10 July 2007

An abandoned canal, a beloved trail

It's gone, but not forgotten. No, it's not gone, either, it's just not really a canal anymore. It's a corridor, a trail, a channel dug through history. It's the Illinois and Michigan Canal. It helped build this city, for a while. We owe it a lot.

Looking west, somewhere between Aux Sable and Gebhard Woods.

I verbally exclaimed that this bridge is beautiful. Trail enthusiasts are probably familiar with it. We passed it somewhere between Gebhard Woods and Marseilles.

The next day...

We were warned about the condition of the trail between Marseilles and Ottawa, but I didn't mind at all. These marvelously muddy, gravelly, twiggy wooded trails are the reason I have a hybrid bike. As long as the underlying terraine is flat it can bump along just fine.

View down the Fox River from the Fox River aqueduct in Ottawa.

View upriver from the Fox River aqueduct.

Fox River aqueduct.

Ruins of a lock west of Ottawa.

Cliff and cave somewhere between Ottawa and Utica. I'm always thrilled to see exposed rock. You just don't see any around here.

Bridge over what's left of the canal between Ottawa and Utica.

Weird rock formation somewhere between Ottawa and Utica. Can anyone tell me more about it?

View of the Illinois River, or perhaps that small lake just north of it. Once again, all I know is that I was somewhere between Ottawa and Utica.

Pretty flowers growing in what's left of the canal. I remember this being definitely closer to Utica.

A lake north of the river, west of Utica.

Tunnel through Split Rock. Why build a tunnel when the rock is already split?

Between Split Rock, looking west.

Approaching Split Rock from the west, looking east. If your monitor is bright enough, you might be able to kind of see the rockface south of the path. You can see the bend in the trail around it.

End of the trail, south of Peru. I was rather disappointed. I was expecting a scenic overlook or something, but all they built was this, and then they added the world's most useless stop sign for some reason. There isn't even a kiosk anywhere. I picked my way through poison ivy and wild parsnip to get through the brush and see what I was missing, but all I got was an eyeful of something that reminded me of Lake Calumet and a terrible rash all over my leg. It just doesn't seem right--it's the fracking I&M Canal State Trail, the most celebrated trail in the state of Illinois, and this is how it ends?

But my disappointment (and sudden extreme itchiness) couldn't damp my feeling of victory. I have now ridden the entire I&M Canal State Trail, all the way from Rockdale to Peru--except for two small hiccups, one between Dresden and Aux Sable, and one between Marseilles and wherever the van picked me up on day 1. I doubt the total distance is more than five miles. I could easily take care of the first bit sometime if I could just wake up in the morning some Saturday, but I have no idea how the heck I could get myself all the way out to Marseilles. It would require lots of planning for an extended bike trip on my own, and I'm not very good at that. (Uh, Milwaukee?) Grr.

Well, any victory is still a victory; I'll take this one. And I'll be back someday. I too have fallen in love with this trail.

Illinois & Michigan Canal National Heritage Corridor (NPS)
I and M Canal National Heritage Corridor (Illinois DNR)
Illinois & Michigan Canal State Trail
Canal Corridor Association
Heritage Corridor Convention & Visitors Bureau
Illinois and Michigan Canal (from Encyclopedia of Chicago)
Illinois & Michigan Canal Teaching Package (for folks who love original sources)
Illinois and Michigan Canal (from Wikipedia, for folks who don't)
Down the Drain: The I&M Canal (its part in the fascinating history of Chicago's sewer system)
Prairie Passage: The Illinois & Michigan Canal Corridor
The Chicago River: An Illustrated History and Guide the River and Its Waterways (why not)
City of Morris
Village of Seneca
City of Marseilles
City of Ottawa
Village of North Utica (bka Utica; btw let me know if I have my cities and villages mixed up)
City of LaSalle
City of Peru
Aux Sable Access
William G. Stratton State Park
Gebhard Woods State Park
Illini State Park
Fox River Aqueduct
Buffalo Rock State Park
Starved Rock State Park
Matthiessen State Park
Pecumsaugan Creek-Blackball Mines Nature Preserve (location of Split Rock)
Locks 14 & 15 (LaSalle)
Illinois Waterway Visitors Center (Anyone know a better Web page?)


At 13 July, 2007 22:43, Blogger David Johnsen said...

The gap in Split Rock isn't natural; the canal builders blasted through a solid wall of St. Peter sandstone (with black powder -- TNT and dynamite weren't invented until the 1860s) to make way for the canal and its towpaths. So the simple answer is that the railroad had to make the tunnel because the canal and towpaths filled the whole gap. The alternative would have been to widen the gap, but moving all that rock would have cost a lot more and disrupted canal service.

According to this postcard, there were two sets of tracks through there, one in the tunnel and one apparently on top of what used to be the north towpath (I suppose the canal boats had changed over from mules to motors by the time those tracks were laid?). The postcard also shows that the Illinois Valley Railroad (an interurban like the South Shore Line) crossed the canal and the railroad at Split Rock. I also found a photo on page 21 of this PDF that shows only the set of tracks running through the tunnel.

Funny, I got an e-mail from a Web site visitor a few weeks ago lamenting that the end of the I&M Trail is so anticlimactic. There really should be something there. That's why Ride 12 in Biking Illinois doesn't even bother going past the locks. It's just disappointing.

At 17 July, 2007 17:21, Blogger Jennifer said...

I should have looked all of this up before I actually went there. It's always more fulfilling and exciting to visit someplace and say "Oh, that's such-and-such from when-and-when just like so-and-so said! And I'm standing right here looking at it! Cool!" than to say "Hey, that's kinda weird, I vaguely wonder what it is."

At 04 December, 2007 11:23, Anonymous http://gregbiske.blogspot.com said...

Maybe it is the impending snow this afternoon or maybe just the O.C.D acting up that made me do a search for the I&M Trail.
I have biked it a number of times. A few times from start to finish and at least 3-4 times a month in sections from spring to fall.
During the winter I only ride the trail about once a month.
If I may get deep for a moment, my first ride on the I&M was during a very sad time in my life. The trail was peaceful, quite and just want I needed to clear my head. It is a very special place for me.
I just wanted to let you know that looking at those pics you have posted, took me back to summer rides, warm weather and and the feel of the wind in my face. Thank you.

At 04 November, 2008 14:29, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cool! The tunnel at split rock was completed in 1853,and part of the original brick lining is still intact. During 1881-1882 part of the canal was filled in to make room for a second set of tracks. The current set was laid in 1952,and to do this part of the base of Split Rock had to be removed. You can see this quite clearly from the top of the rock! (yes,one may climb it)I have a few photos posted on Flickr...you can access them here-www,flickr.com/photos/muledriver/ and clicking "more sets" to access my I&M corridor set


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