By Brett McNeil
The trail is smooth.
It's also getting crowded.
The Salt Creek Trail is alive with bicyclists and joggers, stroller-pushers, weird sweaty shirtless exercise walkers and less sweaty pairs and foursomes ambling along the asphalt path between here and the Tri-State.
The trail is also alive with plant and animal life, the trees leafed in and deer right off the berm caught in a shaggy molt -- their spring coats, still needed just two weeks ago, a hot and patchy mess. Summertime birds are on the wing and for several days after recent hard rains the temporary fluddles of 26th Street Woods in Brookfield were filled with singing frogs.
I've seen the same fox a few times loping or lounging along the trail east of LaGrange Road and, a couple days ago, a big, muddy snapping turtle climbed out of the Salt Creek just east of Maple Avenue and sat trailside, its spiked carapace caked with creek bed mud. I startled a raccoon not far from where the turtle came ashore, and baby garter snakes have taken to the trail near Bemis Woods.
One of the true charms of the trail is to pass along it on two wheels, dipping into the cool shade of tree canopy and the fluttering of leaf shadows, leaning through the to-and-fro chicanes past 31st Street.
For this rider, the very best views and the coolest runnings under that tree canopy canopy are along the stretch in Bemis Woods east of LaGrange Road, where the trail is hemmed by a split-rail fence that yields on the north to a downward slope into wet bottomland. At this time of year, that lowland is an emerald wonder, 20 shades of green -- sun-dappled and iridescent, in places, an explosion of color in a single palette.
It's great to see everyone on the trail, and given its use and popularity the rest of the year I wonder why the Forest Preserve District can't figure out a way to keep it accessible year-round. Maybe not for bikes but certainly they can do better than allowing it to ice over for months.
But that's an issue for another season.
Today, the trail is again a hallmark regional amenity, one that links a band of forest preserves as pleasant, and varied, as any in Cook County. Follow it for a short stretch or all the way to York Road.
Along every curve and straightway, there's reason to stop and take notice.
Just mind the baby snakes!
Trail Conditions explores the woods, waters and trails out our back doors. Brett McNeil lives in North Riverside. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.