DuPage County's Rail-Trails
DuPage County is proud to be home to the first rail-to-trail conversion in the United States. Thanks to the foresight of a group of particularly savvy DuPage residents, two abandoned railways were transformed into attractive non-motorized trail corridors.
Serving as the "spine" of the County's east-west trails network, the Illinois Prairie Path and the Great Western Trail are now defining features of DuPage County's transportation system.
Spanning DuPage County, the Illinois Prairie Path and Great Western Trail link to forest preserves, municipal parks, and recreational trails in Cook and Kane Counties. Of the 55 miles of rail-trail that DuDOT owns and maintains, 42 miles are the Prairie
Path and nearly 13 are the Great Western Trail.
Illinois Prairie Path
The Illinois Prairie Path is located on the right-of-way of the former Chicago, Aurora, and Elgin Railway, also known as the CA&E. In its heyday, this railroad line supported both freight and commuter rail services through Chicago's western suburbs.
The CA&E was abandoned in 1963 after having been cut off from its original terminus in the Chicago Loop. The County purchased the land in 1964, and after much debate among residents and local leadership about how to repurpose the former railroad
right of way, a group of volunteers (now organized as the Illinois Prairie Path Not-for-Profit corporation, or IPPc) persuaded the County to allow for the property to be transformed into a recreational trail. Their inspiration came from a passionate
letter to the editor of the Chicago Tribune, submitted in 1963 by botanist May Watts, calling on DuPage to make a bold move.
You may notice that the trailblazer signs for the IPP are characterized by three different icons: a pair of footprints, a bicycle wheel, and a horseshoe, separated by three railroad spikes. Those icons symbolize the modes of non-motorized transportation
that the Prairie Path is intended for--pedestrians, cyclists, and equestrian riders. The County continues to support those three modes of travel on the IPP and prohibits motorized traffic for unauthorized persons. In an effort to accommodate all
three, the trails are typically surfaced with limestone screenings and are 10 feet wide. Some hard surfaces exist in short segments and at intersections with roads.
From the Cook/DuPage County Line in Elmhurst, the Main Stem continues five miles eastward to its terminus at the CTA Blue Line station in Forest Park. At four locations along the DuPage/Kane County Line, branches of the Illinois Prairie Path continue
westward to the communities of Elgin, Geneva, Batavia, and Aurora. All four of those branches tie into the Fox River Trail.
To learn more about the Prairie Path and the volunteers who advocate for the Path, visit the Illinois Prairie Path Not-for-Profit's website.
Great Western Trail
Nearly 13 miles long, the Great Western Trail is located on the right-of-way of the former Chicago and Great Western Railroad. In the 19th Century, the C&GW was a Class I railway that connected Chicago with Minneapolis and Kansas City, passing through
much of eastern Iowa on its way north and south. At its peak the C&GW was a major freight and passenger railroad in the western Midwest, with its headquarters in Chicago. Competition and declining revenues resulted in the railroad being bought out
by the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad in 1968. The C&NW continued operations in the Chicago area until 1995, but much of the C&GW's original trackage was no longer used after the 1968 merger.
The Great Western Trail in DuPage was built gradually through rail-to-trail conversions. The County acquired the former C&GW properties in the 1970s and 80s, and throughout the 80s and 90s those properties were converted to trails. By the late 1990s, the trail had been mostly constructed
and, crucially, tied into the Prairie Path. Today, the GWT crosses seven DuPage communities and serves as a relatively straight east-west path connection between West Chicago and Villa Park. Similar to the Prairie Path, motorized vehicles are prohibited
on the Great Western Trail, and the trails are typically 10-feet-wide with crushed limestone surfaces. Some hard surfaces exist in short segments and at intersections with roads.
To learn more about the Great Western Trail and the volunteers who advocate for the Trail, visit the Friends of the Great Western Trails website.