Monday, August 24, 2015

Biking McHenry County Prairie Trail

This 25.9 mile McHenry Prairie Trail trail is an amenity of the McHenry County Conservation District. It begins at the McHenry County line south of Algonquin and heads north to the Wisconsin border near Genoa City, with a new extension around Genoa City connecting to the Hebron Trail.  It is paved from Algonquin to Ringwood and then is crushed limestone on the original railroad ballast the rest of the way north. At its south terminus it connects to the Fox River Trail which in turn connects to the Great Western Trail, the Virgil Gilman Trail, and the Illinois Prairie Path, making a continuous trail of well over 100 miles.

For several miles, the trail runs between two fence lines from the quarry that is still operating. No doubt you'll see the miles-long conveyor belt bringing sand and gravel from the quarry to the storage facility, which you eventually pass seen below in the distance.

Then you reach Crystal Lake and bike along the road. The trail then zigs onto a sidewalk and through a neighborhood, so watch for signage directing you, until you resume biking the paved trail in Veteran Acres Woods. Though the trail is mostly flat, the section through Veteran Acres Park and Sterne's Woods in Crystal Lake between Lorraine Avenue and Hillside Road is very hilly -- I call this section the roller-coaster ride -- as you have numerous ups and downs, both before and after you head under the power lines and up a fairly big hill seen below. Here is part of the roller-coaster...

...and here's the big uphill...

A three mile mountain bike trail runs the perimeter of the 120 acre Sterne's Woods and four more miles of mountain bike trails are available in the adjacent 150 acres of Veteran Acres Park. The Prairie Trail connects the communities of Algonquin, Lake in the Hills, Crystal Lake, Prairie Grove, McHenry, McCullom Lake, Ringwood, and Richmond.

In 1987, the tracks were removed from the old Chicago and North Western RR, allowing for the south end of the Prairie Trail's creation as seen here. The trail's northern segment runs along active tracks, making this trail one of only a few which follows both an old right-of-way and an existing one. (The rail line is just left of the power towers.) Here Patti and Dave crests one of the many rolling hills with a corn field to their right. You also pass a sod farm and a former tree nursery now turned into a sub-division.

You then hit open countryside, pass a large park, cross McCullom Lake Road, climb a steep rise, and reach the end of the paved trail.

North of Ringwood the active railing ends and it is just trail to the Wisconsin border. The trail is crushed limestone on the original railroad ballast. You pass many farm fields, pass through the town of Richmond, and go by the MCCD's Glacial Park, a 3400 acre jewel with prairies, savannas, marshes, a bog, kames, and Nippersink Creek. No biking is allowed in Glacial Park except on the road, but many marvelous hiking trails may tempt you to stretch your muscles and climb the tallest kame. In Richmond, you see one of the old wood bridges. When I was child and we drove through Richmond heading to Lake Geneva, several of these bridges were in use.

The final miles are through lush forest until you reach the outskirts of Genoa City.

You can remain on the trail which takes you to the town, and then wend your way through town, or head left on the new bypass trail (Nippersink North Branch) which ends in a parking lot with washroom facilities. The Hebron Trail begins right across the street.

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