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Taming the Bloomingdale Trail

Revamp of secret space on Northwest Side has some smiling—some, not so much

  • The Bloomingdale Trail
The Bloomingdale Trail (Lenny Gilmore/RedEye )
August 11, 2013|By Tracy Swartz, @tracyswartz | RedEye

Call it the 606. Call it the Bloomingdale Trail. Just call it ready for construction.

The 606 is the name recently bestowed to a project to convert an abandoned elevated railroad track that runs through Northwest Side neighborhoods from Bucktown to Humboldt Park. The three-mile trail, once a space for freight train traffic, is scheduled to undergo a major renovation starting this month.

The face-lift will transform the trail, now a rocky path that's closed to pedestrian traffic—though runners and dog walkers trespass onto the trail through holes cut in fences along the path.

When it's complete, the 606 will be a paved path alongside five parks with user access. Other features include a skate park and an observatory.

The project, more than a decade in the making, is similar to the High Line, a public park built on an elevated rail line in Manhattan.

Over the years, advocates have debated over what the Bloomingdale Trail should look like and what features it should have. Most recently, the city supported calling the project the 606 in reference to the first three digits of Chicago's ZIP code.

The city says the 606 name ties together Chicago neighborhoods, as the finished trail will, but not everyone likes it. Some path users say they'll continue to call it the Bloomingdale Trail.

The project is estimated to cost $91 million, which will come from grants and private fundraising. The first phase is expected to be completed by fall 2014.

In the meantime, RedEye talked to runners, business- and homeowners and photographers who currently use the trail between Ridgeway and Ashland avenues about where it is now and where they hope it will go.

MARC MORAN

Tries to be a gentleman everywhere in Chicago—except for the 606

The trail is the only place he feels comfortable taking off his shirt while running west.

"As a guy, I think it's a little inappropriate when you're running in the streets or on the sidewalks without a shirt. I was always taught in high school that it's never really a gentleman's thing to do—take your shirt off in public," said Moran, 30.

Moran said he runs there a few times during the week.

"It's not anything like running on the sidewalk or running on the roads," Moran said of the trail's rocky and sometimes glass-laden surface.

He said he rarely runs into more than a handful of people on the trail, which he knows will change next year. He realizes his shirtless sanctuary may become overrun with traffic.

Still, he believes the changes to the 606 will add value to his neighborhood (Bucktown)—even though he may not be a trail neighbor for much longer. The apartment he is renting is being torn down in favor of luxury condos, and he has to vacate this summer.

"I want to stay close by," Moran said. "The trail is only making [Bucktown] more of an appealing place to be."

DAVID SCHALLIOL

Doesn't live anywhere near the 606—yet he knows every inch of the trail

Since 2009, the Hyde Park resident has been photographing the 606 for two to four hours at a time, typically two to three times a month.

His goal?

"To provide a portrait of what life is like on the Bloomingdale Trail before everything changes," said Schalliol, 36. "I'm getting a sense of how the place is now before it is radically transformed."

At first, Schalliol started to document the trail by bicycle, but then he decided "maybe the best way was to slow down and take it in."

Now he typically walks the trail. Sometimes he brings a ladder to get a better view. Usually he tries to contrast his hours to capture the trail in varying sunlight.

"I really came to understand the different parts of the trail during different parts of the day," Schalliol said.

His two favorite parts of the trail are an area near Whipple Street in Logan Square by Julia de Burgos Park and just west of the "L" overpass by Milwaukee Avenue, which he said reflects a "special, urban feel."

His 606 photographs, of which he has thousands, have been used in the exhibit "Reframing Ruin: A Prelude to the Bloomingdale Trail," which is presented by the Friends of Bloomingdale Trail community group, formed a decade ago to advocate for an elevated park, and the Trust for Public Land.

The pictures are on display through Aug. 22 at the Center for Neighborhood Technology Energy, 1741 N. Western Ave.

"It is important to document what's going on in this place," Schalliol said. "It is worth spending the time and effort and energy."

JOHN KNOERLE

Author of the American Spy Trilogy, a series of World War II-era novels, but his housing situation may be more dramatic

When Knoerle first moved off the 606 with his wife, Judie, in 1999, freight trains were still traveling the trail.

Now Knoerle's neighboring Walsh Park may feature a concrete skateboard space.

"It's going to be insane," Knoerle said. "We've been blessed to have a very quiet block here, and that's going to change."

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