Letter to Hennepin Hundred runners*

The Hennepin Canal State Trail is a beautiful wreck.

You’re running this weekend on a trail that’s well on its way to ruin. You’ll see it every mile; the weeds and grass coming up waist-high through a disintegrating surface. Beat up trail signs, potholes and full-blown washouts. Hand pumps for water that don’t work. Illinois hasn’t responsibly funded its state trails and parks for years, and along the Hennepin Canal, it shows.

But along every mile of the Hennepin Canal, you’ll also see an emergent beauty.

Wildflowers pop up through the crumbling trail, sometimes laying a carpet of blooms beneath your feet that stretches for a mile. Sometimes you’re on primitive single track, while a bald eagle sits regally in a tree, watching you pass below. Now you’re on an old cow path as a golden wash at sunset saturates barns, farm houses and rolling fields. And here, the crunch-crunch of your feet on crumbling chip-seal startles a blue heron that spreads its enormous wings and glides down the canal to perch a little higher, out of your reach.

To me, the Hennepin Canal State Trail looks like it’s shaking off a suburban notion of bike path to reveal, maybe, the kind of trail it wants to be. Maybe it wants to be a trail where every through hiker, trail runner, mountain biker, horse rider, and overnight bike camper finds moments of familiar joy as well as unexpected delight in a variety of trail experiences. It’s not far from that now.

Maybe it’s giving us a clue how to flip the trail's decline upside down. Maybe instead of enormous investment to reverse years of neglect, we leverage enormous creativity to craft sustainable and beautiful experiences out of the many-sided trail it’s becoming.

I think the world of your decision to run the Hennepin Hundred. I believe that your race this weekend is the start of that creative process. It’s inspiring all of us to reimagine what this trail could be.

From the bottom of my heart, thank you for running on the Hennepin Canal State Trail. 

Steve Buchtel, Executive Director
Trails for Illinois

*From the 2016 Hennepin Hundred Field Manual, the race information book for The Hennepin Hundred. Designed & produced by Yellow Barn Design.