While The 606 has only been open a few weeks, Chicagoans and visitors are enjoying this 2.7-mile ribbon of recreational space that includes areas for cyclists, runners, walkers and others who wish to enjoy the community interaction and commune with nature and neighbors.
This unique place was created by the Trust for Public Land and other partners, including the City of Chicago and the Chicago Park District. If you haven’t visited yet, it’s very much worth an extended sojourn. Recently I had the opportunity to ask Beth White, Chicago area office director of the Trust a few questions about The 606.
What can you tell us about the genesis of the project?
Train traffic slowed on the Bloomingdale Line in the 1990s and stopped altogether in the early 2000s. Attention turned to how the train line might be used to increase much-needed green space. The City of Chicago created a proposal to convert the Bloomingdale Line to a park after discussion with residents, which was included in the 2004 Logan Square Open Space Plan. which prompted the Chicago Department of Transportation to begin applying for federal transportation funding for the project.
The City’s proposal prompted neighbors to form Friends of the Bloomingdale Trail, an organization whose vision and mission were key to creating The 606. The group built a groundswell of community support not just in Logan Square, but in the other neighborhoods surrounding the rail line: Humboldt Park, Bucktown and Wicker Park. Knowing the Trust for Public Land’s work creating Haas Park in Logan Square, members of the Friends of the Bloomingdale Trail reached out to The Trust, which helped bring together a coalition of city and civic organizations to move the project forward.
Neighbors who had been dreaming about the trail came together during the planning process. The Trust bought the first piece of land for the new parks, and the more we did the more we were asked to do. The alliance of the City of Chicago, the Chicago Park District, The Trust for Public Land, and dozens of groups worked together for more than 10 years to turn the vision into the reality of The 606.
While the 606 has just opened, what can visitors expect to see in the next few months?
We are delighted at the public response to the opening of The 606 on June 6 - we had an estimated 50,000 visitors on the first day alone. All summer long, you'll see visitors walking, running or riding their bikes on the trail and enjoying the artwork. More landscaping will be added and what's already in the ground will be growing and blooming. Families can enjoy the four ground-level parks that opened along with the Trail.
What's most unique about the 606 in terms of design and public space?
The 606 is 2.7 miles long, more than 17 feet high and connects four diverse and dynamic Chicago neighborhoods. It's a living work of art, an alternate transportation corridor, and a great place to get exercise, to enjoy nature, where children can play, and where neighbors can meet. Dogs are permitted on the trail as long as they're leashed, and there are two dog-friendly ground-level parks.
The area through which the Trail passes is rich in Chicago's history, and I've been so glad to see that the opening of The 606 has prompted a great deal of interest in the stories of the many immigrant groups who settled in the area, or that the Trail passes just north of where L. Frank Baum wrote "The Wizard of Oz" when he lived in Chicago. We really wanted to create a public space that inspires people and accommodates a very wide range of needs and interests, and judging by the public's response, we've succeeded.
What would you suggest that visitors who haven't been before do with an afternoon out on the trail?
If you're a first-time visitor, I really suggest you try to walk the trail from end-to-end to appreciate its scope, the wonderful neighborhoods through which it passes, the embedded artwork, and the landscaping, such as the Poplar Grove, which has more than 700 poplar trees. The Trail runs from Ashland Avenue on the east to Ridgeway on the west; Ridgeway is where the Exelon Observatory, modeled after an ancient Peruvian structure, is located.
What excites you most about the future possibilities for the trail?
We look forward to seeing The 606 become a destination for people all over the city and tourists from around the world, to people exercising on the trail, to children learning to ride their bikes on the trail, and to everyone enjoying the artwork. We also look forward to watching the trees grow and the other landscaping bloom - we have more than 200 varieties of plants along the trail - and to building out the remaining two ground-level parks.
Photos Courtesy of Trust for Public Land