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Park and path on former elevated rail line in Logan Square close to breaking ground

Construction is set to begin on a nearly three mile long park and path that will stretch from Goose Island to North Kimball Avenue on Chicago’s Near Northwest Side.

Bloomingdale Trail
A woman watches a presentation on the Bloomingdale Trail in front of a photo of what the trail looks like now. (Photo by Patrick Smith)

The design plans for the Bloomingdale Trail, which is an old rail line being converted into a park, have been completed and are awaiting final approval by the Illinois Department of Transportation so the conversion can start. The trail is elevated 16 feet above street level and runs between Armitage and North avenues. It will feature both a two-lane bike- and running path and several smaller nature trails in areas wide enough to support heavier vegetation.

Barring any setbacks, construction will begin on the trail in July of this year, and the park will open to visitors in the fall of 2014. Right now the city of Chicago is seeking bids for work on the trail.

The team of people who took the Bloomingdale Trail from a dream to a reality say the opening has been a longtime coming.

“Considering there is a 10 year history …  it is pretty exciting to be at this point where groundbreaking is ready to begin,” said Jamie Simone.

Simone is the Program Director for the Urban Parks Program at the Chicago office of The Trust for Public Land, and she spoke to a group of about 30 supporters late last month about the exciting progress of the park, and the developments to come.

She was joined at the event, held at the offices of the Center for Neighborhood Technologies, 1741 N. Western Ave., by Ben Helphand, the president and co-founder of The Friends of the Bloomingdale Trail.

It was his group that shepherded the idea of putting a park on the freight rail, which was abandoned by the Canadian Pacific Railroad in 1995, from just a thought kicked around by friends into what his group calls “an urban oasis and a new way to explore Chicago.”

“It needed a local champion to take the idea into reality,” he said.

Helphand has a young daughter and he said he plans to bring her up to the trail all the time once it is completed.

[pullquote]Listen to Jamie Simone describe the Bloomingdale Trail[/pullquote]

“I do this for her. You don’t do this kind of work for yourself you do it for the next generation,” Helphand said. “It’s going to be an incredibly wonderful feeling to be able to say ‘daddy helped build this.’”

The trail was designed by a group of architects and engineers: Collins Engineers, Michael Van Elkenburgh Associates and Frances Whitehead.

One of the things that most wowed the crowd at the April 24 event was a rendering showing the man made hills that will be built onto the trail, allowing unique views of the city and the park itself.

“Chicago is very flat so 16 feet is like a vista,” Helphand said.

Bloomingdale Trail
A rendering of how the Bloomingdale Trail will look when it is complete. (Courtesy of The Trust for Public Land and Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, Inc.)

There will be a 10-foot-wide concrete path down the center of the Bloomingdale Trail with soft shoulders on each side. In certain areas of the park where space allows there will be small wooded sections with their own small nature trails.

“For me the essence [of the project] is the nature trails,” Helphand said. “Every once and awhile you’ll delighted with these little trails off into the woods.”

Along with the elevated trail itself, construction of the Bloomingdale Trail will mean building or expanding several parks throughout Logan Square where there will be access points to get up to the trail.

One of the larger parks slated for construction will be near the western edge of the trail at North Kimball Avenue.

Also at the western end, at Lawndale and Ridgeway avenues, where the park will stop, there are plans to build a “real functioning observatory.”

There will be eight access points in all.

“Every stop along the way there are going to be new things to engage you,” Helphand said.

The project is being managed by Simone’s group, The Trust for Public Land, and is the result of a multi-group partnership between the trust, Friends of Bloomingdale Trail, the Center for Neighborhood Technologies, the city of Chicago and the Illinois Department of Transportation.

Courtesy of The Trust for Public Land and Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, Inc.

Helphand reached out to the trust in 2006 because he knew they needed “a partner of that caliber” to make the dream a reality and in 2010 the Chicago Park District hired the trust in 2010 to manage the project.

Preliminary planning for the project began in 2011 and the city bought the Bloomingdale freight line from the rail company for a dollar in January of this year.

Ultimately the project will cost $91 million to complete. The government has already provided $39 million of that, and the trust has secured another $7 million in donations, leaving $45 million left to be raised.

Simone said she doesn’t think it will be difficult to get people interested in donating.

“What I’m seeing now is much more exciting than I could have imagined,” she said.

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