Well, this column is not actually about biking in a river, but it is about biking in and around the Sangamon Valley. And as much as I enjoy kayaking and canoeing, I also enjoy cycling the Sangamon Valley’s bike paths and county roads as they weave their way through forests, prairies, cornfields and crisscrossing the Sangamon River all the way.
We live on the river north and east of Mahomet, so one of my favorite routes picks up the Lake of the Woods Bike Path at its eastern terminus at Prairieview Road and then I ride the trail west. This 3.3 mile trail is, in my humble opinion, one of our Sangamon Valley’s greatest assets.
Riding this surprisingly hilly, curvy trail end to end takes me through impressively tall hardwood forest, past the golf course, across the picturesque Sangamon River covered bridge, and then back down again, winding through river bottom forest, then up and past the Mabry Botanical Gardens, and then over into the rolling hills and savannahs of Buffalo Trace prairie.
At the west end, I head north on Crowley Road for the Champaign ‘County Road’ biking experience.
I nearly always ride alone and I love the open space, long straight roads, and very limited traffic of county road biking. If I encounter one car per mile, I consider it county road rush hour. Oftentimes, I’ll sit straight up, let go of the handlebars, extend my arms and just fly across the prairie.
This time of year, with the corn as high an elephant’s eye, the county roads I ride feel like tunneled passages under the sky above. As I ride through tall cornfields on both sides, I imagine White Sox players from the 1920’s, aliens from space, or murderous children emerging from the corn. It’s easy if I try.
But this column is about the Sangamon of course, so I jog left for a half mile at CR 2500N, turn north again and ride up to County Road 2600N and head back east. This is all to avoid riding on IL 47 north of Mahomet, which with it’s traffic, semis and lack of any real shoulder, I’d take just about any detour to do.
I’m heading to where the Sangamon crosses under the Historic Hazen Bridge. Many regular readers (hi Mom!) know that I think the Hazen Bridge is one of the most interesting spots in the Sangamon Valley, and with the work the USRC has been doing there, it’s become an even nicer place to visit. And it’s even nicer by bike since there are awesome downhills on either side (but alas, what comes down must come up).
From there, continuing east to CR 600E, I turn left and go another two miles north to the Sangamon River Forest Preserve. Here, the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District just installed a nifty new bicycle rack with help from a “We Choose Health” (which I do) grant from the state of Illinois. So you can easily and safely rack your bike and hike the trails.
Nothing against Lake of the Woods and Buffalo Trace, but anyone who walks out here is immediately struck by the awesome intensity of the silence. No noise penetrates this prairie and forest from any interstate, so all you hear are the soft sounds of the forest. And it has a great path along the Sangamon River, too. Biking or not, it’s a great place to spend some time, walk your dog and enjoy the fresh air, prairie flowers and the sounds of silence.
My route then heads straight back down 600E where I cross the Big Ditch, a tributary to the Sangamon that lives up to its name. And then after a slight jog to the west, I could ride down and pick up Fogel Road, head west and again pick up the east end of the Lake of the Woods Bike Path for a very nice complete loop.
And what is yet to come? Some pretty some amazing things are already happening and some remain in the planning stages that promise to make biking the Sangamon River even more popular and attractive.
Many cyclists and others realize that any day or week now, the new and improved Lake of the Woods Road bridge over I-74 is about to reopen with its nifty new bicycle path. I gave myself an unauthorized ‘sneak preview’ recently and it is definitely designed the way a bike path should be done. Don’t worry, you’ll see!
Some of you may have already seen the newest trail link connecting the parking lot at Barber Park to the (current) terminus of the trail down and under the US 150 bridge over the Sangamon. But trust me, there’s more to come.
Another new bike path will extend north from Mahomet up towards Briarcliff and Thornewood that will significantly improve riding on that nerve-wracking stretch of road. And by going under I-74, it will more easily connect Mahomet with Lake of the Woods and Buffalo Trace.
And still in the planning stages, led by Mahomet’s Rivertrails Committee (headed up by my lovely wife Carol), are a trail from the terminus point of the current bike path under the US 150 bridge over the Sangamon, south and west along the river, then crossing the Sangamon on a yet-to-be-designed and built (and paid for) walking/biking bridge near the railroad trestle over the river. You can already walk that way on a nicely mown path if you haven’t already.
After crossing the river and most likely going under the railroad trestle, this path would then cross into the back side of the Sangamon Greenway, another public access area where one can currently walk through the forest along the river or through the prairie savannah. In my humble opinion, the “Greenway” is currently one of the least developed, but still very much public “hidden gems” of Mahomet and deserves your visit. Park at the public lot just north and east of the bridge.
By going through the Greenway, this proposed walking/biking trail will connect with IL 47, which was recently redesigned to make walking and bike riding safer across the Sangamon from South Mahomet, and this will also connect the path to Riverbend Forest Preserve using the newly paved MidAmerica Road. So soon (hopefully) cyclists will be able to easily bike their way from Lake of the Woods to Riverbend.
Much of this is in the planning stages, but if you’re a walker, biker, or you just like a little alternative transportation with a beautiful natural experience to go along with it, you’ll like what’s coming! In the meantime, get involved in your community yourself to make it a better place for all of us. Contact the Village, the Parks and Rec department, the USRC or the Rivertrails Committee for more information on how you can become part of these and other new developments. And stay tuned to this space as well!
Appeared as Notes from the River, Mahomet Citizen, July 24, 2014