Amid an unseasonably warm holiday weekend, it was a delight to receive an email from good friend Lonny Cain, the longtime managing editor of The Times newspaper in Ottawa whose weekly columns still appear (often on the same page as mine) in Shaw Media publications.
Lonny shared a message from Richard Core, an East Moline native and mid-1980s Times reporter now living in Southern California: “Just saw an announcement for the supposedly ‘completed’ Grand Illinois Trail. Sounds like a cyclist’s dream until you see that it routes people onto the overgrown and unmaintained portions of the (Illinois & Michigan) and Hennepin canals’ towpaths. Maybe this will spur some action to make that corridor a usable recreational resource.”
The Grand Illinois Trail connects Lake Michigan to the Mississippi River in a 475-mile loop making it possible to bike from Chicago to Galena, or from Rockford to the Quad Cities. The Department of Natural Resources has a 15-page guide (tinyurl.com/GrandILTrail) breaking the route into 10 segments with maps, detailed directions and mileage tables, information on restaurants and repair shops and more.
But, as avid cyclists know, not all miles are created equally. And Richard Core is avid by any definition: earlier this year he took a solo trip from Santa Monica, California, to New Bedford, Massachusetts, a 3,800-mile journey that took 86 days, from April 1 through June 25.
Richard, a longtime reporter, kept an online journal about the trip (tinyurl.com/RichardsRide2022), which had been a dream since he was age 16. There’s plenty to interest any reader, but of particular note in this context are the days spent back home in Illinois, from the end of May to early June, such as this June 1 passage on the leg between Colona and Tiskilwa:
“Depending on which governmental jurisdiction I was riding in, the trail could consist of any number of surfaces – blacktop, compacted pea gravel, large gravel, sand, hard-packed dirt, grass or even mud. And as I moved east, the width of the trail kept narrowing until it wasn’t much wider than my bike tires. At times the weeds and grasses on either side of that strip were as high as my knees.”
The I&M path wasn’t much better, overgrown with weeds and too muddy for even a sturdy bike and experienced rider, no surprise to anyone familiar with Lonny’s editorials on the state’s apparent indifference to this supposed asset.
Poor trail quality is far from Illinois’ only problem. It’s not even the DNR’s biggest concern. But there’s no shortage of passionate riders and volunteers who want the Grand Illinois Trail to live up to its name.
What might it take for 2023 to be a year of progress?