Natural beauty sells and homebuilders know how to enhance Mother Nature and maximize those "wow" views. The result is scenic trails that connect homeowners with nature and recreation.
While golf course communities used to be the green standard, the latest trend is to provide free recreational opportunities with walking and biking paths that meander through woods and beside water. The experience offers the calming ambience of nature — far from street traffic.
"Walking trails are the most important recreational amenity at any community. That goes for all ages: singles, families and active adults," said Paul Ivers, president of Cambridge Homes.
Builders try to make these trails more interesting by laying them out in areas of natural beauty. Low-lying parts of a housing development may be left as wetlands. The requirement for flood-control water detention may result in new ponds.
That was the case at 1,144-acre Cambridge Lakes in far northwest suburban Pingree Grove, where paved paths wind around large ponds.
Leslie LaMarca walks the paths at Cambridge Lakes three to five times a week and bikes.
"I biked 10 miles yesterday with our 7-year-old daughter," she said. Her 5-year-old son also rides. One of her favorite routes is around a large pond with a gazebo built on a pier that juts out into the water.
Leslie and her husband, Ray, moved to Cambridge Lakes in 2006 and have watched the landscaping mature, making the trails more attractive.
Townhouses at the 2,181-home development start at $150,000, while single-family homes go from $170,000.
"Especially in today's economy, many people enjoy getting their exercise the low-cost way by walking the trails in their development," said real estate analyst Steve Hovany. "They may even be able to pick some berries along the way.
"It's important that builders locate paths carefully. You don't want people walking near your backyard," said Hovany, president of Strategy Planning Associates in Schaumburg.
At Fisher Farm in Winfield, one of five potential buyers arrives on a bicycle, said Court Airhart, president of Airhart Construction. That's because the 71-home development is near the Great Western Trail in DuPage County.
"Our interior walking/biking path connects with the Great Western Trail," Airhart said. "Natural beauty has a large impact on what people are looking for. Fisher Farm also has a 2-acre pond with seating areas beside it, plus views of the 18-hole Klein Creek public golf course to the west."
The semi-custom homes at Fisher Farm range from $399,000 to the low $700,000s for 1,600 to 3,000 square feet.
The vast open space of golf courses also is featured at Mill Creek in Geneva. But that's not all. Built on rolling land, the 800-acre master-planned community offers 45 percent open space, including 127 acres of wetlands, ponds and mature trees and 17 miles of walking/biking trails.
Don and Wendy Cote, who have lived at Mill Creek since 1997, take full advantage of the outdoor amenities. Now on their second home there, they have downsized to a 2,200-square-foot ranch with a walkout basement.
Mill Creek homes by Shodeen Residential start at $293,950 for 2,020 square feet in the Tanna neighborhood.
"A big reason we bought here was for the natural areas and recreational opportunities," said Don Cote, who is retired from telecommunications. "You can go a long way on the paths, which all connect. I've been a runner for 23 years and usually get out on the trails in the morning for about three miles."
He also walks their two dogs twice a day, also for three miles.
"The paths, which wind around the two golf courses and ponds, are paved and attract Rollerbladers as well as walkers, joggers and bikers of all ages," said Cote. "You want to get out on the trails in a beautiful neighborhood like this. Along the way, you can see wildflowers and migratory birds: herons, egrets and geese."
Wildlife viewing also is part of the trail-biking experience of John Larson. "I see deer almost every day. Sometimes I worry that I'm going too fast and may hit them. They're really tame deer," he said.
An avid bicyclist, he rides four to five times a week, including 50-milers on the North Shore Trail between Glencoe's Botanic Garden on the north and Devon Avenue on the south.
The trail is convenient to his home at Optima Old Orchard Woods in Skokie. He and his wife, Laura, live in a condo with a treetop-level view of a forest preserve to the west. A walking and equestrian trail is just across the street in the woods. Larson picks up the bike trail in Harms Woods, a short ride farther west.
"The location was a big factor in our buying here," he said.
Bent on staying in shape as his 65th birthday looms, he also is a mountain climber and triathlete.
Optima Old Orchard Woods has 665 condos in three buildings. Prices for one-bedroom units start at $199,320 and $413,600 for three bedrooms.
Creating water features makes sense for builders and buyers.
"It's a no-brainer to dig a pond. You have to have water detention anyway, and people like the scenic views," said Ray Blankenship, vice president of operations for Town & Country Homes.
He noted that his firm's 1,069-home Churchill Club in Oswego offers walking paths alongside water and wetlands. The development's 440 acres include 132 of open space. Prices at Churchill Club range from $199,995 to $314,995 for 2,100 to 3,500 square feet.
A 13-acre public park at Hibernia Estates in New Lenox not only has walking paths and a lake but also boat rentals and fishing. Four-bedroom homes with 2,600 square feet start at $289,900 at the Hartz Homes development.
"Any time builders can conserve open land, it's good for the environment," said Karen Brunhofer of Meritus Homes, which plans to open Creekside, with 27 homes, at the Estates of Inverness in October.
Adjacent to a forest preserve, it will offer 6-foot-wide paths with wood chips — another chance to walk with nature.Copyright © 2015, CT Now