I had a great walkabout Springfield with retired IDNR Trails & Greenways guy Dick Westfall, who is a brilliant trails thinker and takes a good photo to boot. Then lunch with Dick, IDNR landscape architect & trails planner George Bellovics, and Illinois Route 66’s Bill Kelly.
The public release of Making Trails Count in Illinois is tomorrow, March 30, when the download link goes live at http://trailsforillinois.org/maketrailscount. There’s a very limited number of print copies available; contact me if you’d like one.
Release day is also Opening Day for Trails for our partner Rails-to-Trails Conservancy. RTC staff will be attending special events on trails nationwide tomorrow; look for RTC’s Dan Persky on the Illinois Prairie Path.
Opening Day and Making Trails Count in Illinois both kick off a weeklong focus on trails, walking and biking’s health benefits by the Partnership for Active Transportation during National Public Health Week. We’re so proud of Making Trails Count’s contribution to that effort.
And over the next month, you’ll find Trails for Illinois presenting Making Trails Count at the International Trails Symposium, April 14-17 in Phoenix, AZ; for the keynote at Friends of the Pumpkinvine Trail’s annual luncheon on April 25 in Goshen, IN; at the Chicago Southland Economic Development Corporation in Homewood, IL on April 26; and—this just in—for the keynote at the Illinois Bike Summit in Normal, IL, May 15.
We set out to have a different conversation with Illinois about trails and their role in improving our communities and our lives and even the way we view our state. With Making Trails Count in Illinois, I feel like the conversation has begun.
Reader, I want you to think right now about joining us at Trails for Illinois. This organization has had a long, quiet history that closes today. As the profile of trails in Illinois rises, so our numbers must rise to turn the changing perspective on trails into action.
Will you please consider joining us, here at the beginning of a new trails movement in Illinois? You can click here; it’s simple and secure.
We are grateful for the weeks to come. May your home be your trailhead.
Steve Buchtel, Executive Director
Reviewing the printer’s proof for Making Trails Count in Illinois. Average spending $30+ per trail visit…. Did I just tumblr that out loud?
I’m (Steve) visiting with Friends of the Rock Island Trail Wednesday, 6 PM at Avanti’s in East Peoria. They and RSVP of Peoria and Tazewell Counties were Making Trails Count foot soldiers, surveying trail users this summer and fall. Thanks to Illinois Valley Wheelm’n for rounding up volunteers as well.
Join us as I share some sneak peeks at the data!
Bill Lang, who for decades has been a member of the Joliet Bicycle Club, is one of the Making Trails Count survey volunteers that you might have talked with if you ride the Chicago Southland’s Old Plank Road Trail. Before early September, the last time I had seen Bill was in the late ’90s, when our bikes crossed paths at a Folks on Spokes ride.
Since 2008 when a tumor on his spine ended his ability to ride an upright bicycle, Bill has been surviving cancer. He was able to ride a recumbent for a few years until more aggressive treatment impacted his sense of balance. While still mobile, he uses a walker now to steady himself.
Bill’s always been a high mileage guy - before the tumor, 5000 miles was a typical cycling season. While the pace is slower, he’s still keeping a rigorous schedule of outdoor physical activity, clocking in the miles - and tracking them with his wireless cycling computer which he mounted near the hand grips of his walker. The tiny sensor that typically would be mounted to a fork blade or seat stay instead counts the rotations of the magnet glued to the walker’s 4” wheel, calibrated appropriately.
As of early September, Bill had walked 161.6 miles since June 1, average just above 1 mph.
Bill dispatches most of those miles along the Old Plank Road Trail and the Forest Preserve District of Will County’s Hickory Creek Trail. “I told my doctors over and over, ‘Quality of life - that’s what I’m after’,” says Bill. He insists that the daily trail walks are a key component to his survival, and to his emotional well-being.
I had stopped at Bill’s house in Mokena on a wet Saturday to drop off the Making Trails Count survey kit, and planned to scoot home after getting rained out on my own survey shift. He asked me how things were going with Trails for Illinois, and I told him how much work, and how much fun, GITy Up! (our overnight bike camping ride) had turned out to be.
Bill replied, “Yes, they’re always a lot of work. I’ve led dozens of overnight bike trips for different groups, all over the Midwest. I believe that we live in one of the best areas for bike touring in the world.” He leaned against the wall a little, and over the next hour began spinning tale after tale of overnight, bike touring adventure through a state that most Illinoisans sadly wouldn’t recognize, or maybe even dare imagine. River towns, 1000’ climbs, dramatic bluffs and stately forests, memorable landscapes accessible by bike in any direction from Chicago.
Bill’s rule for his overnight bike trips was that they begin at his front door - Bill’s home has always been his trailhead. Often times, the first leg of the ride was a local trail toward an Amtrak station, in Joliet, or maybe Kankakee or Plano. Amtrak’s Illinois service allows roll-on bicycle access for a small fee, and Bill used it to jumpstart many of his tours.
Mostly they didn’t camp, choosing instead local motels and B&Bs. Bill described ferry rides across the Mississippi, climbing ornery knobs in Central Illinois at 3 mph in his granny ring, of festivals and wine tastings.
I’ve felt from the beginning of this job that Illinois has, right now, a network of multi-use trails and quiet roads equal to much of what Iowa, Michigan and Wisconsin boast. Promoting the state’s trail experiences is in our mission - GITy Up! is one way we’re fulfilling it.
I stood entranced, listening to Bill and feeling more and more confident that Illinois is ready for us to help raise it up as a trail-based touring destination, and that with efforts like GITy Up! and even Making Trails Count, we’re doing the right things. If more Illinoisans can experience what Bill has, their quality of life will rise, our rural economies will improve, and interest in connecting our trail networks will grow.
Bill said he has traveled the region for years giving presentations on his bike tours to different groups. I asked him if he’d share some of his writings and photos, and he has. If you follow the “Read more” link below, I’ve posted my favorite, a trip that used train, ferry, trail, and farm roads to cross Illinois and visit three of our neighboring states. I defy you to read it and NOT begin scheming how to sell a similar trip to your spouse.
When he took this trip in 2006, cancer hadn’t struck yet, but Bill was recovering from heart surgery. I leave you with the final journal entry from that trip:
I feel like I have just woken up from a long sleep. Again, I feel good. So I am on the bike again going places, and planning for trips again. [Bill’s wife] Char is much happier with me now that I am feeling better. I love doing these self-contained rides to different places in the mid-west. I feel that we live in the best cycling area of the country, and perhaps the world. We have so many choices of roads and places to ride, many options like riding Amtrak, ferryboat rides, quiet smooth very low volume traffic roads through beautiful farmland and quaint, friendly towns. Life is great!
Follow the “Read More” link below to read the full entry about the trip.
Fox Valley Bicycle & Ski Club is counting on trails—literally! FVBSC president Ed Foster and member Tony Pacione surveyed trail users for the 7-10 AM shift this beautiful morning…and had a ball. “Lots of Fermi Lab people commuting to work,” said Ed when I checked in on him around 8:30 AM.
The highlight - the gentleman above riding the single speed Western Flyer to Montana.
Ed said 17 trail users filled out the survey trailside, with many more taking it home with a mail-back envelope or grabbing the URL card to complete it on-line.
There’s lots of room for you to be part of this experience on the Fox River Trail, the Old Plank Road Trail, the Hennepin Canal Trail, the Rock Island Trail, the Goshen Trail, and Tunnel Hill Trail. Volunteering is easy, the shifts are simple and short, and you get to meet other trail users trailside, when they’re enjoying life. Click to volunteer!
Volunteering to survey trail users is fun and rewarding, and most importantly you’ll really help us out to build and connect more multi-use trails in Illinois. We thank all the groups helping so far: Friends of the Hennepin Canal, Friends of the Rock Island Trail, Madison County Transit, the south suburbs’ Al Sturges and southern Illinois’ Jon Voelz.
If you see our survey station while you’re out on the trail, thank the volunteers for their great work! And…send us a photo!
We’re big fans of Director Jarvis, and we’re honored to tour Chicagoland’s Burnham Greenway and the Cal-Sag Trail with him and NPS River & Trails’ Diane Banta today. Both trails are part of America’s Great Outdoors, the Obama administration’s initiative to create more opportunity for healthy, active outdoor living.
Also, Making Trails Count! project passed a mini-milestone today—our first $1000 raised! Trails for Illinois and our Making Trails Count partners—Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, University of Illinois Office of Recreation and Park Resources, and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, are raring to change the game of trail building in Illinois.
Add to the momentum—imagine what raising trails as a state priority worth to you. Then become a Making Trails Count partner!
When we stopped by on the GITy Up! 2012 Recon Ride this past Friday, Matt Knowles, the handsome guy on the left there in front of his trail-side Batavia shop, told us that Fox River Trail users are spending $350 a day with him buying accessories, energy bars and drinks. “Like gloves and tubes and things they forgot or realize they need,” he said.
That’s a nice bump in walk-in traffic. What we love though is that Matt’s counting.
It is far, far too rare that our trail towns and trail-serving businesses measure the impact that the trail is having. Not only are they likely not capturing all the return the trail can generate. But they are missing a compelling reason to improve, connect and extend it.
Our Making Trails Count project aims to put this mistake behind Illinois, and make counting like Matt’s doing the norm. Read our proposal. Think about what that’s worth to you. Then make a pledge today!