Yesterday afternoon my husband pulled me away from my computer to take a walk on what might turn out to be the last warm day before the onset of winter. I picked the place though. I had done a lot of walking and picture-taking from the bluffs that overlook the Des Plaines River Valley surrounding Lemont, but it had been a while (should I admit a couple of years?) since I checked out what was happening down in the valley, along the river.
There is an industrial road that runs along the river. It’s private and full of potholes, but we drove down it anyway. Between the road and the river is a bike trail, which is separated from the road by a fence. At I-355 the trail meets Veteran’s Memorial Trail toward Woodridge. We looked for a parking lot so we could walk the trail, but didn’t find one. There was no real place to leave the car, and no break in the fence. So we went back to the access road near Lemont Road and entered the trail there.
A sign greeted us, which explained that the fence we were looking at was not to protect bike-riders from the road, but to keep those crazy jumping Asian carp in the river! If you have read my books or earlier blog posts you will already know that the Des Plaines River is prone to flooding large parts of the valley here, and that the river runs parallel to the Sanitary Canal.
If the river were to raise significantly, which historically it has done, there is danger that the floodwaters, potentially home to voracious Asian carp, could flow into the Sanitary Canal and gain access to the Great Lakes via Lake Michigan. The fence is there to prevent that.
The Centennial Trail runs from Willow Springs to Romeoville along the south side of the Des Plaines River and then connects to the 70-mile I & M Canal Trail. We were the only walkers on the trail.
Although we did encounter a runner and a few bicycle riders, mostly we were alone and it was quite peaceful. If I ignored the dirt road and fence, it was easy to imagine I was transported back to the time when only the Potawatomi lived along the river, making their home on the north bluff I saw in the distance. I found multiple inlets on the north shore, and dense grasses—the islands and swampy areas I had written about in The Mystery at Black Partridge Woods, where the victim’s body had been found. I pictured Native American homes tucked beyond the swamp on the bluff beyond. I saw piles of dead trees caught in the waters near bridges. This view couldn’t look a whole lot different than it must have two hundred years ago. (See first photo above.)
I grinned as I pointed these things out excitedly to my husband, who was at least interested if not as delighted as I was. This is one of the rewards of being a writer: experiencing in real life what you have imagined in your stories. It is a great feeling, and it was a great walk.