Dozens of bikers of all ages arrived at the Northwestern Lake Forest Hospital in Grayslake to register on the spot after 8:30 a.m. for the 15th annual Prairie Pedal May 15. Others who pre-registered sought refuge from the inclement weather in the .
Chilling wind and rain wasn't enough to stop more than half of the 435 bikers who registered from going through with their ride.
Those determined enough to fight through the weather could embark on four different arranged paths or create their own trek. The mapped paths included two shorter routes allowing the participants to traverse through Prairie Crossing up to Oak Openings and back, while the two more extensive paths included an opportunity to ride through Rollins Savanna Forest Preserve and parts of hilly Casey Road, temporarily closed off by police for the event.
This year's Prairie Pedal attracted a few early comers brave enough to bundle up for the cold temperature and meet with volunteers for coffee, food, and registration outside of Northwestern Lake Forest Hospital.
Resident Greg Miller was the first to show outside the hospital after registration began. This marked his sixth year attending the Prairie Pedal. His wife and two kids, who he noted enjoyed looking through the bird binoculars near Almond Marsh during past Prairie Pedal, accompanied him.
“This is the first time I can remember we had weather issues like this,” Miller said. “We're going to try and squeeze a ride in though”
One seasoned rider, Russ Westergaard, claimed he participated in every annual Prairie Pedal since it debuted as an event in 1996. He brought his granddaughter along this year, and made it clear the rain and wind wasn't going to bother him.
“I once rode up in Canada on a motorcycle in the rain for 24 hours with my son, so this isn't so bad,” Westergaard said.
Another experienced rider, Jim O'Conner, arrived promptly to register with his brother and nephew, who traveled all the way from Brookfield to join him.
“The hardest part of the ride is starting.” O'Conner said. “Once you're out and committed, it’s easier.”
Each route led to a stopping point where volunteers offered refreshments, any needed repairs, and a tranquil moment to take a well-earned break and enjoy the scenery.
Rick Hoppel, a volunteer and steward for the forest preserve, cheered on bikers as they approached the refreshment tent in Oak Openings. Hoppel attended ten prior Prairie Pedals: he started out as a rider, shifted to volunteering and continues to work the Pedal every year. Hoppel took time to explain a brief history of the Prairie Pedal.
“The event was actually started by a bike club out of Dundee, which was before the Oak Openings path was created,” said Hoppel. “Seven years after that, the event had been switched to highlight the Liberty Prairie, which is what we see happening today.”
Hoppel pointed out several different types of birds to bikers as they took a break from riding. Prairie Crossing resident Linda Wiens said she enjoyed listening to the birds as she rode.
Wiens had a heart transplant in late 2009, and explained her happiness with experiencing outdoor physical activity again.
“Last year, I said 'Okay, I've got to get in shape',” Wiens said. “I did four miles then, and today I'm doing nine. I'm thrilled to be doing this.”
After their brisk rides, attendees were invited to park their bikes or cars near the Byron Colby Barn and participate in events and exhibits offered in the gym.
Nature-themed face painting and the chance to create toys from corn husks grabbed many of the younger attendees' attentions, but not as often as some of the animal related exhibits.
Children crowded to catch a glimpse of three striking birds of prey, two species of owls and a falcon. On the other side of the gymnasium, a reptile exhibit offered a close up look at animals of a scalier nature.
Pots of organic grown vegetables and herbs lined the middle of the gym, all for sale with half of the benefits going to the Prairie Crossing Learning Farm, and half going to Prairie Crossing Charter School, said Nigel Whittington, school director.**
He further explained that the organizations all work together to raise money for prairie conservation.**
Perhaps the most popular offering in the gym were the free massages for riders and attendees alike. Food and live music as well as much needed coffee and hot cocoa was offered nextdoor for hungry participants.
Fundraising Coordinator Lisa Woolford smiled as she greeted visitors in the gymnasium. She explained how she thought the event important for families in the community and her pleasure with the attendance and diversity of the crowd this year.
“Even with a less than sunny forecast, many people still want to be a part of this, which is great news for the land preservation movement.”
Steve Barg, the Executive Director of the Liberty Prairie Conservancy, stated the main goal behind the Prairie Pedal since its development from a bike club event.
“We really wanted to feature the outdoor spaces and natural areas that we constantly preserve and care for,” Barg said. “The Lake County Forest Preserves, Prarie Crossing Charter School, and Northwestern Lake Forest Hospital are key partners in holding this event.”
Barg continued, “The heart of the event is providing a positive outdoor experience for families. I love seeing parents, children, and grandchildren viewing the wonderful nature as a family.”
For upcoming Liberty Prairie Conservancy events, visit www.libertyprairie.org/events.
**CORRECTION: The original article has been updated to reflect that proceeds from the Plant Sale were in fact divided between the Prairie Crossing Charter School and the Prairie Crossing Learning Farm, according to Nigel Whittington, school director. He added that anyone with questions could call him at the school office at 847-543-9722. Patch regrets the error.**