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North Branch Trail Extension Completed

Woodland path links two major trail systems

On September 13, the Forest Preserves and Chicago Botanic Garden officially opened a new mile-long extension of the northern end of the North Branch Trail. The new path connects two major bike routes, the North Branch Trail and the Green Bay Trail.

“This new addition provides the missing link in a trail system that runs some 30 miles from Lake Bluff into the city of Chicago,” said Arnold Randall, General Superintendent of the Forest Preserves of Cook County. “It offers cyclists a safer alternative to Lake Cook Road and will give pedestrians a new view of the Garden and these beautiful natural areas.”

The new trail meanders through Turnbull Woods and McDonald Woods, running along the south side of Lake Cook Road from the Braeside Metra Station in Highland Park west to the entrance of the Chicago Botanic Garden. It improves access to visitors who come to the Garden by train, bicycle, stroller, foot and wheelchair.

Roughly 80,000 to 90,000 visitors enter the Garden by bike or foot each year. “We hope the new path will increase free usage of the Garden by making it safer and more enjoyable for all visitors to take public transportation, bike and walk here,” said Harriet Resnick, Vice President for Visitor Experience and Business Development at the Garden.

The North Branch Trail addition provides a new portal into McDonald Woods, a rare 100-acre oak woodland remnant. The Woods provides food and refuge for more than 400 species of native plants, 20 species of mammals, 118 species of birds and thousands of different insects.

A technologically advanced wooden boardwalk provides passage over wetlands without impeding the flow of water through the area. Beneath the boardwalk is a healthy wetland, where visitors can enjoy a variety of wetland plantstwelve species of dragonflies and damselflies, toads and polliwogs and migrating birds such as the northern waterthrush. Interpretive signs point out the wetlands as well as the glacial moraine, woodlands and sedge communities along the trail.

The asphalt path includes the use of recycled aggregates and shingles, and all of the topsoil was stockpiled on site and reused.

The $2 million project, funded largely with $1.65 million from the Illinois Department of Transportation, Illinois Transportation Enhancement Program and the Litowitz Family Foundation, is a partnership between the Forest Preserves, the Chicago Botanic Garden and the Illinois Department of Transportation.

Learn more about the North Branch Trail addition and its glacial past.

Story adapted from Chicago Botanic Garden.