Q: Recently, I’ve noticed crews working on a new hiking and biking path just up from Don’s Hardware on Boul Avenue in Swansea. Can you tell me whether it’s open and where it goes?
C.K., of Belleville
A: At the moment, it likely will be particularly valuable only to a relatively small subset of Swansea residents. But if the dreams of village Mayor Ken Mueller and others ever become reality, it could become an alternative route for those who love the area’s ever-expanding bicycle and hiking/running trail system.
I am one of those people who adore the 100-plus-mile system that Madison County Transit has fashioned over the past 20 years from abandoned railroad rights-of-way. On them, you can take enjoyable loop rides of 10 to 30 miles, pedaling past the scenic Horseshoe Lake, up the tree-lined stretch from Collinsville to Maryville or through the picturesque corridors north and west of Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.
Or, if you’re particularly adventuresome, you can head out to Marine or even Alhambra, Staunton and Pere Marquette State Park, all the while seldom encountering traffic or hills. If you enjoy cycling and haven’t tried them, by all means buy a bike rack for your car (if you live outside Madison County) and go to www.mcttrails.org to acquaint yourself with them. Recently, they’ve even added lockers to store your bikes if you need to. They’ve certainly played a major role in helping me reach my annual 3,000-mile goal the past few years.
St. Clair County doesn’t have anything nearly that extensive but is starting to catch up a little with its system running from the Memorial Hospital MetroLink station to the Belleville YMCA with spurs that take you to South Side Park along with another delightful path that takes you to and through Centennial Park in Swansea. With luck (and funding) these hopefully will link up one day to the MadCo trails, although I may be too old for pedaling by that time.
As soon as your question came in, I had no rest until I took my Giant and explored your trail myself. It is open, and it is a charming little path lined with decorative lights and, a shelter and bike station (with tools) once you get to the top of a somewhat steep incline. (It has signs urging you to walk your bike up and down that hill, but reasonably experienced cyclists should have no trouble negotiating it.)
But as I said, its usefulness is currently limited because of its difficult access and short length. Rather than risking my life riding on Boul, I walked my bike a couple of blocks southeast from Morgan Avenue to the trailhead. But after riding the short distance up the incline, I found the path simply emptied out into the eastern edge of Melvin Price Park. From there you either can ride a small loop around the ball field or make your way through the parking lots to Caseyville Avenue, which you then can take to the Belleville Skateboard Park to pick up the major bike trail.
For now, Mueller told me, the path is serving the purpose it was designed for.
“Basically that property was obtained to expand Melvin Price Park,” he said. “Then, they got a grant to put that bike trail in there along with the bike station, lights and so on. The thought was that a lot of kids from the area around there go down that trail to get over to High Mount School.”
So, just as they added a new path in west Belleville to Signal Hill School, the new path makes the journey easier and more pleasant. Althought there are no plans that Mueller knows of, the dream would be to link the new path with the one that runs from SWIC to the Memorial MetroLink stop.
It turns out that when Metro was constructing its major bike trail, there was some talk of using land behind the old Dairy Queen on North Illinois Street as a parking area for people who wanted to hike and bike the trail. The idea was to build a short trail from the parking lot to the main trail. That plan was never realized, but should it see new life, Mueller would like to link the new trail to it, thus adding another way to access the main Metro path.
“But at this point, I don’t see it happening,” he said.
Mueller sees two problems. First is how to cross busy Boul Avenue.
“I know I’ve been asked this a few times: Well, how are you going to get that trail across Boul Avenue? And somebody asked me if we were going to build a bridge or are we going to put something under the road,” he said. “As far as the kids coming down now, they’re up there where Morgan Street is, so there are lights and crossing guards. But as far as extending the bike path, we have nothing that we’re seeking at this point.”
The other problem is money.
“You can get a grant to do certain parts but you still have to have the funds to do the other part and that’she tough part,” Mueller said.
So, for now, Mueller, who bikes a little himself and lives close enough to Centennial Park to see how much people enjoy the trails, says the current trail will have to suffice.
“It turned out really nice with the lights and everything,” he said. “It really is impressive and certainly pretty neat.”
Q: In 2000, we bought replacement windows from Anchor in Fairview Heights. Now I find my kitchen window is separating from the house. Whom can we call?
J.T., of Mitchell
A: When I answered this question a few years ago, I found that Peoria Window and Siding, which had been in a marketing group with Anchor, was offering to help solve problems caused by the Fairview Heights company that went belly up in about 2006. But because of the distance involved, Peoria soon found this solution was cost- and time-prohibitive for metro-east residents.
Now, Peoria says you’ll have to deal directly with the window’s manufacturer — Alside, a nearly 70-year-old company headquartered in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio. I’m told by Peoria you should call 866-257-4336 and ask for customer warranty services. You also can find the company at www.alside.com, which lists 800-489-1144 for warranty questions.
They’re called the Near Islands. How did they get their unusual name and what are they near?
Answer to Friday’s trivia: Did you remember that before she starred as Laverne DeFazio in the hit comedy “Laverne & Shirley,” Penny Marshall played Myrna, the secretary who tried to keep sportswriting slob Oscar Madison’s life together in the original “The Odd Couple” TV series in the early 1970s? She would go on to earn high praise for directing such movies as “Big,” “A League of Their Own,” and “Riding in Cars with Boys.”