async="src="/ Taking the Long Way Home: Getting back to nature in the suburbs

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Getting back to nature in the suburbs

It's no secret that living in suburbia isn't pretty. We live here for our jobs, quality schools, and other amenities. But most suburbs were built for cars, not for fitness minded people. Newer suburban areas are more conscious of this, and have begun building more "green space" with fitness paths. But even those fitness paths are limited to short routes, and you often have to drive to get there. Kind of defeats the purpose of a "fitness path" if you have to take a car to get there! Finding a safe place to run or bike can be a big challenge. What's a runner or cycler to do?

It's hard to believe at the end of this beautiful trail is a busy suburban road!

In the area where I live, the county forest preserve district has set aside land for public use. There are quite a few forest preserves and they are beautiful, truly an oasis in a very congested area. Luckily for me, I can access some of these preserves riding my bike from my house. I do have to travel on suburban roads to get there, but once there I take in the beauty of the unspoiled green space. I spend a lot of time on those paths, mostly cycling. Running in the forest preserve has inherent danger because along with the beauty and getting back to nature, they are a bit isolated. When running there, I find myself looking over my shoulder constantly, worrying about someone chasing me. It isn't the most relaxing experience. Even this morning, on my bike, I passed a creepy guy walking on the path, giving me the once over. Ewww! Really, dude, do you think I'm interested in you? It reminds me of a commercial back in the 80s for a gadget called "Mr Microphone", where these guys in a car call out to a girl: "hey good lookin', we'll be back to pick you up later". I know I'm dating myself here, but guys will never get it--honking, smirking, winking--it just doesn't work for us gals. Even us old gals.



Anyways, at the point in which I enter one particular forest preserve there is a parking lot. Sometimes there are cars parked there; either head first or backed in. Our local forest preserves have a reputation for being a place for where you can find one of 2 things, if you are looking for it: drugs and/or for men, an "encounter" with a member of the same sex. The way you park your car in certain parking lots indicates what you are looking for. Pull your car straight in and supposedly you can buy drugs. Back your car in, and just wait for your date to take you to the woods. I'm not making this up. One time I was riding down the path near this parking lot and a middle aged sweaty man came out of the woods, alone, smiling and whistling to himself. I thought it was a little weird at the time, until I learned about the parking lot rules. It's more than suburban legend. There are plenty of threads on the internet discussing this, and it isn't isolated to this particular forest preserve. I guess the good thing for me, as a woman and someone who doesn't use drugs, is that neither situation concerns me. I just breeze through the parking lot on my bicycle, looking straight ahead, no eye contact with anyone sitting in their cars.



The forest preserve district has been doing a better job with our tax dollars over the past couple of years. At the various preserves that I ride through, they've upgraded the paths and cleaned out the woods, getting rid of the underbrush. Signage has improved too. One thing that hasn't changed seems to be the uselessness of the forest preserve police. I was riding on the path a few weeks ago, when a patrol car came up behind me, honked for me to get out of the way, and passed me. A car on the path. Really? And then after he passed me and approached the intersection, he turned on his lights to enter the intersection. Really? I rolled my eyes and shook my head. And what a lucky break for me, just this morning, another forest preserve cop driving on the path! As soon as I pulled out my phone to snap this picture, he hit the gas and drove away. I want that job! But I hear you have to know someone high up in the the county government to land one of these positions...good old fashioned patronage.


If there was anything I could ask for from my forest preserve: safety. I'd love the freedom to run the paths and trails without worrying about creepers. Maybe these Barney Fifes could actually get on a bike and ride the paths, monitoring their use. Patrolling them would be a challenge, but any kind of patrolling at all would be a start. I'd also request safer passage crossing the very busy streets to enter into the forest preserves. Even though the drivers are well aware that there is a bike path and crossing at these intersections, there is no courtesy to runners and riders. I cannot count how many times drivers have ignored me in the crosswalk and almost run me down. It is truly frightening at times.

But in spite of all that, there is the beauty and nature that these preserves offer. In the middle of our busy lives, it really is nice to have a place to go and breathe.

Even though the deer population is over abundant, do we ever get tired of seeing them in the woods? Saw this guy this morning...



8 comments :

  1. Sounds like you had a nice ride! One of the pediatricians in the practice we go to had a very serious bike accident. She got hit by a truck while trying to cross a very busy intersection. Terrifies me. I'd forgotten about that other issue in the preserves. Oy.

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    1. It was a nice ride! I had all these random thoughts while I was cruising, hence today's post! Always entertaining, the FP trails...

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  2. Dude. What the heck county do you live in?! LOL. I do not feel that way about the Lake Co forest preserves at all (we have one right in our backyard!)... I feel super safe there and do solo stuff all the time. It bums me out that you have some creepsters on your paths! And that thing about how to park your car is cracking me up (I know it shouldn't).

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    1. One guess? You don't know about the Cook County Forest Preserves? I'd love to have that freedom not to worry about weirdos. But the whole parking thing is kind of creepy and funny at the same time!

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    2. I thought your pics kind of looked like Busse. Yeah, I have felt weird most times I have been on the Cook County preserves. It's unfortunate!

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    3. Actually these were taken in Deer Grove. But they do all look alike, in a way!

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  3. Wow. You have a lot to think about when running or cycling. I'd be a speed demon through that preserve because I'm such a scared-y-cat! BE CAREFUL, my friend! ~ Sharon Couto from See Grandma Run!

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    1. Maybe I'm just getting used to it? But I sure won't run through there, which makes me sad, because they have nice limestone paths for horses!

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