OA Staff Summer Series: Wheels Down
Summer is for cycling! Ever since I was a child, I loved to ride my bike. There is nothing as glorious as pushing my pedals as the wind rushes past me with the smell of grills and fresh-cut grass in the air.
As an adult, things have not changed. Getting out on my bike means adventure! I feel like a kid, except instead of just cruising around the neighborhood, I seek out new sections of bike paths that take me past small towns, wildlife, geologic features, local parks, historical markers, and quirky old homes. This 4th of July weekend, instead of trying to get to the beach or a lake house, I planned a weekend exploring a few bike trails in the Quad Cities area (Bettendorf, IA, Davenport, IA, East Moline, IL, and Moline, IL). Western Illinois is home to several bike trails. Three trail segments caught my attention, and it was time to get my wheels down. A three-day weekend meant I could tackle three trails:
1) The Hennepin Canal Parkway-. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the canal was originally built to link the Illinois and Mississippi river. It opened in 1907, but it was a little late to the party and quickly abandoned due to competition from railroads. We started at the Bureau Junction Parking lot and cruised west to Hennepin Canal State Park and the junction with the northern feeder canal bridge 17A. The trip was 54 miles out and back.
Biking the Hennepin felt like being transported back in time. My mind started imagining animals pulling cargo through the canal as I cruised past the old locks and rusted bridges. The trail was so peaceful, with a nice balance of sunshine and shade. Compared to riding in the Chicago suburbs, we had the trail all to ourselves.
This trail is not for beginners. Some sections are poorly maintained, and there are few services along the way. Road bikes, beware chunky gravel, and holes abound. This trail is best for gravel, hybrid, or mountain bikes!
2) The Great River Trail- River Boats, barges, John Deer, Native American Mound building civilizations, and Minor League baseball made this an epic way to celebrate the 4th of July. Cruising along the mighty Mississippi from Davenport, IA, to Fulton, IL, was an 88-mile round trip excursion. You can link up shorter sections for a 15 to 30-mile ride or go longer if you are up for it.
The trail is all paved and very well marked. There are bathrooms, water stops, and places to get snacks. The areas right in the city have beautiful murals, the trail linkages are very bike-friendly, and they are working to make them even better. I was impressed with the trail system, and friendly people along the way. I will definitely be back to ride again!
3) Duck Creek Trail Park- This is a lovely urban trail running 20-miles one way across Davenport, IA. If you are looking for urban adventure complete with delicious food, coffee shops, a farmers' market, and a short stretch through Iowa farms, then Duck Creek is for you! The one-way trail is easy to make a loop on some designated street bike routes.
How did I figure this all out? It isn't rocket science. A little curiosity and Google maps make it easy to locate trails all over the country. Pull up a map and add the bike trail layer. The paths in solid green are dedicated bike trails. They are typically crushed, limestone, or paved. The solid brown lines are dirt bike trails, sometimes mountain bike specific, and the dashed green lines are street bike routes. These are more bike-friendly roads with a bike lane on the street or share the road signs and bike markings. Once I have found an area that interests me, I zoom in, and my cognitive wheels start turning!
If you zoom in closely, you can acquire the trail names. The next step is to search the trail names to find resources. Bike trails are maintained by state parks, DNRs, trail groups, towns, non-profits, or DOTs. I look at the towns along the trails and start creating routes to check mileages between the cities. The sky is the limit! Just get out and RIDE! :)