This month, we lent a helping hand to Friends of the Major Taylor Trail, on Earth Day Weekend, organized by local bicyclist Anne Alt.
Hosted by Cook County Forest Preserves, in association with TreeKeepers of Openlands and Green Corps, the day brought us out to Chicago's South Side Whistler Woods to clear out overgrown sections of the Major Taylor Trail and to remove invasive species. We learned about new, up & coming trails and a little local history too. Read on to find out more.
Whistler Woods contains Oak trees up to 300 years old, but the invasive brush prevents their acorns from sprouting. We joined scores of other volunteer groups to cut back the invasives, to remove garbage, and to improve this preserve's habitat and the adjacent trail for the grand oaks, native plants, and the people near the Little Calumet River.
There was a big turnout this year. In conjunction with Earth Day, Cook County Forest Preserves were also continuing their 100th year celebration success, by the way of the 2016 Centennial Volunteer legacy initiative. The Centennial Volunteer legacy is a series of events all year long throughout Cook County. Visit the Cook County Forest Preserve's Event Page for volunteer experiences. Plus, guided tours, festivals, bird watching programs, and much much more
Soon Chicago's South Side and surrounding residents will be able to travel to Indiana Dunes State Park without ever having to get into a car! Starting in 2016 & 2017 the Major Taylor Trail will connect with the soon to be completed section of the Cal-Sag Trail. People will be able to travel in a Easterly or Westerly direction across the South side, where you can link up with the Lake Front Trail, Major Taylor Trail, Burnham Greenway, or the Indiana Dunes trail systems on the east end, and the Tinley Creek, Palos and I&M Canal Trail Systems on the west end, just to name a few. In it's completion, the South Side bike corridor will eventually stretch from the I&M canal to the doorstep of Indiana's Border, totaling 26.6 miles. For the more adventurous bicyclist, South Siders can even travel to Starved Rock State Park by hopping on the I&M Canal Trail! Check out the Cal-Sag Map here and the existing branches.
About the Major Taylor Trail
The Major Taylor Trail extends north from Whistler Woods forest preserve in Riverdale, across the Little Calumet River, through the West Pullman, Morgan Park and Beverly neighborhoods to Dan Ryan Woods forest preserve in Chicago, covering a distance of more than 6 miles.
"Dan Ryan Woods is the last remaining undeveloped portion of Blue Island, one of the highest points in Chicago, and once an island in ancient Lake Chicago. South of 87th Street, the east side slopes into the low, flat glacial lake plain. The site preserves remnants of woodland and savanna plant communities, flush with wild ginger, May apple, trout lily, trillium and more." -as described by FPCC
In it's central portion, branch off the Major Taylor Trail to ride along Longwood Drive and into the Beverly neighborhood to see old growth tress accompanied with eloquent homes perched atop the ridge. Beverly is located on the highest elevation in Chicago, and provides for some stunning architectural eye candy for an afternoon bike ride. Be sure to visit Chicago's only true Castle, and learn about it's five keepers.
On the south end, the old Indian Boundary Line crosses right through the path near 128th Street. A Potawatomi Indian Village used to reside near here, as well as an Indian trail (now present day Lincoln avenue). In 1816, Native Americans controversially ceded land to the northwest of this line, in the Treaty of St. Louis. This opened up an industrial boom for Chicago as steel mills and rail yards moved into the area. Some people might even say this is where the trail received its beginnings, when the push for the west came to Chicago.
The idea for the trail began in 1992, when the Department of Transportation focused their attention to an abandoned railway: The once Chicago and Great Eastern Railway, part of the abandoned Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Chicago, and St. Louis (Pennsy's Panhandle) rail route, built in the mid 1800's and opened in 1865. Passenger service was originally discontinued in 1971 with the formation of Amtrak and the last passenger train ran in 1975. The Chicago and Great Eastern railway was finally abandoned during the 1980's. The Dept. of Transportation acquired the land in 1998, and by 2003 most of trail construction was completed. The Chicago Park District took control of most of the trail in December 2006 and portions still reside under Cook County Forest Preserves and DOT jurisdiction. With the help of trail advocates, the Major Taylor Trail opened to the public on June 2, 2007.
1897 Chicago Railway Terminal map. Click the map to zoom in and locate the old titled rail lines and the Indian boundary line, were the The Major Taylor Trail now exists. Note the size of Lake Calumet and surrounding wetlands. Compare to a modern day google map to see the effects of engineered drainage.
Still to this day, a railway remnant, continues NNW to the interchange yard that serves a steel mill. "Bottle trains" used to deliver hot molten iron to this steel plant regularly during its heyday. Sometimes the bottle trains still make the run, as you can see in this January 2, 2015 photo. The path also shares the exsisting railway trestle bridge on the Little Calumet River. The track ends as an industrial spur for, and at the National Processing building in West Pullman. The abandoned Chicago and Great Eastern right-of-way continues in a Northwestern direction as the Major Taylor Trail: a "rail to trail" conversation
Currently bicyclists and trail users now enjoy a viable multi-use path due to the extraordinary efforts and on-going successes from local communities along the path, and from the Friends of the Major Taylor Trail group. There is even talk about a new "Bridge to Green Park" conversion being built in the upcoming years to link-up with the trail. For those who are interested in group rides, consider taking a ride with the Major Taylor Cycling Club, short for MTC3.
Who was Major Taylor? We learned that the Trail is named after and commemorated for a Man named Marshall "Major" Taylor. "The trail honors Marshall W. “Major” Taylor (1878 – 1932) who was one of the most celebrated bicycle racers of the late nineteenth century. The son of an African American Civil War veteran, Marshall Taylor was born in rural Indiana. He moved with his family to Indianapolis, where his father, Gilbert Taylor found work as a coachman for a wealthy white family, the Southards, who gave Marshall his first bicycle when he was around twelve years old. Marshall became such a good cyclist that he was hired by a local bicycle store owner to perform stunts outside of his shop. Because the owner had Marshall wear a soldier’s uniform while performing his popular bicycle stunts, he became known as “Major” Taylor. In 1891, at the age of 13, he entered his first race as a joke. Taylor won this race, which was held in Indianapolis. According to his obituary in the Chicago Tribune, Taylor “startled the city with his rare performance and soon became the big drawing card at bicycle races,” throughout the nation. He moved to Worcester, Massachusetts in 1895, and continued setting new records at races. By 1899, Taylor held seven world records, but because of racial prejudice, he was not given the opportunity to compete in a national championship until 1900, when he won the American Spirit competition. Over the next several years, he competed in and won races in Australia, New Zealand, and throughout Europe. He retired from racing at the age of 32 in 1910. Taylor published his autobiography entitled The Fastest Bicycle Rider in the World in 1928." -Trail History by The Chicago Park District
To read a more detailed account of Major Taylor visit the Major Taylor Cycling Club page
Much thanks to the Friends of the Major Taylor Trail, Pete Taylor, Larry Unruh, Chris Weber and Anne Alt for putting this bicycle trail workday together. There is something to be said about riding on a trail you've ridden many times before, but knowing you've helped create it or maintain it gives you the feeling of pride and accomplishment that leaves a lasting impression for yourself, this generation, and the next.
What are you waiting for, volunteer at your local trail or go out to explore a new section of the city. Visit you county's forest preseve website for up coming trail workdays. The Chain-Link is also another great organization that posts trail workdays through out the Chicagoland region and also boasts one of the more impressive bicycling related event pages for Chicago. Give them a visit here at www.thechainlink.org
"Life is too short for any man to hold bitterness in his heart."
Post by: Andrew St. Paul
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