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Wednesday, May 21, 2008 12:11 pm

The trails of Madison County

Picturesque Metro East county a destination for hikers and bikers

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Untitled Document Having two sons, I’ve done my share of driving around the state on weekends — attending swim meets, soccer games, or cross-country meets over the years. As a spectator rather than a participant at these sporting events limited my cardiovascular activities. Other than carrying the lawn chairs and coolers from the car to our designated sitting spot, my exercise was, to put it in perspective, quite stationary. So, when my older son told me he wanted to go to a swim meet in Edwardsville in the fall, my heart began to race. You see, this opportunity allowed my son to do his laps in the pool, and better yet — for me to do my laps with my mountain bike along the beautiful trails of Madison County! Part of the Metro East area, Madison County borders the Mississippi River and is home to numerous industries, small quaint communities, and the campus of Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville.
Geography does have its advantages sometimes. One hundred fifty years ago countless railroad companies began building rail corridors toward the booming rail yards in the vicinity of East St. Louis. The rail corridors were laid out as a grid pattern — radiating out in the region — similar to the spokes of a bike wheel. Railroad companies and corridors were abandoned and sold over the years, opening up a great recreational potential for future rail-to-trail conversions. Seeing the great opportunity to develop transportation solutions and trails, Madison County Transit (MCT), the local transit agency for the county, began purchasing and developing many abandoned rail corridors. Today, the trails in Madison County are home to some of the finest recreation trails in the state for bicyclists, pedestrians, hikers, and runners, as well as nature enthusiasts, with many of the trails converted from the abandoned rail corridors.
Today, more than 85 miles of trails are found in Madison County ranging from 2 to 18 miles in length. In addition, MCT has several loops, allowing trail users to ride on circular routes, some over 30 miles long. These trails have asphalt or limestone screening base surfaces and pass through rural locations, hamlets, and through small communities such as Edwardsville, Alton, Glen Carbon, Maryville, Pontoon Beach, Collinsville, and Granite City.
Connecting roads lead bicyclists to the Confluence Trail, an 18-mile trail which parallels the Mississippi River from Alton to Granite City. Great views of the river are had in the communities it runs through, as well as Lock and Dam 26, the Clark Bridge in Alton and past the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center. Nearby, bicyclists and pedestrians can head over to the Old Chain of Rocks Bridge, which is closed to vehicular traffic today, and can walk or ride their bike over to Missouri. Great views of the floodplain are had from this bridge and high vantage point overlooking the mighty Mississippi River. In Missouri, explorers can get on the Riverfront Trail and continue their adventures along the west side of the river. The Watershed Trail has a great old railroad trussle and takes visitors past the Watershed Nature Center where visitors can walk around a wetlands complex and visit the nature center for hands-on activities. Because many of the trails intersect busy roads, it’s important to keep an eye on traffic conditions all the time. In addition, parking facilities, kiosks, water fountains, and restrooms are set up along the trail network. This summer, take time to head to the Metro East area to explore the trails of Madison County. You’ll be rewarded with some great trails to explore, and if you’re lucky, maybe you’ll find a great ice cream shop for a well deserved snack after a long ride along the trail network.

For more information, go to www.mcttrails.org. A bikeway map and trail brochure can be requested.
Walt Zyznieuski is a freelance writer from Springfield.