Walkin’ The 606

 Bloomingdale Trail from Bloomingdale Ave-4

Last week, when he wasn’t busy crushing beloved Pilsen school buildings, hizzoner Rahm showed up at a photo op to mark the groundbreaking of the Bloomingdale Trail.

The Trail—now officially known as The 606—is a 2.7-mile stretch of elevated, unused Canadian Pacific Railway tracks. About a year from now, after $46 million or so in construction costs, the trail will emerge as a beautiful butterfly. Right now, it’s a homely caterpillar.

Jim Pearson

Jim Pearson

I wanted to check out the scene of this grand airborne park/trail in its “before” stage, so I headed over to Bucktown on Labor Day to see what’s going on up there. My friend, Jim Pearson, played tour guide. He lives just off Bloomingdale Avenue and can see the elevated pathway from his bedroom. He also takes regular hikes along the trail.

“You get hooked on it,” Jim said. “You feel like you’re far away from the city and the streets.”

It did feel like we were on another sphere entirely, once on the trail. Getting up there was half the fun. There are no officially sanctioned, or particularly safe, ingress points right now. We entered just off California and Bloomingdale, through an alley behind an empty lot. Just before getting to the trail “entrance,” we passed a mysterious-looking U.S. Air Force building surrounded by high fences, barbed wire, and a barking guard dog. I assume it’s a secret government installation, hidden away amongst the Chicago bungalows.

Blue Line From Bloomingdale Trail-2There’s a fair amount of garbage in the alley, including a rickety wooden pallet. It turned out this was our stairway to heaven.

“Just climb the pallet and grab the fence, then pull yourself up,” Jim said.

“Is this legal?” I asked. “Or safe?”

He shrugged as if to say, probably neither.

Once up on the trail, you do get a sense that you’re away from the city, or above it, which is truly the case. There were the sounds of the streets, but no cars. We did hear Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams bleating “Blurred Lines” from a backyard party.

Brian Schmidt and Kojak

Brian Schmidt and Kojak

I saw hipsters, joggers, and two kids in Goth duds who’d never heard of the TV show “Kojak.”

We met a nice gentleman named Brian Schmidt who regularly walks the trail with his rescue Alaskan Malamute, Kojak.

“Every day when we’re out on our walk, he stops and looks up here from the street,” Schmidt said. “I don’t know what we’ll do if they block it off during construction.”

A jogger named Robert, who looked fit as a fiddle, accidentally dropped his driver’s license on the trail. We spotted it, picked it up, and planned to drive it to the address. But amazingly, after 20 minutes, we saw him running back toward us. We flagged him down and gave him his license. He had no idea he’d dropped it but was thrilled an honest person picked it up. High-fives all around.

Who loves you, baby?

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Author: Bill Motchan

Bill Motchan is a writer and photographer, and a former resident of the West Loop. He can be reached at bill@ChicagoArchitecture.org.

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