almost all road crossings.  The wooden decking on some bridges is old, so take it slow on them.

As you pass through Potters Park, you can stop and visit the zoo located there.  Also, a number of observation platforms are built out over the river for viewing and fishing.

Several nice woodlots are traversed and make you forget you are in the midst of a large metro area and campus community.

Where the Red Cedar and Grand Rivers meet, the trail travels north along the Grand River into downtown Lansing and is built over the water as seen below. The Impression 5 Science Center offers a planet walk along this trail segment. Just north of the downtown is the Lansing City Market which has been in operation since 1909 and which now has a newly rebuilt store.  Adado Riverfront Park, adjacent to the market, makes a great picnic spot, and you can leave the trail and explore the downtown and its amenities.  Various pieces of trail art also adorn the trail here.

To access the East Lansing trailhead, take Interstate 127 north to Exit 8 onto Kalamazoo Street. Turn right on E. Kalamazoo Street then turn right on S. Clippert Street; go right to access the trailhead.

To access the Turner Dodge Park trailhead, take Interstate 496 through Lansing. Take Exit 6 north on Martin Luther King Blvd. for 3 miles then turn right on N. Grand River Avenue. The trailhead in Dodge Park is 0.5 mile on the right.

You can also park at City Market, Hawk Island, Lot 56/Cesar Chavez Plaza, Maguire Park, Oakland Avenue lot, Potter Park, on Saginaw Street and at Turner Dodge.

For more info, here's the official webpage and here's a map of the trail.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Route 176 Underpass Progress

The underpass beneath Route 176 in Wauconda, just east of Fairfield Road, for the Fort Hill Trail re-route, is well underway now as seen below. Forms for the walls are up, forms for the 2 wing walls are being erected, and much of the earth removal is completed as seen in the 2 photos below taken last week and yeserday (click to enlarge.)

When the underpass is opened, the Fort Hill Trail will start at the winter sports area parking lot on Fairfield south of 176, wind through the forest, proceed through this tunnel, then continue as it currently does along the dog exercise area, up into the former Four Winds Golf Course, over to Gilmer Road and beneath it using the underpass constructed last year, and into Ray Lake Forest Preserve which offers a 3.5 mile trail from the tunnel, around the 2.25 mile loop, and back to the tunnel.

When the north side of the tunnel shown above is completed, Route 176 traffic will be moved onto this half of the tunnel, and work will begin on the other half of the underpass.  Unfortunately, trail users will not have a front-row seat to watch the progress as we do now on this half!

Work is concurrently underway on a second underpass west of Fairfield Road that will re-route the Millennium Trail safely beneath Route 176.  All the earth removal work has been done over there and work has begun on the foundations, but there is no place to stop and take photos of that phase of the construction.

Eventually, the Fort Hill Trail will be extended east to Fremont Road, then north over to Peterson Road, and east along Peterson to the Lake County Fairgrounds, then north to the Prairie Crossing community.

A map of the trail/road renovations at Lakewood Forest Preserve (176 and Fairfield) is available here.

UPDATE on Millennium Trail in Round Lake

The Lake County Forest Preserve District  addition to the Millennium Trail, a two mile segment in Round Lake from Litchfield Drive (Nature's Cove community) to Fairfield Park Disk Golf Course (Round Lake Area Park District) has the two missing segments now completed.

Last year, the trail did not start at Litchfield Dive, but now does as seen here...

...leading you the 3/4 mile section running behind the Valley Lake community and along a professional nursery, including a boardwalk over a wetland and through several brief but lovely stretches through woods...

Last year you then hit a section seen below of several hundred feet with only a single track and high prairie grasses...

...which now looks like this...

 The next segment follows the power tower corridor and crosses Nippersink Road...

Then after several uphills and downhills, the trail curves into the woods to avoid a wetland area, crosses under the power lines, crosses Squaw Creek on a bridge...

...and enters Fairfield Park (with signage warning you are entering a disk golf area with flying frisbees possible.)  There is a good size gravel lot at Fairfield Road for those who wish to drive to the trail access.

I've biked 160+ trails across the country, including 33 in the five-county Chicago area, and the two signature trails of the LCFPD (the 32 mile Des Plaines River Trail and 20 mile Millennium Trail) are among the best I've biked -- both place high on my list of the top 10 trails nationwide that I've been on.

I hope the FPD builds the "missing link" soon through Marl Flat Preserve to connect the existing section in Volo to this new Round Lake segment. Currently, you must bike 2.4 miles on Fish Lake, Waite, Wilson, and Litchfield Roads to make the connection.

The plans for the Millennium Trail are to extend it to the north and east to complete the "U" shaped loop and return to the Des Plaines River Trail from whence it began in Libertyville. I anticipate the trail will continue from the disk golf area, under the power corridor until it meets the Round Lake Bike Path, then on through several more forest preserves -- namely Rollins Savanna, McDonald Woods, Fourth Lake, and eventually Wadsworth Savanna (the trail exists or is being built in several of these areas and will include an underpass at Grand Avenue and an overpass at Rollins Road.)

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Biking Indiana's Nickel Plate Trail

The Peru and Indianapolis Railroad was chartered in 1846 and the first train hit Peru in 1854.  It operated passenger service under various names (including Nickel Plate) until 1932 and freight service until 1992. The first 3 miles became paved trail in 2004.

The Nickel Plate Trail currently runs for nearly 14 miles of an eventual 40 mile trail, from Cassville (just north of Kokomo) to Peru in northern central Indiana. 

In Peru, you can  park at a small parking lot located on South Wallick Road (also called 125 West) off Business 31.  West Ellis Road will also take you to Wallick and then go left 2/10 of a mile.  Just north of the parking area you cross the mighty and famous Wabash River via this bridge...

As you pedal south, you quickly hit rural area with nice forest around you which would provide shade on a hot summer day.  One and two lane residential access roads are crossed, as well as a number of creeks.  The trail is paved and in very good condition and has mile posts every half-mile (as well as sign posts marking every 10 kilometers.)


For railroad buffs, remnants of the old line abound, from telegraph poles and mile posts, to piles of ties, to concrete columns with "W" telling the engineer to blow his whistle for a road crossing, and even a street (500 South Road) that still has the old tracks embedded in the roadway seen here...

You'll notice a gradual uphill for several miles, and in one place you'll see that the trail is built up 30 feet or so above the surrounding land and then you'll discover the reason as you reach 5th Street and the small community of Bunker Hill, elevation 810 feet.  The two block long main drag does offer the Mini-Mart Store if you need refreshments.  There are also stores near Bennett's Switch and Cassville, but there are no washroom or water facilities on the trail.

As the trail levels off, the forest protection from the sun ends as you reach open farmland with corn and soybean fields.

At the 7 mile mark you reach the Bunker Hill Dragstrip right along the trail. Too bad there was no action there the day I rode the trail!

Biking Indiana's Monon Trail

Indianapolis is home to one of the Rails-to-Trails "Trail Hall of Fame" trails -- the 18 mile long Monon Trail which traverses Marion and Hamilton Counties -- from Indianapolis north to Westfield. It is both an urban trail (often used for commuting) and a suburban trail passing through Carmel and Westfield.  It is centered between Westfield Blvd. on the east and North College on the west and passes beneath I-70, I-65, and I-465. 

In 1853, the Chicago, Indianapolis and Louisville Railroad opened 300 miles of rail line from Lake Michigan to the Ohio River.  A map of its two main lines formed an "X" over the state of Indiana and crossed at the line's namesake city of Monon, Indiana. The word Monon was derived from the Potowatomi Indian word monong, meaning "swift running." "The Hoosier Line," as it became known, carried troops, ammunition, food, fuel, and medicine to Union forces during the Civil War. Throughout its history, the Monon provided continuous service to the Indiana limestone industry. 

The trail is paved in its entirety though narrow in some places, is in pretty good condition with occasional root-heaves, and is quite busy at times.  One criticism: Often the gravel or dirt shoulders on each side of the asphalt are not level with the pavement, so be careful your tire doesn't leave the trail. 

A running club as well as a bike group were utilizing the trail the Saturday we rode it.  Road crossings proved easy, with underpasses, overpasses, and signalized crossings for the most part. Here's the trail at 86th where we parked.  (There is a lot on the north side of 86th behind Nora Corners, though you could no doubt find parking at all cross streets.)

Road names are posted and at times signs tell you what block north you are (as 6600.)

A number of creeks are crossed, always on bright red bridges...

...and foliage adorns the trail nearly everywhere.  The trail would probably be shaded for a good part of the day along most of its route.

Trail artwork in the form of murals (as seen here) or sculptures of various sorts grace the route as well, and there are "rest areas" at several places, including both the Indiana Home for the Blind (founded in 1843) and the Indiana Home for the Deaf, both of which abut the trail, and both of which have nice rest stops and historical information about the institution.  In fact, we encountered three deaf women biking as well as a blind man attached by tether to a sighted person. You also pass the Indiana Fairgrounds as you pedal on the south end.

The town of Carmel on the north end of the trail offers a lovely downtown area, and there was a large farmer's market in operation on the Saturday we biked here. The Monon Center at 111th Street has a water park, skate park, as well as exercise and meeting facilities. The former Carmel depot on the Monon line is now home to the Carmel Clay Historical Society and Museum.

The trail ends at 161st Street, though Westfield will be extending it another 8 miles in the next 2 years.

The Monon Trail Greenway, between 146th Street and 96th Street is owned by the City of Carmel and maintained by Carmel Clay Parks and Recreation.

The Monon Trail north of 146th Street is owned and maintained by the Town of Westfield's Department of Parks and Recreation.

The Monon Trail south of 96th Street is owned and maintained by the City of Indianapolis' Department of Parks and Recreation.

Biking Indiana's Erie Lackawanna Trail

The Erie Lackawanna runs north from Crown Point to Highland, with another spur then running farther north to Hammond, for a total of 15.7 miles. We began at the start of the southern section by exiting I-80/94 at Kennedy Avenue and driving just 100 yards or so south and turning right at 178th Place into the Wendy's/Cracker Barrel lot.  The trail begins at the entrance to the parking area and takes you briefly on a well-maintained gravel dike trail alongside the Little Calumet River and then across a bridge to the start of the paved trail.

The trail runs along a power corridor and past schools and parks and then leaves the power corridor. 

This linear park has many young trees added in dedication to loved ones with plaques indicating the donors. Another parking area is about a mile south on Kennedy at the intersection with Ridge Road in downtown Highland.

In Griffith at South Broad Street (Route 73), turn right (south) and ride on the road bike lane as you cross seven sets of active tracks, then turn left at the first street (East Avenue B) and you'll see the trail resume at another trail parking area with pavilion and restrooms. You again ride along some nice parks and will see the railroad logo sign above the trail and inlaid markers on the trail.

There are frequent road crossings in the residential areas, but none posed any danger.  Some of the trail is shaded by tall trees on one or both sides of the trail, but you will still bake on hot summer days in many areas. The trail is mostly level as one would expect in Indiana.

To access the southern parking lot in Crown Point, from State Route 55 (aka Taft Street and Main Street), turn west on West 93rd Avenue. After about a 1/2 mile, when the street turns north onto Chase Street, continue straight to the parking area.

You can also park at numerous spots along the trail, and though many have pavilions, garbage cans, picnic tables, and benches, there are only a few washrooms or water faucets, so carry plenty of water.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Kayaking Bang's Lake

After church, Ellen and I put the kayaks on our 2 vehicles and headed over to Bang's Lake.  This was the first time for the yak on my new vehicle and all went smoothly...

The lake was of course quite busy with powerboats, water skiers, seadoos, and loads of pontoon boats, as people sought relief from the long string of 90+ degree days.  We paddled close to the shore as we circled the lake to avoid the power craft and safely ride their bow wakes...

The serenity of the back channel was most enjoyable as we circled the little island before heading back to the lake. There was no sound back here as we paddled, enjoying a gathering of 18 geese that were nonchalantly cruising the algae-clogged waterway.

The water lilies were especially magnificent...

...but just after getting back to the lake, we caught the northern edge of a huge storm passing through DuPage County well south of us.  This storm had winds up to 90 mph in DuPage and toppled hundreds of trees and left 200,000 homes without power, including Scott and Sarah's in Wheaton. Fortunately we only had 35 mph winds in Wauconda, but it caught both of our boats and pushed us to shore, luckily by a beach area.  We waited the storm out for 30 minutes, then resumed our paddle when the winds had died down. All in all, as paddlers say, "Any day on the water is a great day!"