Recreate Responsibly — Kane County Trails Offer Perfect Escape During Phase 3

Recreate Responsibly — Kane County Trails Offer Perfect Escape During Phase 3

  • Editor’s Note: This article is part of a five-part series on Kane County outdoor recreational opportunities you can enjoy right now during Phase 3 of the Restore Illinois plan. Today’s Part 2 is co-written by Karen Miller and Chris Toth of the Kane County Development And Community Services Department and Ryan Peterson, bicycle and pedestrian coordinator for the Kane County Department of Transportation.

Now that Illinois has moved into Phase 3 of Restore Illinois, A Public Health Approach to Safely Reopen Our State, residents are able to have gatherings of 10 people or fewer while wearing face coverings and practicing social distancing.

And that means more of us will be able to get outside and more freely enjoy the public open space in our communities, including our vast trail systems, both land and water based.

The Fox River

One of Kane County’s greatest open space assets is the Fox River.

Not only is the Fox River a significant linkage within the green infrastructure network; municipalities have recognized the Fox River as an open space and community amenity by acquiring riverfront acreage and designing river walks to link housing, parks, forest preserves, shops, offices and restaurants in their downtowns.

Stakeholders along the entire length of the Fox River from the headwaters in Wisconsin to the confluence with the Illinois River in Ottawa, Illinois are developing the Fabulous Fox! Water Trail.

The vision is to provide suitable access for the public to enjoy quiet and active recreation, scenic beauty, abundant wildlife, and historical and cultural features. Communities along the Fabulous Fox! Water Trail embrace stewardship and public engagement to create and maintain a sense of place.

Developers and supporters of the Fabulous Fox! Water Trail aspire to be accepted by the National Park Service as part of their National Water Trail System. Advantages include national promotion and visibility; mutual support and knowledge sharing and opportunities for technical assistance and funding for planning and implementing water trail projects.

Local governments near water trails around the United States have experienced economic advantages. The Outdoor Industry Association reported residents in two congressional districts in Kane County, the 6th and the 8th, spend about $1.47 billion and $1.18 billion respectively on outdoor recreation annually.

Land-Based Trails

Fox River Trail in St. Charles. (Photo by Ryan Peterson)

In total, there are around 400 miles of land-based trails throughout Kane County, which are comprised of regional trails connecting multiple communities and provide access for the region as a whole. Local trails provide access to neighborhoods.

Our county is home to four regional trails: the Fox River Trail, the Virgil L. Gilman Trail, the Great Western Trail and the Illinois Prairie Path. A number of smaller, local paths and trails exist within the county that add to the connectivity of the growing trail network.

The Fox River Trail, one of the most popular in the Chicago region, was built on stretches of three former railroads: Chicago, Aurora & Elgin; Aurora, Elgin & Fox River Electric; and Chicago & North Western. Today it hosts a diversity of flora and fauna including bald eagles, herons, woodpeckers and oak trees.

The Illinois Prairie Path was one of the nation’s first rail-to-trail conversions. The 58-mile trail follows the historical path of the Chicago Aurora and Elgin Railroad.

Egret on the Fox River. (Photo by Rich Nicholls)

A study done in 2013 by Trails for Illinois estimated approximately 122,016 annual users. 86% of respondents reported spending in that year relating to their trail use. The average amount by those reporting a purchase was $41.50.

The western segment of the Great Western Trail follows 17 miles of the former Chicago Great Western Railway through Kane and DeKalb Counties between LeRoy Oakes Forest Preserve and the town of Sycamore. In winter, allowable uses include cross country skiing and snowmobiling.

The Virgil Gilman Trail travels from quiet forest and prairie lands to bustling neighborhoods in just 11 miles, linking a woodsy community college campus with the municipality of Montgomery. Users experience native prairie, stands of large white and black oaks as well as downy woodpeckers, cardinals and blue jays.

The Planning That Made This Possible

Protected open space exists because of the decades of support from residents and decision-makers in Kane County.

The 2020 Land Resource Management Plan, adopted by the Kane County Board in 1996, recognized open space preservation as the armature or foundation of the 2020 Plan. The 2020 Plan took a passionate approach to the implementation and preservation of the open space system in Kane County as a counterpart to development.

Eight years later, in 2004, the 2030 Land Resource Management Plan was adopted. Green Infrastructure is introduced as the interconnected network of land and water. The Kane County 2040 Green Infrastructure Plan emphasizes this concept by analyzing existing resources in the County and laying the groundwork for green infrastructure planning and projects at the regional, community, neighborhood and site levels.

Kane County’s most recent planning document, the Kane County 2040 Plan adopted in 2012, continues the Green Legacy to ensure a continuity of nature for future generations.

These policies are reinforced by the Forest Preserve District of Kane County and townships referenda passed to preserve open space.

In fact, county residents have approved five referenda for Forest Preserve District land acquisition and preserve improvements in 1999, 2005, 2007, 2011 and 2017. As a result, the district manages more than 22,300 acres of public open space.

Due to the foresight of planners and decision-makers, Kane County residents enjoy many wonderful opportunities to enjoy land and water-based trails. Please watch this space for the next few days to learn about specific trail segments you can enjoy.

A Note From The Kane County Development and Community Services Department

The Kane County Development and Community Services Department is encouraging residents to get outside and also to support local businesses during all phases of the Restore Illinois Plan.

Visit the Why Kane website for links to Community Development Connections — economic development organizations, chambers of commerce, utilities and businesses committed to helping present and future citizens of Kane County grow and prosper.

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