07 July 2007

Following the Fox (sort of)

The GITAP didn't exactly follow the Fox River: we started here, left the river here, met it again here, left it again here, the next day crossed it briefly here, and then several days later came back to it here and ended back here. We followed the river via the Fox River Trail, which is almost intact all the way from Algonquin to Oswego. The key word here is "almost"--there's a major chunk in downtown Aurora that's conspicuously missing, but they're working on it. In the meantime, there appears to be a signed route through the downtown area directing cyclists from trailhead to trailhead, but we didn't follow it. Maybe I should've--I got spectacularly lost along the GITAP's detour.

The Fox River Trail is an outstanding example of an intercommunity suburban trail, and carries a hefty share of the Chicago area's stellar reputation for great biking. In significance I'd judge it second only that holiest of grounds, the Lakefront Path itself. What really sets the Fox River Trail apart from many other trails in the area is that it takes you through all the towns along the river. Rail-trails such as the Illinois Prairie Path and Great Western Trail, wonderful as they are, tend to pass by people's back yards. Other trails are built from scratch and are purposely designed to avoid busy downtown districts out of safety concerns. Still others, such as the Des Plaines River Trail, pass through scenic natural landscapes but hence afford little contact with civilization. Not so the Fox River Trail--it winds its way among parks and preserves along the river through the very hearts of Elgin, St. Charles, Geneva, Batavia, and Aurora. Of course, that's because the histories of these communities are inextricably linked to the river; they were prospering as independent towns long before they were subsumed by Chicago's suburban sprawl. These towns continue to thrive, though, keeping their individual characters alive and well, out there on banks of the Fox.

I'm starting to sound like a special on WTTW or a rep from the Aurora Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, so I'll get on with the pictures.

In Oswego is a memorial to Jim Phillips, better known as "The Fox." You can read about him and his legacy here, here, here, and here; no doubt you can read more about him in many other places, or hear about him from someone who knew him. His memory is kept very much alive thanks in part to memorials like this one.

I won't say more, other than to wonder whether I myself would have condoned The Fox's actions. Oh, we all do now, of course--history has judged him innocent of any crimes, and today we praise him as a hero. However, I've always been one who'd rather follow the rules and try to get along with everyone, so I have to admit that to me these legends of a masked stranger dumping industrial waste all over corporate headquarters for the sake of the environment sounds exciting--and dangerous, and just a bit stupid. But when the rules are unjust, or unenforced, or nonexistent--as the case was--then something must be done. It's a brave soul indeed who will step up and take that risk in order to make it happen. From what I understand the Fox never physically hurt anyone or caused malicious destruction of anyone's private property; I'd certainly respect him for that. And when angry letters aren't enough to right a wrong, can I really blame someone for taking it to the next level?

No, I guess I can't. But he was before my time, so I'll never know for sure. (Now, 'scuse me for a minute while I go write an angry letter.)

And let's not forget those who help us remember. (If that makes any sense.)

The memorial also includes general information on the Fox River.

If you've been inspired, check out the Friends of the Fox River.

It's a beautiful river. Who wouldn't want to protect it?

We parted ways with the Fox River at downtown Oswego and headed south for the I & M Canal State Trail.

The next day I caught up with the Fox River again in Ottawa, at the place where it joins Illinois River. This is the view downriver from the Fox River Aqueduct of the I&M Canal.

This is the view upriver from the aquaduct. Note the short sandstone bluffs along the river's edge. Forgive what appears to be digi's strap in the upper right corner.

View of the aquaduct itself. It was a marvel of engineering in its day. As you can see, it's been restored in some places.

Later that week we finally returned to the Fox River Trail.

Many GITAP riders (including myself) stopped for lunch at Lavender Cafe and Java Bar in East Dundee. They're right off the trail, and they certainly know how to attract customers who are on it. A business with a bike rack gets mine, as I always say. (Actually I don't; I just made that up now.)

View upriver from the Main Street bridge between East Dundee and West Dundee. (I guess they never joined, unlike Aurora and West Aurora.) There's nothing really special about this bridge; I just thought it was handsome. I remember seeing on a couple of plaques that it was built in the 1910s and restored in the 1990s.

I saw this sculpture in downtown Elgin. Anyone know anything about it? In fact, now I remember seeing quite a lot of public art in Elgin, but it was pouring down rain and I had to stop to refix a flat and find a restroom, so I hardly noticed any of it. I need to go back up there and correct this.

Anyone who knows anything about the Grand Illinois Trail has seen this picture a dozen times already, but I don't care. [And of course, I can't find any now.] It's a beautiful old railroad bridge across the Fox River somewhere around Elgin, close to the place where the Fox River Trail meets the Elgin branch of the Illinois Prairie Path. As you can see, the problem of how to get the trail across the railroad tracks was neatly solved.

View of the river... okay, where the hell was I? I can't even remember now; I was too rushed to figure it out, and from my map it looks like I could've been anywhere between Elgin and St. Charles.

Damn it all, I need to get back out there again soon and do this right, because it's bothering me to no end. I gush on and on about how great the Fox River Trail is, but I've just never been on it on a good day, and all my photos from day 7 make it look like the most dreary place in the world, and I didn't get to take the ones I really wanted to take.

Whine whine whine. Life isn't perfect, I know.

More of the same. Probably the same spot.

Here's one I did get right. I first saw this sculpture last spring on another Fox River Trail (mis)adventure and was eager to find it again. It's called "Bicycle Fox," and it's made out of old bike parts that have nicely rusted to the point of being exactly the same color as a fox's fur. It's on a pedestrian-only riverwalk in St. Charles, where the Fox River Trail route is actually a few blocks away on local streets, so bicyclists probably miss it most of the time. (Which is curious, considering the nature of this sculpture, don't you think?)

And so my photographic journey along the Fox River ends the same way that it began, with a fox that watches over the river, entrusting us with its safekeeping as we follow its trail.


At 08 July, 2007 18:18, Blogger David Johnsen said...

I haven't seen the memorial to The Fox; I guess I need to bike out to my parents' house again sometime soon. I heard about The Fox sometime in school (I'm a product of Oswego District 308), but I can't remember when (i.e., in which grade). What I do remember is that he was mentioned in association with pollution from the Armour-Dial plant in Montgomery. I didn't learn much about him -- back in those days environmentalists were akin to Communists (especially since so many students' parents worked in those polluting factories, and environmentalists were perceived as a threat to their jobs), so for a teacher to even mention The Fox was brave.

I haven't seen "Bicycle Fox" before, either. That's pretty neat.

At 30 May, 2008 22:41, Blogger Jason said...

This is awesome. I wish I would have known about this ride it sounds great... maybe next year. :-)

I must say you did a spectacular job of photographing and documenting the sites along the way. I am always good at taking pictures but then I never remember what the picture was when I go to post it.

I came across your blog when I was searching on Fox River blogs. I am hosting a Fox River cleanup tomorrow morning for Friends of the Fox Rive (whom I see you were nice enough to mention in your post). If you (or any of your readers see this in the next few hours and are inspired to come out, it is at Trout Park in Elgin from 8:30am to noon on Sat May 31st. Last minute I know, but if you are interested just show up or call me at 847.651.8467 for details.
Thanks, Jason

At 08 June, 2009 11:03, Blogger Jameson said...

I'm glad you like the Bicycle Fox! It's actually my brother Joe's sculpture. He made it years ago, out of 23 bikes if I remember correctly. It spent a bit of time on my dad's lawn, then the city of St. Charles bought it after Joe entered it in the Scarecrow festival. If you or any of your visitors would like to see more of Joe's work, take a look at http://artbyjoseph.com .


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