NORTH MAYFAIR — Federal and local officials will gather with neighbors Saturday to cut the ribbon on the final 1-mile extension of the North Branch Trail.
So much hoopla over a modest 5,280 feet of pavement may seem like overkill, but the fanfare is justified.
The formerly 18-mile North Branch Trail is the most used within Cook County Forest Preserves, meandering through scenic woods, picnic groves and fields of wildflowers to the Chicago Botanic Garden in Glencoe.
But the trail's onetime uninviting access point at Caldwell Woods had long discouraged recreational riders from making regular use of the path.
The extension, built in two phases, lengthens the trail to 22 miles and brings the path all the way to Gompers Park at Foster Avenue.
"The southern extension of the North Branch Trail will improve and enhance the trail for better connectivity and expose more Chicagoans to the beauty and abundant nature within Cook County," Forest Preserve officials said.
The first phase of the extension opened in September, carving a route through Edgebrook, Lechowicz and Forest Glen woods, terminating at Forest Glen Avenue.
The second phase of the extension picked up from there, continuing southeast through LaBagh Woods on its way to Gompers Park, with underpasses providing safe crossing at points where the trail intersects the Edens Expy. and Cicero Avenue.
The extension's added value is the way it connects cyclists with a variety of other trails.
From Forest Glen Avenue, it's just a skip to a buffered bike lane on Elston Avenue. Cyclists can head southeast and then take a turn east onto Lawrence Avenue and pedal all the way to the Lakefront Trail.
Cyclists taking the reverse route from the lakefront can traverse the entire North Branch Trail and either turn for home at the Botanic Garden or continue on from the garden to the Green Bay Trail and connect with more paths north to Wisconsin.
With the second phase of the extension complete, cyclists can head from Gompers Park to the North Shore Channel Trail in River Park, where that trail leads all the way north to Evanston. Eventually, southern additions to the North Shore Channel Trail will extend to Belmont Avenue, including a soaring section over the Chicago River.
Members of the public are invited to the ribbon-cutting at 10 a.m. Saturday at Irene C. Hernandez Picnic Grove at Foster and Kostner avenues.
The first phase of the extension, in red, opened in 2016. The second phase, in yellow, opens Saturday. [Google]
A close-up view of the second phase of the extension. [Google]