Welcome to the June 2021 issue of MILES PEDDLED (MP). The subject of this Month's edition will be the best local bike trails for a day ride or trekking.
Before we get to the subject at hand, however, there are 2 issues that need to be addressed; to wit: a postscript to the May 2021 edition of MP; and, since we are talking about bike riding, management at MP feels compelled to outline the 5 definitive rules for biking.
First, the postscript. Please recall that the May issue of MP addressed the issue of whether the use of an e-bike was cheating. Management at MP clearly established that the use of an e-bike was not cheating. In further support of this conclusion, the results of a study were just recently released by Miami University which established that the use of an e-bike still provided moderate intensity exercise levels that are recommended to avoid or reduce the risk of serious health conditions. A link to an article which discusses the Miami study is set forth below.
Once again, the science establishes that the use of an e-bike is not cheating. Management at MP will always follow the science!
Second, now we turn to the 5 definitive rules for biking which are as follows:
Never stop your bike at the bottom of a hill.
Never stop in the sun.
The third rule is safety first.
Always hydrate with your favorite beverage.
Never bike alone. Everything is more fun when done in pairs.
Please keep the definitive biking rules in mind when taking a trip on one of the lovely trails set forth in this edition of MP.
One more delay before we get to the actual trails. MP always attempts to be transparent in their analysis (unless there is a reason not to be). Hence, MP needs to explain the criteria used to evaluate the trails as well as the rating system. With respect to the criteria used to rate the trail, one factor is the trail and the other is the town(s) along the trail. With respect to the trail, there are 2 components that MP took into consideration: the first being the condition of the trail itself; and the second being the scenery along the trail.
With respect to the town, there are 2 factors considered by MP: the first being the town and the quality of the food and drink establishments; and the second being the accommodations, when applicable.
With respect to both the trail and the town rating, MP used a 1 to 5 star rating system with 1 being the worst and 5 being the best.
Technology Tip: Management at MP is a strong proponent of using as much of the modern technology as possible. To this end, management recommends that all subscribers become familiar with the use of Google Maps and locating bike trails and bike friendly roads on same. This can be done by accessing the menu on Google Maps and pressing the bike icon which will result in all bike trails and bike friendly roads presenting on the map in green. This is a wonderful use of technology. Management at MP will always follow the technology!
Finally, to the trails. In the Special Supplemental May Edition of MP, management promised to outline 5 trails, but as usual management at MP has under promised and overperformed – MP will be outlining 6 trails in this edition. They are as follows:
1. Des Plaines River Trail
Start your trip with FLY LIKE AN EAGLE by Steve Miller.
The southern end of the trail begins in River Grove in the Jerome Huppert Woods and follows the river north for the next 47 miles to the Wisconsin border. The best parts of the trail are the sections in Lake County to the Wisconsin border. The trail passes through numerous forest preserves, the Lincolnshire Marriott Property, and through Independence Grove Forest Preserve just north of Libertyville. Independence Grove is a beautiful venue in which to stop and have a picnic.
For the most part the surface is crushed limestone. On the Cook County section of the trail, however, there are some areas where it is mostly dirt. As noted above, the best sections are in Lake County where the surface is a beautiful packed crushed limestone that makes for a rolling and rockling ride!
There are numerous towns along the trail with many types of restaurants, taverns, and accommodations. Take your pick.
2. Lakefront Trail
Start your trip with SATURDAY IN THE PARK by Chicago.
The north end of the trail begins just north of Hollywood Boulevard and continues due south for the next 18 miles to the South Shore Cultural Center. The trail runs parallel to Lake Michigan almost the entire trip. You will pass through or by Lincoln Park, Oak Street Beach, Navy Pier, Grant Park, the museum campus, Soldier Field, McCormick Place and multiple beaches on the south end with the journey ending at the South Shore Cultural Center.
Over the past 5 years, with a substantial $10 million plus contribution from hedge fund mogul Ken Griffin, the Park District has done a commendable job in separating the biking and pedestrian lanes. Query: Why would anyone divorce a man who is worth $34 billion?
The Park District did not do a commendable job in building the Navy Pier flyover. This took 6 years at the cost of $64 million. The Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco was built in a shorter timeframe for less money.
Pro Tip: When you finish your journey at the South Shore Cultural Center (location where President and Michelle Obama were married, but for some reason management at MP was not invited), you can enter the Center which is now open to the public. Go around to the back and there is the South Shore Beach, which even on the hottest summer day is never crowded. In addition, there is a nice bird sanctuary right on the lake, which is an excellent place to stop and hydrate.
The entire trail is paved. As noted above, the Park District has taken steps to separate the pedestrian traffic from the bikers, but please be forewarned that on a nice summer day, particularly on the weekend, the trail can become very crowded.
It's CHICAGO - Does MP need to say anything more?
The trail and town are a 5, but the crowds drop it down to a 4.5.
3. Fox River Trail
Start your trip with SITTIN' ON THE DOCK OF THE PAY by Otis Redding.
This is actually a 2-fer. Since they are more or less contiguous, MP will describe both the Fox River Trail and the Prairie Trail (not to be confused with the Prairie Path). The south end of the trail begins in Oswego. It runs due north parallel to the Fox River to Algonquin, Illinois where it actually crosses over the river. The trail goes through numerous interesting towns such as Batavia, St. Charles, and Dundee, all of which have multiple places to stop for food and drink.
Just off the trail on the Fox River in St. Charles, is the HOTEL BAKER. A very nice vintage hotel where one member of management at MP spent his 20th wedding anniversary on a bike trekking adventure.
The trip from Oswego to Algonquin is approximately 42 miles.
When the trail crosses over the Fox River in Algonquin, it ironically changes its name from the Fox River Trail to the Prairie Trail. The Prairie Trail runs from Algonquin to the Illinois-Wisconsin border ending in Genoa City. This portion of the trail goes by McCullom Lake, which is a public lake and a nice place to stop and take a quick dip. It then continues north through Glacier Park Conservation Area, which if you happen to be into kayaking, is a great place to kayak the Nippersink River.
Near the end of the trail is the town of Richmond, which has several nice places to eat and drink.
For those hearty souls who wish to continue after the trail ends, if you travel and additional 10 miles to the northwest, you will be in Lake Geneva; and if you travel an additional 1o miles to the northeast you will end up at Twin Lakes. If you choose to travel to Twin Lakes, then begin this portion of your journey by listening to the song LAKE MARIE by John Prine, which tells the story of Elizabeth Lake and Lake Mary, which combined are the Twin Lakes.
For the most part, the entire surface is paved. There is a short section of the Prairie Trail, near the Wisconsin border, which is crushed limestone.
As stated above, there are numerous towns along the trail. If you choose to continue your journey to the Twin Lakes then there is a wonderful bed & breakfast located on Indian Point Road known as CDC NORTE. The female owner is one of the sweetest people you ever meet; unfortunately, the male owner is of Viking stock and has a superiority complex.
Like the Lakefront, the Fox River Trail can become crowded on the weekends. Consequently, it's 5 gets reduced to a 4.5.
4. North Branch Trail
Start your trip with BICYCLE RACE by Queen.
The south end of the trail begins in GOMPERS PARK off of Foster Avenue in the City. For the next 19 miles, it more or less follows the Chicago River northwest and then due north into the Skokie lagoons. Most of the trip is through various forest preserve sections. After you have gone through the Skokie Lagoons you end at the entrance to the Chicago Botanic Garden. It is a very nice ride, with the only drawback being that on the southern portion of the trail, there are many times you have to cross at grade and automobile traffic can be very heavy in these sections.
The entire trail is paved.
There are many suburban towns along the way which provide various types of restaurants and other establishments. Most of the establishments, however, are typical of any suburban area. The major payoff is riding through the Skokie Lagoons and the Chicago Botanic Garden.
5. The Illinois-Michigan Canal Trail (IM)
Start your trip with SHERIFF IF YOU WANT TO by Luke Combs.
In this edition of MP, we will only be providing an overview of the trail. In subsequent editions, a more in-depth analysis will be presented to our loyal subscribers.
The 96 mile I&M Canal Trail was dug by hand and completed in 1848. By providing a link that completed a water route from the east coast to the Gulf of Mexico, the canal was a major contributor to the development of Chicago. Barges would be pulled along the canal by mules. The actual bike path is the mule trail. The canal closed in 1933, but 61 miles of the tow path have now become the I & M Canal Bike Trail.
The trail begins somewhere in Joliet, but it is confusing to find the trail head. MP recommends that you commence the trip on the east end at Channahon at Channahon State Park, where there is sufficient parking. The trail runs along the canal, but also in sections near the Des Plaines River and the Illinois River for the next 51 miles until it ends in the town of LaSalle-Peru.
From a historical perspective, the most interesting portions of the trail are the east end of the trail, where many sections of the canal with the locks and tender houses are still present. On the very end of the canal on the west end in LaSalle-Peru, there is a tourist boat that is still pulled by a mule on which you can take a short journey up the canal.
Most of the trail is crushed limestone. There are portions where the limestone has been eroded away or covered by vegetation and the trail becomes more of a dirt path. Warning: Always check the weather forecast. On the west end from Buffalo Rock State Park to North Utica (Starved Rock) there is a good chance that the trail could be flooded and not assessable. If so, there is an easy workaround by taking Dee Bennett Road for the section from Buffalo Rock to North Utica.
There are several wonderful towns along the trail, and even nice campsites, which will be discussed in future editions of MP. In this edition, MP will highlight 2 towns to consider, which are Morris and North Utica.
Morris is the county seat of Grundy County. It has several interesting restaurants and bars. It is a nice place to spend the night on a trekking adventure. The main drawback to Morris, however, is that the motel accommodations are not near the trail, but rather, are an approximate 2 to 3 mile bike ride north of the trail. Warning to the uninitiated, be careful riding your bike through Morris at night, they tend to move the parking standards.
A wonderful town along the trail, and one of management's favorite towns, is North Utica. Starved Rock is 1 mile to the south. The town has several restaurants and bars. During the summer they close the main street and place tables all along the main street for outdoor dining and imbibing. One of the best locations in town is the AUGUST HILL WINERY, which specializes in wines made strictly from Illinois grapes. The wine is surprisingly good, according to several MP subscribers who are members of the August Hill Wine Club. There is also a quaint motel in town, walking distance from the winery, which will place the key under your mat of your room if you come after 5:00 p.m. to check in.
It is difficult to rate the IM Canal trail due to the fact that certain sections of the trail are in excellent condition, whereas in other sections the trail has been completely lost to vegetation. Overall, MP rates the trail at 2.5; but given the interesting historical nature of the trail and the wonderful towns along the trail, the overall rating is bumped up to a 3.5.
6. Badger Trail
Start your trip with HOLE IN THE BOTTLE by Kelsea Ballerini.
The description of the Badger Trail in this edition, is a bit like the description of the Fox River Trail and the IM Canal Trail in that the trail description will be an amalgamation of 3 trails, and there will be additional information regarding the Badger Trail in further editions of MP. For bike trekking and overnight trips, MP highly recommends both the IM canal trail and this version of the Badger Trail.
The south end of the trail is located just outside of Freeport, Illinois where the trail's name is the JANE ADDAMS TRAIL. It is the Jane Addams Trail that will run due north to the Wisconsin border, and then it crosses over the border the name of the trail changes to the Badger Trail. You will continue to follow the Badger Trail north and eventually intersect with the Sugar River State Recreational Trail, which would take you then into New Glarus, Wisconsin. This ride would be approximately 41 miles.
Please note that the trip can be made shorter by starting the trip in Orangeville, Illinois, which would reduce the total miles to approximately 28. There is a nice parking lot at a park in Orangeville next to the trail; and, next to the parking lot is a gas station that serves some of the best tacos you could ever eat before a 30 mile bike ride.
The entire trail, be it the Jane Addams Trail, the Badger Trail, or the Sugar River Trail, are all rails to trails. If you are interested in making the trip a little extra special, then you can add on a short 4 mile detour on the way up to New Glarus, which would take you through the Stewart Tunnel. The tunnel is 1,200 feet long, has a bend at the mid-point so that it is completely dark, and you will need a light to walk your bike through the tunnel. It is worth the extra miles.
Once you walk through and then back through the tunnel, you then backtrack for a short distance to catch the Sugar River Trail, which takes you directly into New Glarus, Wisconsin.
The surface of the trail is crushed limestone. For the most part, it is in very good condition. There is little traffic on the trail.
This trip takes you through many towns, but the crowning jewel is New Glarus, Wisconsin, which is known as "Little Sweden." It is also home to New Glarus Brewing Company.
There is a wonderful motel right off the trail by the name of CHALET LANDHOUS INN. They have a storage room in the back, and they will give you a key to the storage room so that you can lock your bike in the storage room. The Inn has a wonderful restaurant that has an outdoor seating area with a spectacular Friday fish fry.
After you have ridden for the day, locked up your bike, taken a shower, had an old fashioned and all the fish you can eat, it is now time to walk into town to enjoy all the versions of the New Glarus beer that you cannot get at a Wisconsin gas station. Later that evening, after sampling a few of the New Glarus beers, it is time to order the Wisconsin vegetable platter consisting of fried mushrooms, fried onions, fried zucchini and fried cheese. This is a perfect bookend to the gas station taco that began your trip.
Now onto the trivia/quiz section of the June edition of MP. As noted above, the Lakefront Trail runs from Hollywood on the north for the next 18 miles to the South Shore Cultural Center, more or less without interruption. The trivia question is: WHY IS THE CHICAGO LAKEFRONT "FOREVER OPEN, CLEAR AND FREE"?
Management at MP recognizes that many subscribers do not trust much of the authenticity and veracity of the information contained in MP. Thus, the source of the answer to the trivia question is the authoritative DMANOPEDIA. For those subscribers that have been subjected to this source in the past, MP is certain that you will attest to the fact that it contains much useless information. Generally, however, it is presented in an entertaining fashion. For those that have not been subjected to this source, you are the fortunate ones.
The answer to the trivia question is a true story in the CHICAGO WAY. It involves a famous architect; a corrupt politician; a civic minded public servant; and a philanthropic businessman.
The story begins in the mid-1890's when architect, Daniel Burnham (famous architect quoted frequently in MP), began designing a more functional Chicago, which included a lakefront park. In 1909, Burnham published the PLAN OF CHICAGO.
Shortly after Burnham published the Chicago plan, Chicago elected William Hale Thompson, known as "Big Bill," Thompson as mayor. He is generally considered to be one of the most corrupt, unethical mayors in the history of our country. (The corrupt politician.) By the way, he was a Republican. When Big Bill took office, he realized that there was money to be made if the City implemented the Burnham Plan. Big Bill could be in charge of letting out the contracts and take a piece of all the action. Thus, he ordered the chairman of the Chicago Planning Commission, Mr. Charles Henry Wacker (Wacker Drive fame and the civil minded bureaucrat) to implement the Burnham plan.
To do so, Wacker had to convince the aldermen to pass legislation to implement and fund the Burnham Plan. While so doing, there was a notation added to the written plan and blueprints provided to the aldermen in which it stated that the lakefront should be "forever open, clear and free." This was the plan passed by the Chicago council and implemented by Big Bill via Charles Wacker.
Not too long after the plan went into effect, private developers attempted to buy and build private residences and businesses along the lakefront. A Chicago businessman by the name of A. Montgomery Ward (Montgomery Ward's fame and in this story, the philanthropic businessman) advocated that the lakefront must be publicly accessible and per the Burnham Plan, must always be "forever open, clear and free." Ward funded numerous lawsuits to prevent the acquisition and building by private entitles on the Lakefront. This issue has been addressed by the Illinois Supreme Court on 4 separate occasions and the Court has always ruled that the Lakefront must always be "forever open, clear and free."
The most recent example of an attempt to violate the Burnham Plan was the proposal to place the Lucas Museum on the Lakefront. A lawsuit was brought by FRIENDS OF THE PARK and they prevailed before the Illinois Court in stopping the Lucas Museum from being built on the lakefront. Management at MP will always support the fact that the Lakefront must always be "forever open, clear and free."
Now for the "tease." What will July bring other than fireworks? Happily, management is able to announce that there will be a red, white, and blue edition of MP that outlines several wonderful combo trips, specifically, bike and kayak trips.
Until next month – Follow the safety rules and remember to R, R & R!