Saturday, August 22, 2015

Biking Deer Grove Forest Preserve's Mountain Bike Trail

Deer Grove Forest Preserve was the first preserve acquired by the Forest Preserve District of Cook County almost 100 years ago in 1916. It was then 500 acres but now has been expanded to 1800 acres. It consists of rolling upland forest interspersed with ravines and wetlands. The original section west of Quentin Road is predominantly dense forest whereas Deer Grove East (across Quentin Road) is a mixture of forest, meadows, and wetlands.

Deer Grove's mountain bike/equestrian trail is marked with gray signs as in the photo below. The legal trail is basically a 6 mile loop around the perimeter of Deer Grove West, a connecting trail which crosses Quentin Road near Camp Reinberg, and another loop around Deer Grove East. Together they offer nearly 10 miles of mostly dirt trail (with the exception of a short distance on the paved trail in Deer Grove East). Please respect the closed trails. "Outlaw" bikers have removed many of the orange "Trail Closed" sign posts, but please keep bikes off the interior trails so they can recover from decades of abuse which has severely damaged the environment. I, too, love the interior trails and the ravines areas, so I HIKE them. 

In the summer of 2004, additional signage was installed, including posts at all intersections, and trails open to bikers were color-coded. In addition, large color maps were posted at many parking areas, which makes it far easier to stay on the legal trails. They also opened several other connector trails to bikers, including the 1.5 mile paved former interior road (closed to cars for 30+ years) which runs from the former toboggan slide area to the Ela/Dundee Roads area. If you bike this paved old road, look at the verges and see how Mother Nature has been gradually but steadily reclaiming what is hers!

In 2005 they widened the trail from the singletrack seen above and put down crushed stone in place of what had been beautiful mostly dirt single-track. Though now more "civilized" and drier in wet periods, it is not the same rugged mountain bike trail as before, but it still remains a decent mountain biking trail, with curves and ups and downs and magnificent woods, but sadly, it is no longer a true mountain biking experience. Unfortunately, it is one of the only mountain biking venues in the northern section of Chicagoland. We need more!

Fall is an especially nice time to ride here with the color of the foliage and the absence of bugs.

Deer Grove East has undergone several years of habitat restoration and the ecosystem is far healthier now. There is a three mile paved loop as well as the mountain bike singletrack as seen in the three following photos, although this narrow trail only extends about a mile or so in length. Perhaps the fact that it sees less traffic accounts for its wildness, but for whatever reason, it is one of my favorite sections.

Since there are very few lengthy straight sections as seen in the photos above, visibility is severely limited during leaf-on conditions. Care must therefore be taken to not "outdrive" your sight lines and risk colliding with oncoming bikers, horses, or deer. And yes, twice over the last two decades, I came around a bend and found deer on the trail. It is called Deer Grove for a reason, and though deer sightings are more rare now than a decade ago, the deer are still here. In fact, this handsome buck (and a second just visible behind the tree) was with a small herd of nine, five of which had racks of various sizes.

The map below is available here.

Yellow is the Deer Grove West loop
Orange is the closed road
Red is the paved trail in Deer Grove East
Brown is the mountain bike loop in Deer Grove East

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