Ders Anderson

Ders Anderson admits he is drawn to the historically obscure, especially if it once was particularly significant.

“I always get interested in things that are getting ignored,” he said. “Unless you start talking about them, nobody is going to know about them.”

A municipal planner by trade for 20 years and an architect by training, Anderson became greenways director of Chicago-based Openlands in 1994. He is responsible for the planning and implementation of projects related to the 4,300-mile greenway and 2,000-mile trail system adopted for northeastern Illinois.

“In the 1960s and early ’70s, planning became more commonplace. Planning under [Presidents] Nixon and Johnson became more commonplace,” Anderson said. “But nobody was trying to put it all together.”

In “Early Trails of McHenry County,” the last in the McHenry County Historical Society’s Sampler lecture series, the Crystal Lake resident will talk about a variety of early trails and roads, and about how Native Americans divined the most efficient ways of crossing wilderness.

The program begins at 3 p.m. Monday at the county historical museum, 6422 Main St. in Union. Advance registration is appreciated, but walk-ins are welcome. The cost is $10. For information, call 815-923-2267.

“Show me soil maps and other indicators, and I’ll tell you where the trails most probably were,” Anderson said. “Walk 100 feet in any direction, and you’ll probably cross a Native American walking trail at one period of time. This landscape was traversed all over the place.”

Our forefathers learned from the land. We embraced tract housing, the automobile and drainage tiles. However, the idea of hiring professional planners in communities eventually gained traction. Anderson was among those who began enlightening folks about open space, zoning compatibility and historic preservation.

“I look at the landscape all of the time in terms of opportunities to preserve linear corridors,” he said. “Preservation of these old historic corridors are never on the radar. Nobody talks about it. Nobody.”

Anderson, 63, talks about trailblazers such as Frenchmen Jacques Marquette, René Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle and Canadian explorer Louis Jolliet. And he continues to shed light on many of the important routes these men and others used – including the old Chicago Road that originally linked forts at Detroit and Chicago. It was instrumental in opening southern Michigan to settlement and by the 1830s was used by thousands of pioneer families each year.

Today, Anderson said, just fragments remain along Routes 12 and 20 in Illinois; vestiges of a bygone day when utilitarian design and expediency took a back seat to interpreting the landscape.

“It takes generations before you teach transportation engineers a different way,” Anderson said. “Cookie-cutter design has a basis in financial efficiency. It is cheap and easy to do it that way. But that is why we lose our heritage.”