EDGEBROOK — Ignoring a persistent drizzle, the first official riders rolled across a newly built bridge over the Chicago River on Wednesday and headed north through the forest on the newly extended North Branch Trail.
It took almost a year to build the first stage of the trail extension, which will stretch two miles from Devon and Caldwell avenues in Edgebrook to Forest Glen Avenue near the Metra station on the Milwaukee District North Line.
Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said she was proud to cut the ceremonial ribbon across the trail, saying the trail will give Far Northwest Side residents "numerous opportunities to connect with nature."
Once the entire three-mile extension of the trail from Edgebrook to Mayfair is complete, runners, walkers and bicyclists will be able to travel from from the Lakefront Bicycle Path via bicycle lanes on Elston Avenue to the Chicago Botanic Gardens in the North Shore.
The first official bicyclists allowed on the North Branch Trail extension head north as cheers rang out. [DNAinfo/Heather Cherone]
Now that the trail is officially open, eager riders won't have to worry about a $500 fine for trespassing.
Ald. Margaret Laurino (39th) said she looked forward to using the trail to truly appreciate the forest preserve.
"I won't be jogging, but I'll be walking very fast or riding my bicycle," Laurino said, prompting laughter from the somewhat soggy crowd.
The entire 18-mile North Branch Trail system winds it way through 18 miles of Cook County Forest Preserve land, connecting Edgebrook to the Chicago Botanic Garden in Glencoe.
It is the Cook County Forest Preserves most used trail, said forest preserve general superintendent Arnold Randall.
The first stage of the trail extension — approximately 2.1 miles long — cost $5.3 million, with the forest preserve district paying 20 percent of the cost and federal grants covering the rest of the tab, forest preserve officials said.
The final phase of the extension, just underway, will continue southeast for another mile, running through LaBagh Woods and winding up in Gompers Park at Foster Avenue.
The entire three-mile trail extension — in the works since 2008 — will cost $7.5 million.
Laurino reminded riders to treat the forest gently, reading a Native American blessing to remind listeners that the land belongs to future generations.
"This trail really belongs to future generations," Laurino said.
From left, Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd), Cook County Forest Preserve General Superintendent Arnold Randall, Ald. Margaret Laurino (39th), Chicago Police Cmdr. Bill Looney and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle cut the ceremonial ribbon opening up the North Branch Trail. [DNAinfo/Heather Cherone]
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