Jeff Long: Bike, Walking Trail Networks Are Expanding to Connect Communities

Jeff Long: Bike, Walking Trail Networks Are Expanding to Connect Communities

Outside my office window near downtown Aurora, the Fox River flows. On the trail alongside, bicyclists, walkers, roller bladers and runners shadow the shoreline, contently cruising through the forested corridor of riverside greenness.

With this view, there’s no such thing as a bad day.

A recent visit to Waubonsie Lake Park reinforced that perspective. In the twilight of early evening, it was a picture of community pride. Fishermen, couples, grandparents,  Moms pushing strollers, young sisters sharing an ice cream cone, dad and son playing catch — and the constant flow of runners and cyclists energetically passing by.

Both of these idyllic scenes have one thing in common: trails.

The Fox Valley Park District manages and maintains 48 miles worth — about the same distance for a bike ride from downtown Aurora to Wrigley Field.

Such a trip is now actually possible without having to leave the safety and sanctity of the trails. The same goes for a trip from Oswego to the Wisconsin border. Paralleling the Fox River much of the way, it’s 65 miles of cycling through a sanctuary of linear parks.

Trails are among the most popular amenities anywhere and a major feature of the Illinois Park and Recreation Association’s “Unplug Illinois” campaign to promote the value and importance of parks to our communities.

Nearly every new park project and renovation incorporates trails, and with good reason. Walking for pleasure is the most popular outdoors activity in Illinois (80 percent), and millennials cite walkability as a top reason for choosing a place to live.

Trails make for walkable, livable communities and have been become a common ground desire among citizens, city planners and park and recreation practitioners.

Taking it even further, connecting our trails to create a network of destination-based pathways is a top priority of the Fox Valley Park District and other agencies that advocate for active alternatives. Trails are avenues for recreation and human-powered transportation; they represent safety, health, environmental stewardship and resource conservation, to name just a few of their benefits.

Clean, active travel is a refreshing contrast to the smog and gridlock we too often see and experience.

We are particularly blessed in the Fox Valley to have three world-class trails crisscrossing our communities: the Fox River Trail, the Virgil Gilman Trail and the Illinois Prairie Path. The immensely popular Waubonsie Lake Trail ranks right up there, as well.

They’re not only enjoyable, but functional, as well. The Bike Commuter Challenge was held last month throughout the Chicago area, and it served to remind that trails can become an increasingly important feature in the area’s infrastructure.

Biking to work is a great career move, made easier by the array of excellent trails. Bike commuters have the privilege of enjoying fresh air and exercise when they’d otherwise be sedentary behind the steering wheel. It’s a 2-for-1 deal that burns calories instead of carbon; a workout to and from work!

Since 2008, Fox Valley has added 14 miles of new trails and secured new connections, including the Gilman Trail bridge over Galena Boulevard. Also, the Fox River Trail bridge connecting to Hurds Island played a big role in closing the “Trail Gap” through downtown Aurora, which is now completely navigable via trail, whether you’re passing through or touring the town.

Prospects for the future are equally exciting. There are many more connections to be made, but the grid is continually expanding. This is the wave of the future; the trip of a lifetime, where there’s always something new around the next bend.

  • This column is written by Jeff Long (, the public affairs and communications manager at the Fox Valley Park District. Visit for more information and be sure to “Like” Blackberry Farm on Facebook.

FEATURE PHOTO CAPTION: Trails make for walkable, living communities and are – by far – the most popular park amenity residents desire, providing safety and serenity in a car-centric society.