Editorial: Why is driving the safest way to get to the Morton Arboretum?
Consider this: The Morton Arboretum is an "outdoor museum of trees" in Lisle born from the country estate of Joy Morton, surrounded by DuPage County forest preserves to the west and spacious communities to the north, and the only real safe way to enter it is ... by car.
That's because since the arboretum's opening in 1922, sprawl has grown around it, and now Morton is bordered not by little country roads but major roadways: Butterfield Road/Route 56 to the north and Route 53 to the west, and I-355 and I-88 to the east and south.
So if there once was a way to walk or bike to the arboretum, it's now dangerous to do so -- "a harrowing experience," according to Steve Johnson. He is the vice president of the Friends of the East Branch DuPage River Trail. That nonprofit is trying to create a safe alternative way to travel north and south through the center of DuPage. Specifically, it's working to create a path along that east branch of the river from Churchill Woods in Glen Ellyn to Hidden Lake near Downers Grove, which is right by the arboretum.
It would be five or six miles of trail. A longer trail, going farther both north and south, has been on planners' minds since at least the 1990s. The county has gotten bits and pieces of it built since then, but now comes an engineering study costing about a $206,000 of a key segment -- from St. Charles Road to the Illinois Prairie Path, crossing the Union Pacific railroad. That study is expected to take about a year.
Such is the nature of alternative transportation in the suburbs: Plenty of natural escapes surrounded by concrete infrastructure, leaving us only with expensive and time-consuming remedies to connect them.
DuPage County is no stranger to environmental efforts and conservation. It already has a remarkable trail system, anchored by the Illinois Prairie Path, which runs straight east-west through DuPage and then branches both northwest to Elgin and southwest to Aurora. Then there are the North Central DuPage Regional Trail, the West Branch DuPage River Trail and the Southern DuPage Regional Trail, and several smaller trails. What's glaringly missing is a complete north-south trail through the center of the county.
You can still bike through the center of the county, working suburbs' side streets and smaller trails, but when you get close to the arboretum, your only choice to actually get into it is, as Johnson said, Route 53 or Park Boulevard. It can be done, but not many are comfortable riding it, to say nothing of walking it. How did this happen to an arboretum?
After efforts stalled by the pandemic and other problems, the Friends of the East Branch DuPage River Trail are gaining some momentum. The volunteers are getting the county's support examining a key segment, at least, and are hopeful about federal environmental funding.
There's a long way to go, with a lot of pieces of property to acquire and put together, but it's another effort toward healthier and climate-friendlier suburbs, and it deserves support.