by David Scott
http://www.vccd.org/giforestglen.html (Forest Glen Website)
http://www.middleforkriver.org/mfrpanel.html (Friends of Middle Fork River)
http://www.vccd.org/ (Vermilion County Conservation District)
You may be familiar with some of the good local venues for woodland trail-running, such as Kickapoo, Kennekuk Cove Park, and Allerton Park. There is, though, one other location within an hours drive of Champaign-Urbana which offers some interesting scenery and an extensive network of challenging trails: Forest Glen.
The name, to me at least, evokes images of scattered Scots pines spread across lonely heather-clad hillsides. Well, this is central Illinois, so it is not quite like that. It is more of a dell or a dene than a glen a wooded hollow with a stream running along the bottom and bordered by the Vermilion River but not to be despised for being just that. There are about 20 miles of trails, including an 11-mile backpack trail which roughly follows the perimeter of the park.
Getting to Forest Glen is easy if you know the way! - it is not well sign-posted.
From C-U, take I-74 east to Danville. Exit at 215A Georgetown Road (Route 1 south). Follow this for 4 miles. At the 7th stop light Westville Main Street turn left. Continue on this road for 7 miles (the road does a couple of jogs to the south before continuing east) to reach the park. If you find yourself in Indiana, you have overshot.
For a first visit, I would suggest going to the parking lot just beyond the Audubon Barn. There is a trail map on a board here to help you get oriented. Take the Old Barn/ Deer Meadow trail to the Sycamore Hollow Campus. From here, two trails leave from across the road just before it turns up into the campus. Crossing the stream is the Crab Tree trail (the Beech Tree loop is a worthwhile add-on). Going up beside the stream is the Willow Creek trail, with its primitive loop (which is not too wild). It is worth diverting off the loop to a spur of the backpack trail, until it meets a road this adds a thigh-stretching ascent, and an exciting descent in reverse. The complete combination of these trails amounts to about 6 miles but may feel a lot further. To experience the most engrossing trail experience in the area, continue on the Backpack trail after the steep climb. A short section of gravel road through the campground leads into the first of the really wild areas, with a wide variety of scenery, as the trail traverses creek beds, climbs up and along ridges and runs alongside the Vermilion River. The trail is fairly unrelenting, but there are escape points such as the fire tower road at half way around. This is also one of the few points where it is easy to miss the trail - and end up at the tower even if that was not the intention! Otherwise, the trail is well marked, but you have to keep looking for the red flashes on the trees. It is best to try the trail for the first time in summer, as it is clearest then, but it is worth visiting in other seasons for the wider views, and the better chance to see wildlife, especially deer and turkeys. When the river is really high, the creek crossings can almost turn into a swim.
After Run Breakfast: Two Brothers on Route 1 in Westville good breakfasts, fast and friendly service.