Growing up in Chicago, what kept me sane was the North Branch Bicycle Trail.

As a high schooler, I would jump on my bike and ride north on Austin Avenue until I hit the bike trail at Devon and Caldwell. Thinking back, I have no idea how I survived riding in Chicago traffic. But once I hit the trail it was a safe, relaxing and wonderful escape from the crush of the city.

The trail is mostly a thin ribbon of asphalt winding through forest preserves along the North Branch of the Chicago River. Most days I’d take the path up to the Skokie Lagoons, sometimes continuing on to the Chicago Botanical Gardens.

“On your left!” you’d hear as the occasional fast cyclist would overtake you. On my weekday rides I’d hardly encounter a soul, maybe a few pedestrians. The trail was smooth enough that there were some folks on roller blades. And once I even saw a guy on roller skis trying to keep in shape for the cross-country season.

In the years since I’ve biked several other trails. The I&M Canal is great for biking, and the Pumpkin Pie Ride is tasty. The bike trail down by Pere Marquette State Park is always a fantastic trip. I even got to ride along the Göta Canal in Sweden — with Steven Varble during a Rotary Club Group Study Exchange, and with my wife Tiffany on our honeymoon.

I love the idea of a park and path through the heart of Jacksonville. It would be a great place to walk my dog or start a bike ride. I look at a map and I see the possibilities — a bike path that connects the city with Lake Jacksonville, maybe even one day connecting with the paths in Springfield. Environmentally, it would be nice to create a small refuge in town for people to enjoy.

I tip my helmet to MacMurray College for the work they’ve completed with south campus and Freesen Field. Thanks to them, Jacksonville already has the first stretch done! The park and path will be a fantastic way to promote the city of Jacksonville and induce families to move here from Springfield.

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