Centennial Trail

The Centennial Trail runs through parts of Cook County, DuPage and Will County forest preserves and was named in 1989 in honor of the 100-year anniversary of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRD), which was formed in 1889 as the Sanitary District of Chicago. The MWRD was instrumental in making the Centennial Trail possible by dedicating the necessary land on which it stands and for completing the 2015 grand re-opening of the trail and Centennial Hill between Willow Springs Road and Illinois Route 83 through the Columbia Woods Forest Preserve in Willow Springs. The Centennial Trail, which is part of the Illinois & Michigan Canal National Heritage Corridor, travels nearly 11 miles from Columbia Woods southwest through Lemont and Romeoville to Romeo Road/135th Street, where it connects to the nearly 70-mile Illinois & Michigan Canal State Trail that continues south through Lockport and the Joliet Iron Works Historic Site. The trail navigates through a thin strip of land between the Des Plaines River and Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal and parallels the John Husar I&M Canal Trail on the south bank of the Sanitary and Ship Canal, which the MWRD constructed in 1900 as part of its work to reverse the flow of the Chicago River. With the new Centennial Hill, the trail offers a scenic overlook of wildlife and sweeping views of the surrounding landscape and waterways.

As part of the trail’s grand-reopening celebrated on Oct. 17, 2015, two new foothills were made accessible to hikers and mountain bikes. The hills were constructed as part of an MWRD project to remove 1.8 million cubic yards of overburden (dirt) from the neighboring McCook Reservoir, a component of the Tunnel and Reservoir Plan (TARP). When completed, the McCook Reservoir will provide 10 billion gallons of storage to capture combined sewer overflows that discharge to waterways and cause sewer backups. The reservoir will also provide $90 million per year in flood control benefits to 3.1 million people living in 37 communities. Approximately, 500 truck trips per day were needed to haul the overburden. Essentially, the MWRD’s objectives were threefold, providing stormwater management relief and reducing pollution in local waterways, while also creating a new and improved Centennial Trail.

The new trail design was based on the input of trail users at three public meetings hosted by the MWRD. In addition to the two hills, a hiking trail and rest area were also added. Using the overburden and MWRD’s class A exceptional quality biosolids, the hill will offer a rare opportunity for Chicago area cyclists to ride up and down a slope that provides sweeping views of the surrounding landscape and waterways. For riders who prefer flat terrain, the trail provides a new and improved route through Columbia Woods.

Additional trail features as part of the final construction include:

  • There are two separate overburden piles at the disposal site. One pile is 60-feet high with a length of 2,300 feet. The adjacent second pile is 40-feet high with a length of 5,300 feet.
  • A two-foot wide natural surface mountain bike trail that is approximately 9,750 linear feet in length.
  • The mountain bike trail incorporates multiple boulder retaining walls to establish switchbacks.
  • A four-foot wide natural surface hiking trail approximately 800 linear feet in length.
  • There are two graded rest stops, one on each of the overburden piles.
  • Both the two-foot mountain bike trail and four-foot hiking trail lead to the 60-foot high rest stop area.
  • The 60-foot high rest area includes:
    • Four benches
    • An informational board describing the purpose of the site and about TARP.
    • Landscaping includes five maple trees, five tiger eye staghorn sumacs, eight gro low sumacs and three blackhaw viburnum
  • The 10-foot wide paved Centennial Trail at the bottom of the overburden pile will be restored to the same specifications as the original design.

The new look Centennial Trail is operated by the Cook County Forest Preserves, which leases the property owned by the MWRD. For more information, on Forest Preserve trails, visit here. To read about the grand re-opening, read the MWRD’s press release here.

Please email questions and comments to public.affairs@mwrd.org or write to Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago, Office of Public Affairs, 100 E. Erie Street, Chicago, IL 60611.