Friday, August 31, 2012

Biking Salt Creek Greenway Trail

The Salt Creek Trail runs 26 miles from Busse Woods in Elk Grove Village to Brookfield Zoo.  This is the northern extreme of the trail in Busse Woods (Ned Brown Forest Preserve) just west of Arlington Heights Road near the dam that creates Busse Reservoir.

When I biked the Salt Creek Trail over 20 years ago, only the eight miles from Brookfield through Bemis Woods was available, but over the last decades, additional segments were opened and then these were joined together, sometimes with actual trail alongside the road, or with bike lanes on a road, or just with signs directing you on a road to the next segment of actual trail, which works except when one of those vital signs is missing (as two were on my recent ride.)

The trail is a successful cooperative effort between numerous governmental entities, including the Cook County and DuPage Forest Preserve Districts, and the towns /cities of Oak Brook, Villa Park, Elmhurst, Wood Dale, Itasca, and Elk Grove Village.

Sorry, but the best way to get you to the other end of the trail is verbally, so print this out for reference as you bike (or take notes.)  Here are the directions, and from them you'll see why this is a trail I did once only.

Starting in Busse Woods from the forest preserve parking lot off Arlington Heights Road (take it into the preserve, turn left, and drive to end of the road and you'll be parked at the start of the trail.)  It only goes to Arlington Heights Road, from which you have to cross the road, ride down West Elk Grove Blvd. past the high school, turn right on Ridge which becomes Mittel after crossing Devon. Turn right on Bauman Court  and drive through the lot for the college.  The trail resumes at the end of the parking lot.

You'll pass two reservoirs and then the trail makes a right turn (go left and bike around a really deep reservoir for a little side trip.)  You'll then turn left and bike alongside Prospect Avenue for 2 blocks and then the trail resumes on your left, soon crosses Irving Park Road (Route 19) on a marvelous overpass, and runs beneath power towers for a while (the overpass and power towers are in the photo below)...

...crosses Potter, tuns right, and then watch for a sign to turn you left (the arrow was missing when we did it and got us lost.)  This left is onto a paved path, but the path also goes straight here -- very confusing with the missing sign. You'll be taken to Brookwood (or Prospect if you miss this turn.) Either way, turn right on the second street, Forest Preserve Drive, bike to Addison Road and cross it and the trail resumes there as a path alongside Addison for the better part of a mile as you then go under the Eisenhower Expressway (I-290.)


You then bike the forest preserve for a couple miles on a gravel trail, and then at traffic lights, cross both West Lake/Route 20 and Villa Avenue, and the trail continues through preserve woods. After the underpass at Fullerton, you'll go alongside 3 reservoirs and can bike either side of them, and then go under North Avenue (Route 64.)

Another street segment then, on or alongside Villa Avenue, cross the triple railroad mainline, and a few blocks later turn left on Thomas which ends in a few blocks at the trail continuation.  It takes you under St. Charles Road, and then where it ends at Wildwood, turn right, go one block, and turn left on Monterey (another missing sign.)  You'll then turn left onto the Great Western/Illinois Prairie Path to cross Route 83/Kingery Hwy. on an overpass, another over Salt Creek, and turn left onto Rex Blvd. which you take  to its end, turn right, and get on a dirt/wood chip trail along the creek.  It again turns to pavement and runs to Eldridge Park where you'll again cross the creek, turn left on Commonwealth Blvd. and cross Butterfield Road (Route 56) at the light. Kind of gnarly here -- you ride against the northbound traffic on a poorly paved shoulder for a block and turn left through a parking lot to the trail continuation.

An underpass beneath Roosevelt Road (Route 38) and then a 180 degree ramp to an overpass gets you over the creek and onto a frontage road to York Woods where you turn right onto the bike trail again. When you emerge from the woods, you exit the driveway, cross Harger/Frontage Road, and a paved trail goes left to an overpass above I-88.

Follow the paved trail along York Road quite a distance, cross 31st, and then turn left onto Canterbury. At its end, the trail continues and takes you under I-294. Continue to Edgewood Avenue (don't take the spur trail to the right) and cross 31st again to the continuation of the trail. It takes you to Cermak where you use the light to cross LaGrange Road.  It is trail all the way to the end at McCormick at Brookfield Zoo's parking lot.

 Here's a picture of the eponymous Salt Creek from one of the many bridges spanning it along the trail...

Fortunately, many of the worst road crossings and handled by underpasses and overpasses...

Here's a really good blow-by-blow description of the trail's strange development and progression over the years:  Salt Creek Greenway Trail Finally A Reality!

Friday, August 24, 2012

Biking the Douglas - Crabtree Preserve Trail

This trail connects the Paul Douglas Forest Preserve and the Crabtree Nature Preserve in suburban Palatine and Hoffman Estates.  The trail is paved, in good repair, and the entire trail runs about 13 miles in length.  As seen in the map below (click to enlarge), the trail loops the Douglas Preserve and then parallels Algonquin Road (Illinois Route 62) on a discrete trail alongside the roadway north to the Crabtree Nature Sanctuary.

The trail is the cooperative effort of the Forest Preserve District of Cook County, the Palatine Park District, and the Village of Hoffman Estates. 

There are 2 parking lots available.  The western-most is off Palatine Road, just a quarter mile or so east of its start at Algonquin Road, at Stover Road.  Across the road from the lot is the Crabtree Nature Center entrance and parking lot.  You are welcome to use the washroom facilities there, but no biking is allowed on Crabtree's trails since it is a nature sanctuary (but it is a good place to hike!)

The other parking area is off Central Road (alongside I-90 - the Northwest Tollway) at the Grassy Ridge picnic area, east of Barrington Road and west of Roselle and Ela Roads.

The red loop below is measured at 7.2 miles, and the spur trail to Old Stover Road lot is listed as 2.7 miles, so a round trip is about 13 miles in length.  For 7 more miles, ride the loop again (I suggest the opposite direction since everything looks different then!)

I began at Grassy Ridge and pedaled west.  You traverse lovely woods and meadows and then the trail turns north and parallels Huntington/Freeman Road up to Algonquin Road.   You don't realize it visually, but this trail is sneaky-hilly -- no obvious long uphills to pedal, but you are constantly going up and down and getting a fair workout.

There you cross Freeman with a traffic signal and run alongside Algonquin Road as seen here...

As you reach the famous mega-church Willow Creek at Windemere, you cross Algonquin at a traffic signal and then continue west, cross the heavily-traveled Barrington Road at another light, and reenter forest preserve land which you continue on to the Stover Road parking lot and the trail's end.

Return the same way, but upon reaching the Douglas Preserve again at Freeman Road, at the trail intersection, take the paved trail on the left (east) through more lovely woods.  When you reach yet another traffic light at Ela Road, cross both roads and pedal the paved trail on the north side of Algonquin Road.  At the next intersection, Roselle Road, cross again at the light, and the path continues south alongside the forest preserve golf course.

One last road crossing at Ela, and you're back in Douglas Preserve and on the way back to the Grassy Ridge lot.  Since the trail loops the preserve, it's mostly along or near roadways.  When it dips into the forest, it's so much lovelier, but even then the overpowering sound of traffic on the nearby roads is a constant reminder that you are in an urban setting.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Madison County (IL) Bike Trails

Madison County (Illinois) Transit doesn't just run bus routes.  They also have 9 recreational trails (over 85 miles) available utilizing former railroad rights-of-way.  Their buses are all equipped with bike racks,    thus providing convenient service to bikers.

Over a three day period, we biked 4 of the trails for a total of 76 miles. Below are a map of the trails and a map of the loops that are possible, and below these photos are pictures and info about the 4 trails we biked.

These MCT Trails form a series of interconnecting loops that allow trail users to run, bike, rollerblade or jog seamlessly from one trail to another without seeing the same scenery twice. Seven loops of varying distances (10 miles, 15.3 miles, 17.6 miles, 22.9 miles, 25.7 miles, 26.1 miles, and 31.1. miles) make the MCT Trail system unique.

Trail maps kiosks are placed at all trail start points as well as elsewhere along the routes, and trail name signs and directions are painted on the trail pavement (photo below) at all intersections where trails meet or diverge to keep you on course...


The Quercus Grove Trail

This trail starts in downtown Edwardsville but quickly leaves the city and runs 18.4 miles to Staunton, passing along rural scenery and farm fields and sheep pens...

...and through the towns of Hamel and Worden along its route.  Around the 7 mile mark you reach Jerusalem Road where you make a right turn (well-marked) onto the gravel road and pedal less than a mile to Highway 157 where you turn left (north) and briefly run alongside the highway (which is also the Historic Old Route 66) through the town of Hamel.  Just past the 4 way stop, the trail crosses the highway and veers away from it towards Worden and then to Staunton (with another brief road segment.)  Just north of Hamel you share the sole tunnel with road traffic as seen here...

The trail is asphalt near Edwardsville and then becomes limestone.


Nickel Plate Trail

The Nickel Plate Trail runs along the right-of-way of that famous rail line for 21.6 miles and features a  combination of woods and farmland.  It provides access to parks, neighborhoods and historic districts in both Edwardsville and Glen Carbon, including Edwardsville Township Park, Glen Carbon Miner Park, LCCC N.O. Nelson Campus, and the Edwardsville Children's Museum. It is asphalt and later limestone.

Below is the new underpass at Buchanan/Troy Road...

Most of the road crossings, especially higher volume roads, have similar underpasses, providing safe travel.

We biked this trail south from downtown edwardsville to Pontoon Beach where it ends at the Nature Trail, and then we looped back to Edwardsville on the Nature Trail.


Nature Trail

The Nature Trail runs 14.4 miles from Edwardsville (adjacent to the Lewis and Clark Community College) to Granite City/Horseshoe Lake, all on asphalt.  We rode it north from the end of the Nickel Plate Trail, and it is a lovely ride through forest and also passes the Southern Illinois University - Edwardsville campus.  The Bluff Trail diverges here and takes you through the campus up on the bluff if you are so inclined.  You pass though both Glen Carbon and Edwardsville on this segment. This was a favorite trail of mine, and since it is mostly shaded, a good choice on a hot summer day.


The Ronald J. Foster Heritage Trail

(previously called the Glen Carbon Heritage Trail

This was my other favorite trail as it ran about 13 miles from Old Town Glen Carbon (we parked near the Covered Bridge in the lot behind the fire station and by the ball field -- South Main Street and Daenzer Drive) to the small community of Marine. The trail follows the old Illinois Central RR right-of-way and is gravel the first few miles as it passes through Glen Carbon. A number of signposts with old historic photos of the area a hundred years ago testify to this being a "heritage" trail.  It is dedicated to Robert S. Foster, who served 36 years as a Glen Carbon trustee and later mayor.

You can also use this ball field  parking lot for the adjacent Nickel Plate Trail.

Parking is also available at Miner Park a few blocks north off Main Street on Collinsville Street.  This park offers restrooms.  You would then go left on the Nickel Plate Trail to reach the Heritage Trail.

For about 8 miles, this is an oil and chip merimac gravel surface and is mostly in fine condition, though there are a few brief rougher sections which road bikes were still handling okay (though the rougher pavement probably discourages speedy road bikers and rollerbladers from using the trail.)  Later it turns into asphalt for the final few miles to the terminus in Marine.

Lovely forest dominates the majority of the trail as seen above until farmland erupts the last last few miles as seen below.

For decades, every time I drove this section of I-55 I'd pass under the Glen Carbon Trail (identified by a sign on the bridge) and often wished I could stop and explore the trail. Finally I did and it was well worth it!

You'll find mile marker posts on one side of the trail and kilometer markers on the other side of the trail.


The other trails available in this complex are the Bluff, Confluence, Goshen, Schoolhouse, and Watershed Trails, and info on these trails is available here.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Our National Parks

Our national parks were the first of their kind in the world, though thankfully, many other nations now emulate this protection for their unique and rare natural places.  I've been to 47 of our 58 national parks so far and intent to visit 3 more in September.

The Sierra Club came up with this interesting "map" of our national parks, emulating a transit map as you might find in Chicago or New York.

Count how many of our wondrous parks you have experienced firsthand (click to enlarge)...

(NOTE: American Samoa and Virgin Islands National Parks are omitted from map.)

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Olympics Mountain Biking Course

I've really been enjoying the multitude of Olympic sports broadcast over the last 2 weeks, but the mountain biking really was exciting to me since I pedal my fat tire bike over 2500 miles each year, though admittedly never on a course like they had in London.  They race 18.2 miles -- 6 laps of the 3 mile course -- so the obstacles are repeated 6 times.  And the fastest women do each lap in 15 minutes, an astonishing 12 mph average.  And each lap has 500+ feet of elevation gain, too!

Here are some photos I found online to give you an idea of the course (click to enlarge):