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.
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 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” grant from the state of Illinois. So you can easily and safely rack your bike and hike the trails.
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.