The Ned Brown Nature Preserve, more commonly known as Busse Woods, is home to a small herd of elk that roam a 17-acre enclosed pasture of ancient upland forest in Elk Grove Township, IL. The size of the herd has fluctuated since the original herd delivery from Yellowstone National Park in 1925, but a veterinary team from the University of Illinois maintains their health and stability. We didn’t see any elk on our bike ride, but this paved trail looping through the Busse Woods is so well-loved, that it was our most congested trail experience to date.
We wanted to hit the trail early so we left home by 7:30 am for an hour and 15 minute drive. The plan was to park at the north end of Ned Brown Meadow and bike two miles down to the Busse Woods Trail loop that we could then continue on to the Salt Creek Trail that connects Busse Woods to the Brookfield Zoo. As we pulled into the parking lot, we were shocked to see the lot completely full on a Sunday morning due to an event that was happening with vehicles continuing to come in behind us, eager for parking spots. The World’s Biggest Bounce House at 13,000 square feet was ballooned for public entertainment and there was no availability for parking. We relocated to the Busse Woods Boating lot at a different access point to find another lot filling up where we finally managed to find a spot. The Chicago International Dragon Boat Festival races were being held on the water and fans were cheering on teams from the shore. We watched a few of these exciting races on their massive boats before starting our ride.
As we began the trail, there was a bike speed limit sign of 15 mph posted with multiple “Share the Trail” signs along the way. We’ve never seen a speed limit sign on a trail before except to warn cyclists of bridges, roads, or turns ahead that we should slow down for. The trail had fresh pavement, gorgeous views of the water, and majestic trees that shaded the path below as it looped around the forest. It was almost too good to be true. The bad news? Everyone else loved this trail too. We had to slow down and stop for pedestrians walking in groups and biking side-by-side every couple of minutes while waiting for the traffic to clear on the other lane to pass them before having to slow down again for the next group of people.
I wouldn’t cross this trail off completely but I also wouldn’t take my bike on it again. The main loop is 7 miles and it would be a great place for us to run. We saw many runners along the ride that morning and I could tolerate cyclists going around me if I hugged the edge of the path on foot. It just seemed a little too dangerous for a long ride without the worry of crashing into an oncoming cyclist or one who was passing us while also braking suddenly for a family walking with a stroller. I couldn’t fully relax, increase my speed any more than 5-10 mph, or really enjoy the ride because I had to keep checking behind me and looking ahead around the corner for an opportunity to pass while calling out “On Your Left…2 bikes” over and over again to warn the people we were passing. Some trails are made more for pedestrians than bikes, which is one reason why cyclists are not allowed to ride the sidewalks in the City of Chicago unless it is specifically marked as a bike path. The Busse Woods Trail may just be one of those bike trails that cannot be safely shared when there are so many people using it.
Given the crowded conditions, we decided to just ride the main loop and head back to our car. We managed to get a slow 14 miles in before breaking for lunch at Blufish Sushi Bistro nearby. We shared a Maki Mono plate with a Wakame Salad and also made a pit stop at Mitsuwa Marketplace to stock up on some grocery items from Japan.
Since we had made the drive out to the Chicago area and still had fresh legs, we decided to ride our favorite path, the Cal-Sag Trail, on the South Side of Chicago along the route towards home.
To our relief, we were some of the only people on the trail and we were able to ride continuously with more speed. We rode a quick out-and-back 11 miles with intentions to return again soon to finish the other half of the trail that we haven’t been on past Freedom Park. Despite the circumstances, it had still been a great day of cycling adventures for us. We love any chance to ride trails in the NWI and Chicago area. Our quest for new trails to pedal will continue!