Mountain Biking the Windy City
Jauntthat's the perfect word to describe the Regional Trail. Neither technical nor taxing, this ride carries you along a wide, multi-purpose, limestone gravel path. The Regional Trail itself is about 7.5 miles one-way (15 miles total), but when you add in the spur loops in the 3 forest preserves it crosses, your total ride comes to a little over 16 miles. The Forest Preserve District of DuPage County does an excellent job maintaining its trails and takes great pride in them. As I rode with one of the Sector Managers, Mike Palazzetti, he enthusiastically pointed out to me where edges of the trail had been cleared and diversion ditches had been dug. In fact, he even stopped to give an erosion explanation to a group of riders who had strayed off the trail. He has a lot to be proud of: on the fringes of the suburban Chicago area, this trail passes through oak woodlands, open meadows, marshes, rivers, lakes, wetlands, and prairies in the Blackwell, Herrick Lake, and Danada Forest Preserves.
In the Blackwell Forest Preserve on the northernmost section of the Regional Trail, you can branch off and ride the intersecting loops of the Catbird, Nighthawk, and Bob-O-Link Trails. These three grass trails circle McKee Marsh and give you a bumpier ride than the Regional Trail. If you're a casual rider taking the family out for a stroll, you might wish to bypass these trails, but most mountain bikers will find them easy. McKee Marsh, by the way, was the site where the skeleton of a woolly mammoth was excavated.
As the Regional Trail makes its way into the Herrick Forest Preserve, it becomes part of three intersecting loops: Meadowlark Trail, Green Heron Trail, and Bluebird Trail. The loops, like the Regional Trail, are limestone gravel and provide a quiet ride through prairies, woodlands, and especially wetlands. Perhaps you'll spot egrets munching on tadpoles in the cattail marsh in the middle of the Green Heron Trail loop.
The final leg of the Regional Trail goes through Danada Forest Preserve and passes by a Kentucky-style equestrian center. At the eastern end of the Regional Trail, the one-mile, double-loop Nature Trail gives you a slightly different feel than the main trail. Still crushed limestone, the Nature Trail is a little narrower and does not have mowed borders. Curving through an open savanna, you'll pass many beautiful wildflowers in the summercolumbine, spring beauty, shooting stars, and toothwort among them.
Even though you're in the Chicago suburbs, the area doesn't lack for variety of animals: coyotes, foxes, weasels, painted turtles, leopard frogs, owls, hawks, bob-o-links, meadowlarks, orioles, egrets, and great blue herons. All in all, this easy ride is fun for the entire family and makes for a pleasant diversion from the commotion of our busy lives.
General location: Twenty-nine miles west of Chicago near Warrenville, off IL 59 and IL 56.
Elevation change: Negligible.
Season: Ride the Regional Trail year-round. Late fall and early spring can produce a lot of rain, so you might want to avoid the grass trails at Blackwell then.
Services: Water can be found by Silver Lake in Blackwell, by Herrick Lake, and near Danada Mansion in Danada. There are telephones by the entrance to Blackwell and in a few spots by Herrick Lake and Danada. There are even concession stands open during the summer in Blackwell and Herrick Lake. All services are available in Warrenville, Wheaton, Naperville, and Lisle.
Hazards: The only hazards present on this trail are other cyclists, hikers, and equestrians.
Rescue index: The trails are heavily used and bounded by several major roads. You can also find help at the 2 guard residences, the concession area, and the shop complexes at Blackwell; at the guard residence and the concession stand at Herrick Lake; and at the 2 guard residences at Danada.
Land status: Forest Preserve District of DuPage County.
Maps: You can pick up maps of the forest preserves at the Visitor Information signs in the various parking areas. You can also write to the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County to get copies. The USGS 7.5 minute quads for this area are Naperville and Wheaton, but the maps from the Forest Preserve District will be sufficient.
Finding the trail: From Interstate 88, go north on IL 59 for 1.2 miles to Butterfield Road. Turn right (east), and in 1.5 miles, you'll see the entrance for Blackwell on your left. As you pull in, the parking area is just off to your right.
Sources of additional information:
Forest Preserve District of DuPage County
P.O. Box 2339
Glen Ellyn, IL 60138
Notes on the trail: The Blackwell Forest Preserve trailhead isn't at the beginning of the trail, but this provides a good place to park. (You can park, if you wish, at Herrick or Danada and begin your ride from there.) From the parking area, you can access the Herrick and Danada portions of the trail by riding out the way you came in and crossing to the other side of Butterfield Road. You'll see an opening through the bushes that will connect you with Prairie Path. Turn left on Prairie Path. (The path will put you on a few streets, but you'll be able to follow the route.) Follow Prairie Path until you spot a school. Cut through the school lot to get to the next street (Weisbrook Road). Turn right on Weisbrook and go one block to Butterfield Road. (South of Butterfield Road, Weisbrook Road turns into Herrick Road.) At the southeast corner of the intersection, you'll see where the trail picks up in Herrick Lake Forest Preserve. As you follow the trail through Herrick, you'll come to several intersections where you can turn off on Meadowlark Trail, Green Heron Trail, or Bluebird Trail. Take whatever options you fancy or ride straight through into Danada Forest Preserve. Once in Danada, you'll pass by the exercise track before riding under Naperville Road. If you ride through the parking area and past the barns, you'll come to the last quarter mile of the Regional Trail and the one-mile Nature Trail.
After you return to the Blackwell Forest Preserve parking lot, you'll see where the Regional Trail picks up on the west side of the parking area. As you ride that portion, you'll cross Mack Road. About a quarter mile later, you'll come to the grass trails of Nighthawk, Catbird, and Bob-O-Link. Branch off on these trails or continue on the Regional Trail. When you hit Gary's Mill Road on the north, you've reached the end of the ride.
This trail also connects up with Prairie Path.
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