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...




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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.
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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.


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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.



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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.

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

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