Chicago's Lakefront with Geoffrey Baer

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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The "Other" Lakefront Trail

The Chicago Park District really needs to reconsider using the term "Lakefront Trail".

First, let's face it, the word "Bike" is conspicuously absent. As much as they might want to pretend that it belongs to all lakefront users, from about May to September, the bikers really own that thing. (or at least they act like they own it) I write this from the perspective of an avid runner, who has been known to wake up in a cold sweat in the middle of the night screaming "on my left!"

The Park District can call it whatever it wants, but it's essentially the Lakefront Bike Trail.

But how about the use of the word "trail"? Yes, many years of living in this city has, unfortunately, left me a bit out of touch with nature. But I still haven't forgotten what a trail looks like. It's dirt, and it runs through the woods. The "Lakefront Trail" is concrete, and it runs along Lake Shore Drive. Which brings me to my third point:

The use of the word "lakefront". Yes, it's near the lakefront, but for the most part, it is not on the lake. Some of it is on a park, part of it is even on a pleasant golf course...but most of it, unfortunately, is on a six-lane highway.

But there is an alternative. At least on the north side:

I will call it the "Other" Lakefront Trail. This one actually runs on the lake. It's actually quite trail-like. And it's remarkably bicycle-free. Here's a brief guide:

The "Other" Lakefront Trail is a pleasant, wide, dirt path that runs on the lake side (east side) of the Marovitz Golf Course, between Montrose and Belmont. As you run or stroll (don't bike!) along this path you'll take in lovely views of the rolling contours of the golf course (watch out for golf balls!), and on the other side, you'll drink in the deep, green waters of Lake Michigan, lapping on a rocky coastline. (there aren't even any ugly concrete revetments).

To the south, this Service Road leads you to a cinder path that winds around Belmont Harbor (very nice). Or, you can choose to hop off the cinder path early and circle around the Jarvis Migratory Bird Sanctuary (pretty), past the Archery Range (watch out for arrows!) To the north, the Service Road leads you to a sidewalk that will carry you around Montrose Point (great skyline views). From there you can explore the Montrose Bird Sanctuary and its adjacent sand dune, the always-multicultural Montrose Beach, or, for an extra cardiovascular workout you can "climb" up Cricket Hill, which is quite steep by Chicago standards (it's not at all steep).

Here's the catch: signs posted at both ends of the "other" Lakefront Trail read "Service Road Only." I'm not sure what this means, but no one has ever stopped me (so it must be okay). Besides, Park District employees have come plenty close to mowing me down on the Lakefront (Bike) Trail on enough occasions. So I figure I have license to use their Service Road.

There's my little secret. Bicyclists: stay away.

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My Favorite (and least favorite) Lakefront Attractions

Over the next few weeks I'll be giving some thought to my favorite (and least favorite) attractions along Chicago's lakefront. I approach this as much more than just a producer at WTTW whose job it is to know the city. I'm also a jogger, who runs on the lakefront trail most mornings at 6:00, all year around. And I'm a condo dweller, who doesn't have a backyard (just a planter full of dead flowers on my back porch) so I go to spots like the Montrose Point Bird Sanctuary to see some greenery. I'm a parent, who brings his daughter to the Lincoln Park Zoo to teach her that the term "doggie" does not apply to all animals (as much as squirrels might look like dogs). A foodie, who stops at the Green City Market on Saturdays to stock up on produce for the week. And I'm my family's designated tour guide, who drags out-of-town visitors away from Michigan Avenue to explore Wooded Island in Jackson Park and the South Shore Cultural Center. In short, I am the consummate lakefront user. Here is what I've discovered...

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