Words and images by Connor Spielmaker
Looking for a place to get away and enjoy a walk or a bike ride without having to dodge, dip and dive to avoid cars? The Jacksonville-Baldwin Rail Trail is a re-purposed railway that now serves as a 14.5 mile paved trail safe for feet, wheels and even hoofs.
James Russel, a Jacksonville letter carrier, has been taking advantage of the trail since before 1999. Originally he traveled the trail on a bike, but one day someone passed him on rollerblades and since then he’s been rolling along too.
“I rollerblade so I can pretty much get a workout without running.”
Russel has made some friends along the way, too. “I’ve got a chance to learn a lot of the people along the trail, so I talk with them,” he said. “A lot of times you don’t get a chance to stop and talk, but you get to know quite a few [even in passing].”
Jean Howell, a pleasure bike rider, hits the trail three to four times a week, and enjoys the peace and quiet the trail offers. There are some surprises along the way too.
“The most unexpected thing was the (nearby) race track,” she said. “There’s a motorcycle track and I just came upon it and there’s this huge race going on.”
The trail offers nature, new friends, and a chance to sneak away for a short or long adventure.
How can people utilize the trail?
The trail is open from sunup to sundown seven days a week, 365 days a year. The 14.5 paved miles are great for enjoying a walk or run, and the weekly maintained pavement makes it safe for bikes and rollerblades too. On horseback? No problem. An equestrian trail parallels the primary trail and a large grass section of the parking lot can accommodate trailers.
What about amenities?
People taking to the trail will come across benches, trash bins, picnic spots with tables, even some smaller trails along the way. According to the city, the trail includes 31 benches, five bike racks, eight picnic tables, and 13 trash barrels.
Sounds great! How do people get there?
The primary trailhead with a 56-car parking lot is on the Westside off of Imeson Road near Commonwealth Avenue. Take the I-295 West Beltway to Commonweatlh Avenue, turn left at the intersection onto Commonwealth Avenue, and then turn right just past the industrial park onto Imeson Road. The trailhead will be less than a mile down the road on the left-hand side.