It seems like only yesterday when a bike ride on the western edge of Aurora was a peaceful pedal along country roads. Even better was the Virgil Gilman Trail, its western section winding through a serene setting of forest and prairie, with Blackberry Creek flowing alongside.
But Aurora has become a popular place to live, due in part to the fantastic network of parks and trails like the Gilman. Actor Russell Crowe would endorse that sentiment, having been spotted recently on area trails enjoying a little exercise and scenery while in town to shoot the latest "Superman" movie.
Aurora is now the second most populous city in Illinois. That means more traffic -- and more people utilizing the trails -- requiring an even greater need for increased safety and access.
The Fox Valley Park District is addressing the issue with an exciting new project. Very soon, users of the Gilman Trail won't have to stop, look left and look right to avoid vehicles whisking past where the trail crosses busy Galena Boulevard.
Construction has begun on an overpass bridge that will put users out of harm's way for good. No more scrambling across the highway while vehicles approach at speeds in excess of 55 mph.
You can already hear a collective sigh of relief -- from parents, especially. But this new project will bring peace of mind to everybody and make the Gilman Trail all the more attractive.
"As trail use has increased over the years, so has the amount of vehicular traffic on Galena, given the growth in Sugar Grove and the west side of Aurora," said Jeff Palmquist, director of planning, development and grants. "The combination of those factors has made that a difficult crossing during certain periods of the day."
Once the park district negotiated a deal with developers of the Ingham Park subdivision for land to build the bridge abutments, the project was a go. Completion is expected later this year.
In addition to the safety and accessibility features it will provide, the bridge has a striking appearance as a welcoming gateway as drivers approach Aurora from the west on Galena.
"It will have a very distinctive appearance as one of the park district's iconic structures," said Palmquist.
The modern amenity balances well with the historic Gilman Trail, one of the nation's first rail-to-trail conversions. Dedicated as a National Heritage Corridor, the Gilman Trail skirts the south and west portions of Aurora, running 11½ miles between Hill Avenue in Montgomery and the campus of Waubonsee Community College in Sugar Grove.
The bridge project is part of the 2008 Open Space, Park and Recreation Investment (OSPRI) plan that reinvests referendum funds to improve community opportunities for recreation.
For every cyclist, runner and cross country skier, avoiding traffic is half the reason we're on the trail, and that experience is about to get even better.
• Jeff Long is the public relations manager for the Fox Valley Park District. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.