Fall drive taking new Loop Trail route
Jefferson County Conservation Board will host its annual fall trail drive-through from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday along a new route on the Cedar View and Fairfield Loop trails.
Ron Meyers, Jefferson County Park host, said this year’s 2.5 mile drive will once again start at the Cedar View Trail trailhead on 32nd Street and connect to the Fairfield Loop Trail, but instead of turning east toward the Maasdam Barns, will turn west toward Whitham Woods.
A brochure highlighting sights along the route and a bit about the history of the trails, will be handed out to drivers at the trailhead on 32nd Street.
The first part of Cedar View Trail is built on an abandoned Rock Island Railroad rail bed. The trail was developed about 12 years ago by the conservation board, with help from the Jefferson County Trails Council, to link Fairfield and Libertyville with a trail. The first area drivers will pass through is a tall-grass prairie on the left, which used to be a junkyard.
A left turn onto a connector trail will lead drivers to a “T” intersection where they turn right onto the Fairfield Loop Trail.
Meyers said the Loop trail is a 16-mile trail around the city of Fairfield. It was a 12-year project of the Jefferson County Trails Council completed last fall.
“This section of the Loop trail is part of a 7-mile section that is now operated and maintained by the Jefferson County Conservation Board,” said Meyers.
As people drive along the trail, Meyers said they should notice the 8-foot tall deer fence to the left along Highway 34.
“It is to keep deer off the highway, and it seems to be helping,” he said.
After drivers pass under the 256-foot long Cedar View Trail bridge that spans the highway, they will see several trees planted last fall on both sides of the trail as part of joint effect by Trees Forever, the conservation board and the trails council.
“What you see on this section of trail, you can see as you drive by on the highway, but now you can enjoy the view at a slow pace rather than 65 mph,” said Meyers.
After passing under the new bridge built on Old Highway 34, drivers jog right and then left to where the trail is built on the old Burlington & Missouri River Railroad rail bed.
According to Meyers, this was the first railroad to reach Fairfield in 1858. Originally a single-track railroad, it went through alignment changes and became a double track in the early 1900s and is now the Burlington Northern & Santa Fe Railroad.
“We added a ‘hump’ so that we could build a cattle crossing under the trail and then a little further on, we put in a zigzag to avoid a washout by the pond,” said Meyers.
After crossing the pond dam and the fence ends, drivers are in the Whitham Woods Conservation Area.
“You are still on the old railroad bed for a little ways, and then you turn sharply to the right off of the railroad bed and follow the trail up a hill that follows an old farm lane to the site of the Whitham nursery,” said Meyers, adding the nursery operated on the farm for many years beginning in 1889.
Meyers cautioned drivers to go slowly up the hill because they will go over several bumps on the trail.
“These are not speed bumps; they are water bars to divert water runoff off of the trail to help prevent ruts and washouts,” he explained.
At the top of the hill, drivers will see what is left of the old Whitham Woods pond. The pond was drained and is being dredged before it is rebuilt. Once it is refilled with water, it will be stocked for fishing.
Jefferson County Naturalist Therese Cummiskey will be at the kiosk to answer questions and help direct drivers out of the park onto old Highway 34.
Because no parking is allowed on the trail, Meyers said drivers will want to go back when they have time to explore Whitham Woods on foot. Several mowed paths guide visitors among the rows of old evergreen trees planted to protect young nursery plants more than 100 years ago, and Eagle Scout Mitchell Burnstedt’s tree identification trail helps walkers find many of the 100 different tree species planted in the woods. Those interested in the Whitham family nursery history can stop at the kiosk for information.
Walkers also can follow the trail on the old railroad bed east to the creek where they can see the remains of a 150-year-old railroad bridge.
Meyers said the trail drive will be held rain or shine. He said drivers should not drive off the trail, park or get out of their vehicles. If someone spots something they would like to explore, they should plan to walk the trail at a later date. Those who cannot walk can call the Jefferson County Park Nature Center at 472-4421 to arrange a ride.