Thanksgiving at the Bloomingdale Trail

Headed to Chicago for a Thanksgiving meal with the family, I thought I'd take advantage of the Windy City's version of the High Line. Arriving early, I got a section tour of the structure from The Trust for Public Land's Laura Uhlir. Half the height of the High Line (15 feet tall) and wider than 30 feet across in some places, Chicago's elevated railroad runs east-west, connecting various northwest neighborhoods (Bucktown, Wicker Park, Logan Square and Humboldt Park). Running 2.7 miles long, the Bloomingdale Trail is longer than the High Line, and includes 37 viaduct bridges over streets.

pipe Bloomingdale Trail looking west from the Kimball Street Access Point.
The Canadian Pacific Railroad occasionally stores cars up on the unused tracks.

In 1998, the City of Chicago recognized the trail as a potential public space. Since then, City and community support for the project has grown, with the help of Friends of the Bloomingdale Trail. The group began in 2003, and four years later the Bloomingdale Trail Collaborative was formed out of an alliance between the Friends and the national organization Trust for Public Land,  in partnership with the City.

pipe Bloomingdale Trail Access Point on Kimball Street, featuring a portion of TPL's pocket park.

Unlike the High Line, which stopped running in the 1980s, the Bloomingdale Trail continued to ship cargo up until the beginning of this decade. The Canadian Pacific Railroad still owns the original tracks built in 1919. The Bloomingdale Trail Collaborative is trying to find funding for the trail itself, while the Trust for Public Land has been pushing for a series of "pocket parks"  that sit next to or below access points along the trail.  According the the City, there is a chance that groundbreaking for such initial pieces might begin as early as this summer.

pipe One of Bloomingdale Trail's wide sections.

While the trail itself still has a few more hurdles before it can start chugging along as public space, its potential is widely recognized – it could be a recreational space for the nearby affordable housing developments and community centers. Friends of the Bloomingdale Trail founder Ben Helphand and colleagues are also biking advocates, so the trail will most likely have a biking path as well. The Trust for Public Land compares each pocket park and access point to a jewel on a bracelet. Each park space within each community will be slightly different, but taken together will create a network of greenspaces doing for northwest Chicago what the High Line is doing for Manhattan's West Side.

Read more on the Bloomingdale Trail Web site.

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