The Long-Awaited North Branch Trail Extension to Foster Avenue Is Ready to Ride

Photo: Jeff Zoline
Photo: Jeff Zoline

The North Branch Trail is a popular multi-use trail operated by the Forest Preserve District of Cook County. It runs along the North Branch of the Chicago River and the Skokie Lagoons from the Northwest Side of Chicago to the Chicago Botanic Gardens in Glencoe. The trail was recently extended four miles south from its previous southeastern terminus at Devon and Caldwell in the city’s Edgebrook neighborhood to the Irene C. Hernandez Picnic Area at Foster and Kostner, near North Mayfair. This brings the total trail length to 22 miles.

The extension was constructed in two phases, from Devon and Caldwell to Forest Glen Avenue, which was completed last year, and the recently completed phase from Forest Glen Avenue to the picnic area. A ribbon cutting was held at the picnic area. The speakers were FPDCC General Superintendent Arnold Randall, 39th Ward alderman Margaret Laurino, Chicago Department of Transportation deputy commissioner Luann Hamilton, Active Transportation Alliance advocacy director Jim Merrell, North Mayfair Improvement Association president Jim O’Reilly and Cook County Department of Public Health attending physician Dr. Kiran Joshi.

The southern end of the trail. Photo: Jeff Zone
The southern end of the trail. Photo: Jeff Zone

Randall spoke about the importance of helping make nature accessible to those in the city as an escape from the stresses of urban life. He said that the new extension will increase trail access to thousands more people. He added that most people think of the forest preserves as a suburban thing and he would like to change that perception so that more city dwellers will use the preserves as well.

Laurino discussed the importance of providing better bike connections and nature access throughout her ward via long-term planning. She also talked about future trail development work on the former Weber Spur, which will connect to the North Branch & Sauganash trails in Chicago as well as the Valley Line and Weber Spur trails in north suburban Lincolnwood.

One of the road underpasses. Photo: Jeff Zoline
One of the road underpasses. Photo: Jeff Zoline

Hamilton echoed Alderman Laurino’s statement on better path connections, noting that the new North Branch extension provides connections and routes that would otherwise never have been possible in the past.

Merrell discussed how this new trail segment will fill in missing links in the city’s bike network as well as regional trail connections. He hopes this extension will help build support for similar projects to fill in other sections.

O’Reilly noted that the trail provides a new gateway to North Mayfair and said he hopes that it will help make the neighborhood — which is surrounded by the Forest Preserve, the Chicago River and the Edens Expressway – less isolated. Joshi discussed the importance of trails for providing access to nature and opportunities for physical activity.

Guess they can take out the "to be completed" part in the next edition of the Chicago Bike Map. Image: CDOT
Guess they can take out the “to be completed” part in the next edition of the Chicago Bike Map. Image: CDOT

The new extension runs parallel to the North Branch of the Chicago River between Forest Glen Avenue and La Bagh Woods. It crosses under the Edens Expressway and Cicero Avenue to reach the woods. From there to the Hernandez Picnic Area, it weaves through open space the intersection of Foster and Kostner where it connects with a short path through the Chicago Park District’s Gompers Park.

The new trail seems to be very well designed. The only predicted problem is flooding of the path after heavy rainstorms near Cicero and the Edens due to the proximity of the river and the low elevation of the trail where it runs running under Cicero.

The existing signal at Forest Glen Avenue. Photo: Jeff Zoline
The existing signal at Forest Glen Avenue. Photo: Jeff Zoline

In addition, I’d recommend installing a new traffic signal on Cicero Avenue at the entrance to La Bagh Woods near Berwyn. A signal was recently added at Central Avenue and the North Branch Trail to help provide safe crossing at this busy stretch of the road through the forest preserve as well as to improve safety for vehicles exiting the Edgebrook Golf Course. A new signal on Cicero Avenue would have a similar effect to help provide safe crossing for pedestrians and vehicles entering and exiting La Bagh Woods.

Despite these quibbles, it’s great that the long-awaited North Branch extension is finally ready to ride. It’s going to make it that much easier to escape the hustle and bustle of the city for the leafy trail, where it’s not unusual to spot leaping deer.

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