Monday, August 24, 2015

Biking Lake County (Illinois) Millennium Trail

The Lake County Forest Preserve District's magnificent Millennium Trail is currently 27 miles in length (of a proposed 35 miles), though some short segments are not yet connected to the main finished trail that runs from Mundelein High School on Hawley and Midlothian to and through Lakewood Forest Preserve and on through Singing Hills Preserve and Marl Flat Preserve. An underpass is nearly complete at Wilson which will then connect the trail to the completed section that goes to the Disc Golf Course on Fairfield Road in Round Lake. Another finished segment is from Rollins Preserve to and through McDonald Woods.

South of Singing Hills Forest Preserve, the trail runs alongside the Liberty Lakes townhouses (where I live), crosses Gilmer Road at the traffic signal, and then makes an arc around the single family homes of Liberty lakes before traversing the northern-most boundary of the former Wauconda Orchard, which is still in evidence thanks to several rows of apple trees that were never sold after it went out of business. Seeing and smelling the blossoms every spring is a real treat. Apples still abound on the trees, but without proper care and spraying, they are full of little critters, but the bigger critters feast on them.

The large pond you see to the right of the trail had been home to a family of swans for a number of years, and of course geese that populate the area, too, as well as the occasional egret and heron.

Just south of the apple trees, the trail travels alongside and through two housing developments built on the former orchard property -- Orchard Hills and Apple Country. I am so thankful that the forest preserve district acquired a corridor through these areas to complete this portion of the trail.

This family of sandhill cranes has been living along the trail between Illinois Route 176 and Bonner Road for several years and I see them frequently browsing in the meadows dotting the area.

Deer are another normal sighting along the trail.

Ever concerned with safety, the forest preserve district has provided underpasses for the trail at Fairfield Road , Illinois Route 176, and Wilson Road for this section of trail, and also at Route 137/Grand Avenue and Rollins Road on the other open section of the trail.

Just east of this underpass, you reach the Winter Sports Parking Area with its sledding hill and (in winter) ice skating area. Near the parking lot, you can turn left, go down a steep "S" curve, bike another underpass, and you are on the new Fort Hill Trail which takes you to Ray Lake Preserve and its two+ mile loop trail. The plan is to extend this trail to the Lake County Fairgrounds to connect to the Prairie Crossing Trail. The highlight of the Ft. Hill trail is the former Four Winds Golf Course property you bike through. Magnificent! The old golf cart loop (over a mile in length) can be biked, taking you past all the old golf fairways and tee off areas, which Mother Nature has been gradually reclaiming over the years. Here's a sample of that scenery:

This photo above was taken from the golf cart path, looking at the bridge over the water hazard on the Ft. Hill Trail.

South and east of Fairfield, past the Winter Sports parking lot, you are in the most beautiful section of Lakewood Forest Preserve, with rolling hills, small lakes, dense forest, and some meadows. A one mile loop trail is quite nice and the trail travels one side of the loop and then heads to Hawley Road, which it follows for several miles east as a paved trail alongside the road. The Lake County Department of Transportation operates this section of the trail alongside Hawley. The paved path ends at Mundelein High School, though plans to continue it east are in the works. You can ride Hawley Street to Carmel High School where the North Shore Bike Path parallels Illinois Route 176 for six miles, passing the Des Plaines River Trail in Libertyville and ending at the Robert McClory Bike Path in Lake Bluff at Sheridan Road and Scranton Avenue.

This segment of the Millennium Trail is at Litchfield and Wilson just east of the new underpass at Marl Flat Forest Preserve. The trail travels behind the townhouses, then between a landscape nursery and housing development...

...and then through a wooded area and over a creek, and finally beneath power towers over to the disc golf course on Fairfield. This section is paved and quite hilly under the power lines -- a good workout!

Here's a video tour I put together in 2009. A few more sections have opened since then, but it still gives a good overlook of the trail.

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