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President's Letter: Renewed Focus on Trails

A trail is much more than a way to get from Point A to Point B. For millions of people each year, our trails are an open invitation into the forest preserves–a way to experience natural lands on foot, by bike, horse, in-line skates or skis. Our trails give Cook County residents a place to walk, run or bike uninterrupted for miles. For many residents, our trails are even a way to commute to work and school, removing cars from the road and improving our air quality.

The Forest Preserve District is planning a series of exciting trail projects in 2013, including constructing segments of the new Cal-Sag Trail, completing the Thorn Creek Trail and extending the North Branch Trail both north and south. Federal grants will provide funding for 80 percent of the new trails and trail extensions.

We’re also adding new trails at the Orland Grassland and Oak Forest Heritage Preserve. And the District will bring renewed focus to trail maintenance, to ensure that existing trails are as safe and well-maintained as possible.

We recognize not all trails are alike. Some, like our paved trails, allow people to move quickly. Others, like our gravel trails and natural-surface paths, give people a chance to slow down and become more deeply immersed in nature. Good trails must meet the needs of many different kinds of users.

Trails must also meet the needs of nature. To animal and plant communities, a trail has the potential to be a serious disruption, fragmenting habitats and bringing humans into closer contact. With that in mind, we are extremely careful about where we place trails and how we build them. In some places, a trail may not be appropriate at all. Yet in heavily populated Cook County, trails can serve as lifesavers to nature, keeping feet and bike tires on a single band of land, sparing sensitive plant communities from being trampled, soil from being compressed and birds from being scared off their nests.

My administration is committed to taking a comprehensive and nuanced approach to managing our trail system. That’s why the District is developing a Trails Master Plan process this year as well. We’re focused on making connections, building only the trails that make sense in the larger context and ensuring that every trail in the system serves our mission of protecting local natural lands and connecting people to them.

With warm weather around the corner, we encourage you to head out on a trail near you and discover where it leads.