Clearing the Way: Residents from West Suburbs Join to Clean Path

Vincent Puente Cleans the Path
Vincent Puente poses during a break from cleaning

Less than a mile away from where volunteers and law enforcement officials were searching for one-year-old Bryeon Hunter, Vincent Puente, a freshman at Proviso Math and Science Academy and a resident of Forest Park, was picking up garbage along the Prairie Path. Puente was apart of a group of about ten volunteers from several towns led by Lennel Grace, a Maywood resident and board member of the Illinois Prairie Path corporation. The group included Vicky Franzese, a member of the corporation, and recent candidate for trustee JoAnn Murphy. Every year, Grace leads efforts to clean up the Path in commemoration of Earth Day.

Lennel Grace Coordinating Cleanup Efforts Along the Path
Lennel Grace coordinates cleanup efforts along the Path

“My mother met my father over there,” said Grace, pointing off into the distance, toward 11th and Madison. His mother would commute here via the Chicago, Aurora and Elgin (CA&E) rail line from Robbins, IL. That was before the CA&E rail went belly-up. Grace still recalls the day. “One day, they went bankrupt and left commuters stranded in the Loop,” he said. All of a sudden, the public was stuck with miles of dormant rail line.

In 1963, a woman named May Thielgaard Watts published a letter in the Chicago Tribune “advocating for a public path along the [CA&E’s] abandoned route.” Watts’s letter struck a chord that would resonant across municipalities. According to the corporation’s website, “individuals, families, neighbors, organizations, businesses, schools and scout troops volunteered to remove tons of rubbish along the 27 miles of Path in DuPage County.” Today, the Path, which stretches from 1st Avenue and branches out toward Aurora and Elgin, is maintained by the public and private efforts of citizens such as Grace and his small band of volunteers.

Vicky Franzese, of Elgin (Blue), with Lennel Grace, (white)
Vicky Franzese, of Elgin (Blue), with Lennel Grace, (white) and JoAnn Murphy (background) sifting through brush for garbage

“[The annual cleanup event] should turn into a monthly thing,” said John Rice, who along with his wife, Rayetta, walks the path every morning. He suggested that elementary schools in Maywood assign students to clean up the Path as a lesson in civic engagement and municipal beautification. “Volunteering is helpful in itself, because it makes the community cleaner and sets an example for our youth,” said Rice.

Daniel Puente and John Rice Gather Loose Branches Along the Path
Daniel Puente and John Rice gather loose tree branches along the path

There also may be the added benefit of attracting residents from other villages to Maywood. Vincent Puente’s father, Daniel Puente, said he drives through Maywood all the time. Today, however, the Forest Park resident was out of his car, standing in front of the CeaseFire Building on 11th Avenue. Puente grew up in Maywood, on 7th Avenue, so he’s no stranger to the town by any means. As Puente looked into the distance, perhaps reminiscently, I discovered a truth that we tend to evade while traveling at high speeds. Maywood is more than a physical space. Maywood is in our minds.

2 thoughts on “Clearing the Way: Residents from West Suburbs Join to Clean Path

  1. I think Lennel should look into cook county sheriff probabtion program, i’ve seen men and woman wearing orange or yellow jackets who have to do hours for probabtion from cook county sheriff cleaning up along side the expressways…Lennel should look into them adding the prarie path to their places where they send them to clean.

    1. Thanks for the suggestion, Jean. I will look into this and bring it up to the folks at the Prairie Path corporation. In the future, we hope to have a virtual “Idea Center,” a place where citizens and public officials alike can exchange potentially productive ideas such as yours. Thanks for reading and keep sharing!

      Michael Romain (Chee-Chee’s Grandson, you’re right:))

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