Prairie Fever » New Books for Silent Sporters

New Books for Silent Sporters

by Bob Richards
Silent Sports magazine
January 2006

60 Hikes within 60 Miles: Chicago by Ted Villaire, Menasha Ridge Press, 2005, 248 pages, $16.95

Ted Villaire didn’t know that when he wrote 60 Hikes within 60 Miles: Chicago he would help me not only find new and interesting places to hike, he would open up new venues for my running and roller skiing as well. Villaire’s new hiking handbook from Menasha Ridge Press is also good for snowshoers, and in fair weather, those using wheelchairs.

In an easy-to-read style, Villaire really talks the walk. His new book is just what the title states: a guide to 60 great places to hike within 60 miles of Chicago. The natural beauty that is so close to the big city is revealed in this guide that covers some gorgeous treks in Wisconsin and Indiana as well as over the landscape of northern Illinois, including Joliet, Elgin and Aurora.

While it might sound surprising to some who don’t live here -that a megalopolis such as Chicago can offer great hiking and outdoor opportunities-Villaire dispels that notion quite convincingly.

Villaire, who grew up in rural southwest Michigan and became a hiker and outdoors lover at an early age, provides detailed information, but not too detailed. You’ll find yourself reading every word as Villaire grabs your attention before sending you out the door.

Each trail’s information includes the necessities expected in such a boo: trail length, configuration, difficulty, scenery, exposure (open or more wooded), surface, hiking time, access, facilities, maps, traffic, and special concerns. Detailed directions from Chicago and UTM trail coordinates are provided. Full page maps with altitude profile complete the package. It’s clear, concise and well written.

I particularly like the brief descriptions of the trails and the history behind them. From renowned Starved Rock State Park near Utica to lesser-known trails such as the Greene Valley Forest Preserve Loop in Naperville, Villaire lays it out. So next time someone tells you “to go take a hike,” you can gladly do so if armed with the wonderful information in this book.

Here’s an example from the description of the Greene Valley Forest Preserve in DuPage County: It’s a hidden gem with hills, forest and prairie all linked together with nice, mostly limestone trails that not only handle hikers, but runners, cyclists, horses, roller skiers (real skis in winter, complete with grooming) and wheelchairs. It’s pristine. And it’s close to home.

“At Greene Valley Forest Preserve, you’ll find groves of stately oaks, quiet twisting streams, and wide-open swaths of grassland-very likely with a red-tailed hawk or two nearby, waiting for their prey.” In recounting the area’s past, including the settlement on the land by the Greene family in 1835, Villaire stresses nature over history in his trail description.

“Though knowing the human history gives you a better sense of this place, it’s not the star attraction here,” Villaire writes of Greene Valley. “Instead, what grabs you are the spacious prairies, sprawling floodplains and dappled savannas. These attractions may seem especially precious because they’re surrounded by houses and streets humming with activity.”

In his preface, Villaire points out that some of the trails he portrays are clustered in regions that include the I&M Canal corridor, the Indiana Dunes, the Palos Area and in Lake and McHenry counties.

“As I mulled over which trails to include in this book, I sometimes found it difficult to eliminate one hike in favor of another,” Villaire states. “I leaned toward variety in terms of length, location and scenic attractions. While I hope you enjoy the hikes I have laid out, keep in mind there are many more excellent hikes not included among these 60.”

If you live in the Chicago region, this is a great new resource to get going right in your backyard. If you are from outside the area, this book will help you discover an aspect of Illinois you might not have considered.

I recommend this book. But once you have it, don’t put it on the shelf. Keep it handy for quick reference.