Bloomingdale Trail unveiled in advance of Saturday opening

Chicago Sun-Times
Maudlyne Ihejirika
View video on the Sun-Times’ website

A 10-foot-wide path flanked by 2-foot-wide running tracks where tracks of the train kind once lay, fledgling trees and scenic landscaping, beckoned the horde ascending a ramp up to The 606, or elevated Bloomingdale Trail — the city’s new unique park, unveiled Tuesday in advance of its Saturday grand opening.

The $95 million project running 2.7 miles along Bloomingdale Avenue (1800N) —between Ashland (1600W) and Ridgeway (3750W) — is nearing its first-phase completion after 10 years in the making, and the mayor and project manager wanted to show it off.

“To the residents of Logan Square, Humboldt Park, Bucktown and Wicker Park who have all been advocating for this since the mid-90s, this is their day, their moment,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel said, after leading a press tour on a sunshiny day where the appeal of the lovely and leafy skyward park overlooking urban grit was quite apparent.

“They never gave in. They never gave up as advocates for something that used to divide communities and neighborhoods, but will now be a landmark park that actually brings neighborhoods and people from different parts of the city together,” Emanuel said. “The park’s design and construction shows incredible work. This is something that people from around the country, from around the world, are coming to see, because it will stand out as different from all others, taking an old rail track and turning it into a modern park.”

The park, a partnership between the city, Chicago Park District and the national nonprofit The Trust for Public Land, officially hosts its grand opening beginning at 8 a.m. Saturday — with its apropos date of 6/06 — replete with music, food, art, parades and processions.

At the point where the trail intersects with Humboldt Boulevard, a two-block section of that boulevard will be closed between Cortland Street and Wabansia Avenue for a party that starts about 10 a.m. Celebrations will continue Sunday, with a pancake breakfast between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. at the Ridgeway Trailhead, 1821 N. Ridgeway Ave.

Drawing its name from the city’s ZIP code prefix, the new recreational trail built on a dilapidated rail line abandoned since the 2000s, has been under construction since 2013. Connecting the afore-mentioned four North Side neighborhoods, the 606 has several entry points that connect to several existing ground-level city parks —Walsh, Churchill, Milwaukee/Leavitt and Julia de Burgos — where events will also be held opening weekend.

When completed, the park and trail system will include six ground-level parks, a wheel-friendly event plaza, art installations and educational programming, said Beth White, director of the Chicago office of The Trust for Public Land, the project manager.

“This is an amazing partnership between federal and local governments and the private sector, and this extraordinary park and trail system is going to be America’s next great park,” said White, noting it was the first time a local government had tapped into a federal U.S. Department of Transportation program designed to help create alternative transportation corridors, to create such a parkway.

Of the $95 million cost, $50 million came from the federal program, $5 million from the city and county; and $40 million is to come from the private sector — $20 million of which has been raised so far.

“We have another $20 million to go, but what I think was really ingenious of the city was going after that transportation funding to create a transportation corridor, then leveraging these federal funds for an incredible park and trail system,” White said.

Though the park is opening this weekend, construction will continue, she said.

“When we open, it will be safe and accessible from end to end. And typically you want to open a park and have it perfect, and if the grass isn’t green enough you’re out there spray painting, but we made the bold decision to open the path all at one time because the purpose is to connect these neighborhoods, and people have been clamoring to get up here for 10 years,” White said.

For more information, visit the trail’s website.