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Pecatonica Prairie Trail

Old 03-20-21, 08:50 PM
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Reflector Guy
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Pecatonica Prairie Trail

It's tough to get up-to-date information on this path. For those who don't know, the Pecatonica Prairie Trail (formerly the Pecatonica Prairie Path) follows the right-of-way of a railroad line that was abandoned back in 1972, more-or-less between Rockford and Freeport Illinois. The path was established not long afterwards, but was never fully completed and some sections reverted back to nature over the years. I remember hiking a portion of it about forty years ago (my mom's family lived in Rockford, and we'd visit often) but I've been meaning to get back there with a bike for the last several years. Some of the reports of the trail's highly-variable condition really made me wonder! But considering most reports dated back a decade or more, so I really had no idea.

So today I drove all the way out there and rode over most of the path in its middle section; roughly between Winnebago IL and the Pecatonica River bridge in Stephenson County.

The better portions of the path looked like this. Coarse sand and gravel (natural, not crushed) interspersed with grass.... Surface was a little soft but that is not surprising considering the ground has only recently thawed following the snowmelt. A gravel bike might've been a good choice here but I did it on a mountain bike.



Of course there were plenty of spots like this. I even saw a few places where there was still snow; hard to believe with the lack of leaves that there would be enough shade to keep it from melting, but that must've been what was happening. Rather than ride through the snow, I turned around and went back to the car to jump ahead.



Moving into Stephenson County, the gravel became less and less prevalent and soon it was just dark mud with grass. It made for slow progress because it was soft. A slow plod on the mountain bike!



West of Ridott IL the path was really just a couple ruts through the weeds. The reason I decided to come here in March is because I am sure these areas become completely overgrown come summer. Even here, I had to beware of the blackberry plants lining the path; they have prickers, so more slow progress. The sign here warns of the bridge ahead being closed.



Sure would have been nice to be able to ride across this bridge, but both ends were fenced. The path beyond where was just more weeds anyway though.

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Old 03-20-21, 09:01 PM
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I suppose the wet areas should be no surprise, with the right-of-way never far from the Pecatonica River, and never very far above it! This was in an area where the path makes a circuitous detour around the perimeter of the Winnebago County Fairgrounds, which I think was done to allow the fairgrounds people to close the gates on each end when the property is closed, thus requiring the path users to go around.



Pecatonica had an actual welcoming gazebo at the trail head!



More of the Stephenson County grassland path....



At this location, they replaced a small bridge with a corrugated metal culvert, and filled it in with gravel

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Old 03-20-21, 09:21 PM
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The Winnebago County section of the path was well-marked with signs, including mileposts. This is a couple miles east of Pecatonica.



In contrast, Stephenson County had almost no signs, just a few of these "Trail Under Development" signs: (the trail goes straight through this grassy park)



It is crazy to realize I saw just one other trail user the whole day. This path goes through some real sparsely populated areas, even though Rockford itself is pretty big. I think one of biggest drawbacks to this trail is that it begins and ends almost in the middle of nowhere; the Rockford end starts at Meridian Road which is west of town and there isn't any good place to park the car there. If they can someday extend it a couple miles further east it might attract a whole lot more people. Until then, it is nearly deserted. Maybe in summer it is busier?

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Old 03-21-21, 06:47 AM
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Thanks for the scouting expedition. That's a bit far west for me (still plenty for me to explore nearer to Chicago), but it's nice to get a read out on new ride possibilities.
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Old 03-29-21, 12:24 PM
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neat. I'd most likely never explore it as I'm a road cyclists, but I've been known to road ride a compact gravel surface for many dozens of miles.
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Old 03-30-21, 08:20 AM
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Originally Posted by Troul View Post
neat. I'd most likely never explore it as I'm a road cyclists...
Me too, actually. Normally I'd never come out all this way to ride such a rustic trail, but being a railroad buff I like to explore all the rail trails. I've been curious about this one for years. With that out of the way, I probably won't be back, at least not until this one gets some better surfacing. I'm more used to Illinois' better rail-trails which road bikes are great on.
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Old 03-30-21, 02:05 PM
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Originally Posted by Reflector Guy View Post
better rail-trails which road bikes are great on.
same thinking here
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