Monday, May 11, 2009

Along the Trail

These trails snake across the country, in the footprints of abandoned railroad roadbeds. Railroads were a boon to the development of the nation. But the word development is a dirty word sometimes to environmentalists and railroads are not exception. They blasted through scenic mountains, created new towns while causing the death and abandonment of others very near by, crossed meandering rivers often blocking the oxbows and changing the course in their headlong rush to perfect efficient straightness. They damaged wetlands by impacting drainage patterns, messed with wildlife access to water and food, brought noise to previously quiet environments, and brought smoky pollution to areas with pristine clean air. And when the railroads got abandoned due to age or changes in needs or competition from more flexible truck shipping, no one was about to spend money to repair that damage. The stickstraight raised embankments were left there to stand as a testimony to a failed idea with lasting harmful environmental effects. So when a few brave souls suggested that lemonade could be make of this limitless linear lemon, it seemed radical indeed. But in the end, it was an idea that provided huge benefit at little cost. Cut out the overgrowth of weedy trees and put down some crushed gravel to make a trail on the already compacted and stable former roadbed, and you have a trail. All trails allow bikes and walkers, and some allow ATVs and some allow horses. Some trails are volunteer maintained and others are in the domain of various park districts and other municipal, county, or state natural areas management organizations. This account tells how one such set of trails started in Illinois: p://
My travels to Wisconsin take me along highway 20, which crosses the Jane Addams trail at a place where rest facilities are often welcome. These spring wildflowers inhabit the edges of just one tiny stretch of trail there.

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