Hitting the trails

Don and Wendy Cote walk with their dogs Sheco, a mini Australian shepherd, and Boomerang, an Australian shepherd, along paths at Mill Creek in Geneva. (Stacey Wescott/Chicago Tribune photo)

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.