By Jeff Long
Fox Valley Park District
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Like all regional trails, the Virgil Gilman Trail was designed as an avenue of escape for walkers, runners, cyclists and skiers. Trails are a sanctuary -- protected pathways that provide a soothing alternative to the craziness of city streets and highway shoulders.
But there are still moments on the trail when peace and chaos intersect -- places commonly known as "road crossings." They're unavoidable, but they also help remind trail users just how enjoyable life on the trails really is.
Road crossings are a necessary evil, though that's no longer the case where the Gilman Trail crosses Galena Boulevard.
Recently, the Fox Valley Park District officially christened the new, spectacular bridge that spans the busy highway below.
Trail users previously had to stop and navigate their way between cars traveling 60 mph to cross the trail. Now it's a quick, easy -- and ultrasafe -- bypass over the stream of traffic below.
The bridge has significantly upgraded safety, not to mention convenience, particularly for young families and children. Standing just a few feet away and feeling the whoosh as traffic sped by -- then scurrying across Galena with training wheels and baby trailers -- had to be a harrowing experience.
The new bridge also serves as a high-profile, welcoming symbol for those entering Aurora from the west, a gateway announcing that this community and its park district value and appreciate the recreational opportunities that abound here.
The ceremony was a momentous event for all who attended but, even more so, it marked yet another triumphant development that has helped make our local network of trails among the best in the nation.
The Gilman Trail originated as a simple nature trail in the 1950s -- the first linear park in the United States. It was a trend setter in many ways, and helped spearhead the movement to convert abandoned rail lines into recreational trails.
Today, the Gilman runs 11½ miles between Hill Avenue (Route 30) on the southeast side of Montgomery and the Waubonsee College campus in Sugar Grove. Dedicated as a National Heritage Corridor, the Gilman is part of a 44-mile network of trails owned and maintained by the park district.
The Fox River Trail and Illinois Prairie Path are the other major players in that network. Both have earned Hall of Fame status from the national Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, and it's easy to see why. Not only are our trails a local treasure, but they draw tourists to this area from near and far.
In addition to the new, stately bridge, the Gilman is receiving an expanded trailhead as well where it crosses the Fox River. The park district recently restored four acres of riverside space where its maintenance operations were once housed, and now that area will be a central launching point for the Gilman and Fox River trails.
From that trailhead, it's freedom of choice -- travel north, south, east or west -- trails radiate in each direction.
With each additional connection, the gaps are being bridged to the point where, someday, our local trails will be part of a larger, national network -- all of it interconnected.
Jeff Long is the public relations manager for the Fox Valley Park District. Contact him a firstname.lastname@example.org