For members of the Major Taylor Cycling Club, riding along the Major Taylor Trail is a big part of staying healthy in mind and body. Danielle McKinnie, who joined the club after being introduced to it through Southside Critical Mass, said riding the trail makes her feel like a kid again.
“I’ve got the wind in my hair, I’ve got the sights, the sounds, the smells of just being outside and it just makes me feel really young and free,” said McKinnie. “It gives me peace of mind. It’s very relaxing. I don’t listen to headphones or anything because nature is my sound system that I’m enjoying while I’m riding.”
Cyclist Madaline Haywood said it’s helped her get to know her own community in a new way.
“Riding allowed me to see things in the neighborhood that I normally would not see driving a car,” Haywood said. “For instance, there’s a Jewel on 95th — I go to that Jewel all the time, but I didn’t know there was a trail there! It was basically mental health for me, coming through here, able to talk to my girlfriend, able to come up here and see the greenery.”
Club member Bobby Berry said the trail he calls his “own little highway” has literally saved his life — that’s why he helps keep the trail clean as part of Major Taylor Trail Keepers.
“My doctors told me when they diagnosed me with COPD and Type 2 diabetes, basically if I wasn’t riding, I might not be here today,” Berry said. “So this keeps me going.”
The trail is named to honor Black cycling champion Marshall “Major” Taylor. Bill Gaston, who founded the Major Taylor International Cycling Alliance, credits the trail’s namesake with getting him on a bike in the first place.
“When I first learned about him and found out that he had all of his accomplishments, my thought was anybody that was African American should be riding a bike and cheering on Major Taylor,” Gaston said.
With all the trail has done for community well-being, Major Taylor Trail Keepers said it’s time to for the community to give back some of that love. The trail was completed in 2006, but as an early rails-to-trails project, Trail Keepers president Brenda Dixon said, the conversion was pretty bare-bones. Since then, the club said, the trail needs more and better amenities to bring it up to the standards other local trails enjoy.
“Over 80% of the trail actually goes through communities of color,” Dixon said. “This trail starts at Dan Ryan Woods, and it runs all the way to Whistler Woods. It’s an 8.6-mile trail that runs literally, I’m not kidding you, through the heart of the South Side of Chicago. In the ‘90s, when we were planning, when the city was planning rails-to-trails projects, they weren’t as I guess sophisticated as they are now. You see the 606 Trail that has all of these beautiful amenities. From our perspective, the trail has never been completed because we would like to have the same type of comprehensive planning that all of the other trails are getting today. I will continue to advocate for this trail until it is up to standard like every other trail that’s being planned today.”
“There are people that have joined the Major Taylor Club that had health challenges when they joined,” Gaston added. “And within a year or two of riding, health challenges have disappeared. It saved lives. This trail, given all that it’s done, all we need is the same care on this trail like all the other trails. It will save lives.”
Major Taylor Trail Keepers is raising $100,000 to get a statue of Major Taylor himself along the trail, as well as calling upon city and county officials to make trail improvements. The group is also looking to partner with running and walking clubs to get some major activity going on the trail, and encourages anyone who is interested to get in touch.