06 November 2006

Wolf Lake and the ordinary, nearby land of Indiana

Maybe you know the feeling: you wake up one morning and think to yourself, "Man, I really need to get out of this state for a while." I'm sure you wouldn't normally get the brilliant idea of going to Hammond (unless you're into gambling), but as long as you have a bike and Indiana's right there and Wolf Lake is on the way, well, why not?

So I headed out on another bistate journey along the Grand Illinois Trail, this time down the southernmost section of the Lakefront Path to the Burnham Greenway, through Egger's Grove (Cook County Forest Preserve) to William W. Powers State Fish and Wildlife/Recreation Area. (Just what is the official name of that place, anyway?) Now, there's a right way to do that and a not very ideal way to do that. The last (and indeed the first) time I'd visited Wolf Lake by bike was on the Perimeter Ride, with a large group of people on one of those perfect days in mid-August. This time I was alone on a November afternoon, cold, windy, and bleak, complete with an appropriately dreary sprinkle of rain here and there. Even on the best days the on-street stretch between the Lakefront Path and the Burnham Greenway is not an attractive part of Chicago, nor is it really the safest to bike through.

But the uninterrupted grayness of November was a good match for the scenery, the perfect backdrop for the stark reality of an industrial area slowly losing its industry and a transportation corridor designed to bipass it as quickly as possible. And in the middle of it all lies Wolf Lake, beautiful and sad, beaten but cherished, shaped and reshaped time and time again, a paradox where vastly different motives slam together and try to coexist. People live here in the shadow of the Skyway, breathing the fumes from the factories that most of us try not to think about. But these things can't be ignored when you're on the ground pedaling through them on a November afternoon. And at Wolf Lake the neighbors take a stroll and the waterfowl pause on their migration, here at one of the world's most unlikely nature preserves, home of an ambitious vision. I found it a gray and lonely place, a half-forgotten source of secret beauty, oddly quiet, weirdly peaceful.

I took pictures, of course.

I thought this was bizzare: a little park/parking lot right under the Skyway at the intersection of Indianapolis Blvd. and Ewing. It must have been part of the same construction project that created the off-street path down Indianapolis from Ewing to the Burnham Greenway. Now that I think about it, I really am curious about the details of that project.

As you can see, that path runs smack between the street (which is wide and quite busy) and the off-ramp. The path looks newish, but I doubt it was just an empty strip of land before it was a path. Somehow I doubt there was ever even a sidewalk there. In any case, I applaud the efforts of everyone who supported that path's construction. Well done!

Someone had planted tomatos around a couple of trees on the Burnham Greenway, which really brighted up my afternoon once I got on it.

Hey, this looks familiar.

The Illinois side of Wolf Lake is the William W. Powers State something-or-other.

There's no mistaking Wolf Lake for wilderness. In fact, that strip of land in the middle of the photo is not the shore on the other side but a causeway built across the middle of the lake for a set of railroad tracks. The factories, etc. are on the far shore.

But despite decades of industry and development, the lake has remained a vital and surprisingly diverse wetland habitat. It also hosts scores of migrating waterfowl, most of which unfortunately flew away before I could take this picture. I think that's a gull there in midair.

On the Indiana side is Wolf Lake Park (I think? it might have some other name), a Hammond municipal facility that features a trail running along the shore. I'll have to explore it some other time when the weather's nicer and the sun doesn't set at 4:30 in the afternoon.

The information kiosk on the Indiana side was slightly more informative about the lake itself.

Across the (very busy) street from Wolf Lake Park is Hammond's Environmental Education Center and head of the George Lake Trail. (Or is it the Lake George Trail? You say Chicago Lake Front Trail, I say Chicago's Lakefront Path?) Anyway, I now finally know the nature of that mysterious unmarked purple line in Indiana on the Chicago Bike Map.

I'll be back.


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