Experience Miles and Miles of Smiles and Smiles Along St. Charles Park District’s Activity Trail System
Want to go over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house? Ditch the car and dig out the bike! With the St. Charles Park District’s vast and varied activity trail system, it’s easy, fun, and — doggone it — it’s good for you, too! Say “ta-ta!” to traffic jams and pass up the gas pumps by taking the scenic route through and around St. Charles and neighboring communities. Trail blazing has never been so much fun!
Don’t have a bike? No problem! These trails work just as well via good, old-fashioned foot power as they do by pedal-pushing. One could rollerblade or jog. Take along a four-footed companion, or ride one – certain trails are designed with equestrians in mind. One could walk in the summer or snowshoe in the winter. The possibilities are endless. Because when it comes to getting out and enjoying the great outdoors, there’s no better way to experience the beauty and diversity of St. Charles and its environs than by spending some time along the extensive network of activity trails that meander throughout the city, township and county.
There are trails that follow the peaceful Fox River and one whose stunning stone bridge elevates users high above the hectic Randall Road corridor. Others wind through wide open prairies or are nestled beneath dense forest canopies. Some snake through wetlands while others curve past skateboard quarter-pipe ramps.
In all, there are more than 20 miles of designated paths and trails — more than is typical for a city our size — that have been established, designed and maintained by the St. Charles Park District. That number rises significantly when one factors in companion trails established by other agencies such as the City of St. Charles, Kane County, Kane County Forest Preserve and the State of Illinois.
“To create these trails takes cooperation from multiple jurisdictions,” says Laura Rudow, Superintendent of Parks & Planning, who notes that activity trails frequently cross over numerous easements and properties, and even traverse city boundaries — such as the Fox River Trail, which falls under the jurisdiction of the Kane County Forest Preserve. Running nearly 40 miles from Algonquin to Aurora, this regional bike trail is used for hiking, biking, cross country skiing and jogging, and takes users through terrain as varied as the former estate of Colonel George Fabyan as well as the prairie homestead at the Durant-Peterson House.
Deciding what a trail looks like, how wide it is, whether it is comprised of gravel screening or paved with asphalt, falls under the jurisdiction of John Wessel, Assistant Superintendent for Planning, Design, and Construction. And creating a trail isn’t as simple as clearing a swath of brush and putting up a sign that says, “OK…Walk Here.” Sight lines and drainage, preservation of valuable trees and plant material, amenities like water fountains and ample adjacent parking all factor into Wessel’s design equations.
“I think of three major uses when we’re looking at bike trails,” says Wessel. “One is the whole aspect of connecting communities via routes other than vehicular-based travel.” The notion of creating connections between cities and neighborhoods, of linking them by a shared interest such as activity trails is a novel way of strengthening community ties.
Trails also provide a safe, defined and aesthetically rewarding venue for distance sports, such as cross-country skiing and biking, says Wessel. In fact, the Fox Valley Marathon, a 26-mile race that is one of the qualifying events for the Boston Marathon, begins downtown St. Charles and takes runners along the Fox River through Geneva, Batavia and North Aurora.
And lastly, trails also get people outdoors and allow them to experience nature in ways that may seem obvious — fresh air, sunshine, warm breezes, bird song — all that kind of stuff. But if you’re an apartment dweller whose only interaction with Mother Nature takes place during the time it takes to walk from the car to your office building, suddenly having access to such basic elements becomes a very attractive and almost exotic proposition.
“The first time you experience biking or hiking a trail that veers off onto an old railroad easement that takes you deep into a wood thicket or through a prairie may be your first exposure to a true wilderness environment,” says Wessel.
And the health benefits of outdoor exercise such as walking, jogging, and cycling are significant. They can be great ways to build strength and muscle tone, increase stamina, boost metabolism, burn up calories and lower stress levels. For the most part, these activities can be done almost year ‘round and, unlike many athletic pursuits, such as golf, for instance, trail-based activities don’t necessarily involve a major outlay of cash. In fact, many area bike shops will rent bikes.
As ubiquitous as bicycles are today, that wasn’t always the case. There was a time when the only place you could ride bikes was down your neighborhood sidewalk, and the only people who were riding them were kids under the age of 13. Walking was an activity that got you from the house to the car, and maybe as far as the end of the driveway to pick up the morning newspaper. In-line skates meant that your equipment was stowed away neatly, and snowshoes were that old pair of boots you pulled on to shovel the front sidewalk.
In fact, bicycle paths weren’t even on the city’s radar until 1974. At the time, many nay-sayers viewed such trails as an improper use of open space, a misuse of shoreline access. Yet city and park district officials recognized an idea whose time, if it hadn’t exactly come, was certainly on the horizon. In a Comprehensive Plan for the City of St. Charles adopted by the City Council on September 30 of that year, mention was made for the first time of the city’s need for bicycle paths. Today, the Park District boasts trails in nearly half of its facilities.
“When you do an attitude and interest survey, one of the things that people resoundingly vote for is more hiking and biking trails,” says Rudow. “Our constituents constantly tell us that these are great amenities.”
From extensive trails designed for distance sports to shorter paths suitable for a more casual outing, these District and area facilities provide a variety of trail experiences. Not all park sites/trails are listed.
• Cambridge Park – .62 miles of trails in park
• Delnor Woods Park – .66 miles of trails in park
• East Side Sports Complex – 1.73 mile loop inside park with secondary trails
• Ferson Creek Fen – .40 mile loop inside park
• Fox Chase Park – .58 mile loop inside park
• Fox River Trail – nearly 40 miles from Algonquin to Aurora
• Great Western Trail – 14 miles of abandoned railway from St. Charles to DeKalb County line; horseback riding available on adjacent trail
• Harvest Hills Park – .45 mile loop inside park
• Hunt Club Park – .28 mile loop inside park
• James O. Breen Community Park – .8 mile loop inside park with secondary trails
• Majestic Oaks Park – .30 & .40 mile interior loops in park
• Mt. St. Mary Park – .73 mile loop inside park with secondary trails
• Norris Woods Nature Preserve – .54 miles of trails in park
• Peck Road Trail – 1.3 miles connecting the Great Western Trail to Geneva along Peck Road
• Pottawatomie Park – .58 mile loop inside park
• Primrose Farm Park – 2.2 mile loop inside park with secondary trails
• Randall Road Trail – 3.7 miles connecting Great Western and Fox River Bike Trails from LeRoy Oakes Forest Preserve along Randall Road; bike bridge overpass at Silver Glen Road
• Renaux Manor Park – .22 mile loop inside park
• River Bend Community Park – .94 mile loop inside park with secondary trails
• River Bend Trail – 4.4 miles connecting Randall Road to Fox River Trail from Silver Glen Road via bike bridge through Blackhawk Forest Preserve
• Timber Trails Park – .94 miles of trails in park
• Virgil L. Gilman Trail – 9 miles of abandoned railroad right-of-ways from Montgomery to Sugar Grove with views of Fox River