Our friends at Rails to Trails Conservancy want to remind us that this Saturday - March 30th - is the official Opening Day for Trails.
There won't be elected officials with giant pairs of scissors on hand to snip a ceremonial ribbon at every trailhead. There won't be marching bands, concession stands, and souvenir vendors lining your favorite path. If you sneak in a lunchtime loop or an afternoon ride today or tomorrow, you're not in danger of interrupting any last minute preparations. Opening day is devoid of pomp and circumstance.
So what's the big deal?
Spring is finally here and it's time to start thinking about riding the trails again!
Our area's regional rail trails, forest preserve loops, and neighborhood bike paths are a fun and safe place to exercise while enjoying the outdoors. Days are getting longer. Temperatures are rising (slowly, but surely). In a matter of no time, grass will be growing, leaves will be sprouting, and flowers will be blooming all along your local bike path. Now is the time to add trail riding (walking or running, too, I guess) to your daily routine - it's your front row seat to the changing of the season.
It seems kind of silly that we have to be reminded to use our local bike paths.
As a regular rider of trails throughout the region, I can attest that most are very well-kept secrets. Tens of thousands of motorists drive through trail crossings or alongside dedicated recreation paths each day, yet barely notice them. I have never encountered trail traffic so congested that I have decided to scrap a ride altogether. There's plenty of room for everyone and there's no limit to the enjoyment each individual can experience.
If you're not familiar with where to find a trail in your area, visit RTC's Trail Link. It's a comprehensive directory of every rail trail in the nation, easily searched by name or map listing. Google Maps uses RTC's resources as the underpinning for its directions by bike feature. Click on the bicycle icon and all of the trails in your area will appear in green. Google can even offer you the safest route to ride to your closest trail.
I like to start out the season with easy loops around my local forest preserve. In the Northwest Suburbs, you can start small with Deer Grove (3 miles around), Paul Douglas (just over 7), Busse Woods (close to 8), and Poplar Creek (9). There are dozens of additional trails to explore throughout Cook, Lake, Du Page, Kane, and Will counties.
When I'm ready for a good "out and back" ride I choose the Fox River Trail / Mc Henry Prairie Trail. This seamlessly connected system runs 65-miles - almost continuously - from Oswego to the Wisconsin state line in Richmond. There are only a few areas through Aurora, St. Charles, Valley View, Elgin, and Crystal Lake where an on-road route is substituted for a short distance. All but a few short sections and the final 6-mile stretch from Ringwood to the border are paved.
The Illinois Prairie Path and Great Western Trail offer countless route variations when combined with the Fox River Trail, including a number of 30-mile triangles. You can pick up the trail as far east as Bellwood and as far west as Sycamore (although there is a gap from West Chicago to St. Charles and the western segment is listed separately) and as far south as Aurora and as far north as Elgin. This extensive system consists of crushed limestone paths, so you may want to make sure it is dry before venturing out.
If you're up on the north shore, there are the Green Bay Trail, Robert McClory Bike Path, and Skokie Valley Trail nearest the lake and the Des Plaines River Trail farther inland (read my review here). Skokie Valley is paved, McClory is both paved and crushed limestone, and the GBT and DPRT are limestone. I would check local conditions before setting out on the DPRT as it runs through lowland along the river and may be messy or impassable in some spots. It's definitely a trail for a warm, dry summer day and one for everyone's bike-it list.
There's a high of 56 predicted for Saturday, so dust off your bike, air up the tires, check the brakes, chain line (shifters, crankset, derailleurs), and quick releases and head for your nearest trail!
Spring is here and the trail is calling you...
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Keep riding and be safe. Don't forget, 30 Days of Biking starts Monday - prepare for it with a warm-up ride on your favorite trail this weekend!