Though I have, for most of my life, been a law-abiding citizen, there was one time I had to bend the rules a bit, and luckily, I had my little sister in cahoots. The plan? To find a way up to the Bloomingdale Trail (as it was called back then), an abandoned rail line spanning more than two and a half miles across Chicago’s Northwest side. I didn’t dream up this plan by myself, of course. The Bloomingdale was known to most people who lived on that area of the city as a kind of forbidden place to jog, walk, explore, or if you’re a teenager, smoke, drink and do God knows what else.
Coming home on the Blue line from downtown, I would often peer down onto the decrepit structure below when the El car I was in would cross over it. Sometimes I would see a few joggers, but most of the time it remained empty, a strange, desolate space centrally located in one of the hippest parts of the city. A few summers back, I finally worked up the courage to attempt to get up there myself, and since my sister showed an interest, we decided we’d do it as a team, and try to get a little exercise while we were, you know, breaking the law.
Knowing how to enter the trail took a little bit of research. We wanted to jog the entirety of it, which meant we’d have to start at the beginning. At the time, Google maps showed the westernmost entry point to be right around Lawndale and Cortland, a bit of a ways out of Logan Square, where I lived at the time, but a fairly short drive away. We parked in front of the YMCA and climbed our way up, ignoring trespassing signs (which you should never do on railroad tracks, except we knew no trains would be coming through).
At first, I wasn’t convinced of the trail’s charms. Heavy rocks made it hard to walk, much less run, and I wasn’t sure why anyone would come up here at all. But we toughed it out, kept walking, until we passed other entrances to the trail and started to notice the grass under our feet. Finally, we were at the part of the trail best suited for running, though doing so requires a watchful eye: We saw holes in the structure big and small, and dodged glass, garbage, sticks and stones as we picked up the pace and started jogging.
Though you might expect the view from the trail to be nothing more than the tops of houses, we were surprised by the fact that the trail seemed to be leading us on an illicit tour of several very different Chicago neighborhoods, discernible not only by the dwellings and what we could see inside them, but also by the makes and models of the cars driving underneath the trail, and by the amount of traffic and the level of city noise we could hear below.
At first, I wasn’t convinced
of the trail’s charms.
Our journey began in a family-friendly neighborhood full of barking dogs, playing kids and modest homes. By the end, we were whizzing by modern condo buildings and major city intersections. I felt like I was a million miles away from the city I knew, even though being elevated isn’t a new feeling for anyone who rides public transit in this city. Still, the track gave me a new perspective, as if I was hiding in the backyard of all these homes, allowed a quiet, behind-the-scenes viewing that those on the street never get to see.
By the end, we were whizzing by modern condo buildings
and major city intersections.
We jogged and rested, said hello to the one or two other runners on the makeshift path, and then kept going, excited at every step at what we might find ahead. But what felt like a build toward climax ended abruptly when the trail cut off at Ashland Avenue, leaving us hungry for more adventure and nothing to work with.
A Bit of History
In 1873, the Bloomingdale Line was constructed as a street-level railway. It was owned by the Chicago and Pacific Railway Company, but was absorbed into the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railway in 1880, and later, became part of the Canadian Pacific Railway. In 1910, the line was elevated, and was used for passenger and freight transport. All freight traffic on the line ended in 2001.
So what did the city decide it wanted to do with this nearly 3-mile elevated space? Turning it into a park seemed like the most logical option. The High Line in New York is one similar success story, and Paris has La Promenade Plantée. Construction on what they dubbed “The 606″ broke ground in August of 2013.
And while I was sad to hear that this fascinating structure would get a dramatic facelift, I’m excited about how it will turn out, and thrilled by the idea that my sister and I can visit it again one day (legitimately).Now that I no longer live in Chicago, I haven’t paid close attention to every update on the park’s construction, but I did catch an article recently that suggests it will open this summer. If you’re interested in keeping up with it, check out the “Friends of the Bloomingdale Trail” Facebook page—updates on construction are posted there.
And don’t try to get up there now — police will not hesitate to arrest trespassers. Don’t worry—it’s just a matter of time before the 606 will welcome visitors, and I hope to be one of the first.