Spring cleaning: Volunteers pick up trash on miles of area bike trails

“After snow is long gone, before plants begin to grow, roadside garbage seems to bloom. Who are these people with the mindset, ‘Oh, somebody will pick it up?’”

So mused Bike Palatine Club vice president Kevin Keehn four years ago. That question led him on a personal mission of picking up litter along Northwest suburban roads/trails where he annually cycles a couple thousand miles.

Since 2021, his club has scheduled its spring trail cleanup in the Paul Douglas Forest Preserve in Hoffman Estates. The next one is from 8 a.m. to noon Saturday, April 13, starting from the Grassy Meadows parking lot. Cook County Forest Preserve staff provide trash bags and haul full ones away.

In just a couple hours, volunteers from the club, Palatine Cool Cities Environmental Team, local high schools and Harper College will remove trash bags of unsightly litter.

They aren’t the only ones honoring Earth Day and environmental activism this month along Chicago area bike trails. April 13 also finds Bicycle Club of Lake County volunteers collecting trash on St. Mary’s Road in Libertyville, starting at 10 a.m. from the Old School Forest Preserve.

Per President Don Mobley, BCLC has performed this community service twice yearly since 2001, coordinated by former president Dennis Mumm. Second cleanup is in autumn.

Natalie Benner, Lincolnwood Public Works Management analyst, reports the village sponsors annual spring and fall cleanups. Their April 21 event runs 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on the Union Pacific Trail. This 1.2-mile paved path, a rail-to-trail conversion, extends from Touhy to Devon.

Volunteers park in the lot on the 6900 block of North Central and meet on the trail behind 7001 N. Lawndale Ave. Cleanup supplies will be provided. Lincolnwood sponsors its two cleanups in various village locations: Centennial Park, Union Pacific Trail and Valley Line Trail.

Cleaning up 62 miles

In honor of Earth Day, the Illinois Prairie Path Corporation, in cooperation with Friends of the Great Western Trails, DuPage County, multiple municipalities and community organizations, set April 27 for its annual cleanup. Officially April 22, Earth Day marks the anniversary of the modern environmental movement’s birth in 1970.

Armed with work gloves, trash bags and grabbers, hundreds will snatch plastic bottles, candy wrappers and energy drink cans along the Illinois Prairie Path’s 62 miles, extending from western Cook to Kane County. The goal: clean the entire trail. Volunteers registering on the IPP cleanup page indicate a preferred path segment along the main Maywood-Wheaton stem, Geneva spur or Elgin and Aurora branches. One of over 20 site coordinators then contact the volunteers.

While cleanup start time is 9 a.m., each work group sets its own. Recommended: Long pants, work gloves and sturdy shoes, plus litter grabbers, if available. Site coordinators provide trash bags. Trail cleanup in Maywood is May 4.

If Lombard is their preferred area, volunteers are directed to the “Lombard Pride Cleanup” webpage.

Lombard Garden Club members take pride in their cleanup of the Great Western Trail near Lombard's Westmore Woods Park. Courtesy of Jeri Shaw

Dave Gorman, assistant director of Public Works, notes, “For the last few decades, a couple hundred volunteers have pitched in to pick up trash before Lilac Time in Lombard,” including the Great Western Trail and parks.

“Groups include schools, religious institutions, friends and family groups, Scouts, corporate teams, and individuals. Some will also pull garlic mustard if the timing is right. We do our best to spread out the effort to cover all areas and prevent overlap.”

GWT parallels IPP

The Great Western Trail also gets a facelift April 27. Ted Villaire’s book, “Best Rail Trails Illinois,” states this trail was originally part of the Chicago Great Western Railroad, connecting Chicago, Minneapolis, Omaha and Kansas City. Now, half the Illinois Prairie Path’s length, the Great Western Trail is split into two sections.

Connecting Villa Park and West Chicago in DuPage County, the newer 12.7-mile eastern section parallels the Illinois Prairie Path, intersecting the Elgin branch just before the eastern GWT ends. The older, western section runs 18 miles between western St. Charles (Kane County) and Sycamore (DeKalb County). The goal is to clean both.

Don Kirchenberg, founder of Friends of the Great Western Trails in 1995, said cleanups have been part of their mission since the start. Volunteers from a variety of community groups work primarily in towns and villages.

“Groups don’t all come together until about 10 days before the event,” Kirchenberg says, adding “it’s maddening,” with weather, not surprisingly, a key factor.

“We push back this cleanup to the last Saturday in April,” he continues, “hoping to maximize our chances of a good turnout. It goes rain or shine, regardless.”

Check volunteer contact information at

Smiles, contraband abound

Volunteers Dave Wilson and Ginny Preston of the Elmhurst Bicycle Club pause their 2023 cleanup in Lombard with an appreciative user of the Great Western Trail. Courtesy of Kim Messina

Volunteers deposit bags of trash at cross streets nearest the trail. Cooperating villages, townships and counties are committed that day to picking up the discards. In Sycamore, the Lions Club cleans the trail Saturday, April 20.

“Funniest thing about all the cleanups is to see photos of smiling people surrounded by bags of trash,” Kirchenberg said. “Funny, but true.”

While Kirchenberg knows of Fox Valley Bicycle and Ski Club members who volunteer as individuals, the only bike club that volunteers, going back to 1995, is Elmhurst Bicycle Club.

Club Advocacy co-chair Kim Messina organizes the efforts, “cleaning the Great Western Trail this year from Main Street to West Street. Afterward we’ll ride to Gnarley Knots for breakfast in Lombard.”

“Normally, 10-15 members help,” Messina said. “We always compete to see who finds the most interesting garbage. One year I found a case of Coors Light, hidden deep into the brush. Perhaps kids forgot where they’d hidden their contraband.”

• Join the ride. Contact Ralph Banasiak at

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