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Sharing a Love of Exploration – an article about Just off the Tracks

The Active Transportation Alliance included Just off the Tracks in an article in their monthly newsletter ‘MODE SHIFT’.

Sharing a love of exploration

By Nate Prescott

For many people, the daily train commute provides a time to retreat into newspapers, books, magazines and electronic gadgets. For Laura Fergus and Mary Wisniewski, longtime friends who are neighbors in Crystal Lake, their regular trips on Metra’s Union Pacific/Northwest Line had the opposite effect.

“We would often travel on the train together,” explained Fergus, “and we kept commenting on how interesting and beautiful the towns we passed by were. So one day we decided to just get off the train.”

Discovering Chicagoland treasures
This love of exploration eventually led them to create a website that provides an opportunity for the women to share their discoveries with the rest of the region. The website——is dedicated to exploring the towns along Chicagoland’s Metra rail lines.

They began by focusing on their hometown of Crystal Lake, providing extensive information on downtown-area businesses, events, and activities specific to the town. Since their website went live in June, Fergus and Wisniewski have added a collection of day-trip suggestions and reviews of local businesses and restaurants in 12 more towns along the Union Pacific/Northwest line.

The pair said they research the places before they visit them. Then, once they arrive, they scout out the terrain, making a point of asking local people for their suggestions on the best places to eat, drink and hang out.

Hard work pays off
“We’d like to highlight something at each stop,” says Wisniewski, “just to show that there’s something out there for everyone.” The duo is looking to start incorporating town-walks into their excursions, which will be based on trips they’ve taken and suggestions they’ve received for towns along the way.

They also plan to expand Just Off The Tracks to include other Metra lines in the near future. “We want the towns and the businesses to become a destination,” said Fergus. “People will come [to destinations] using public transit if they know they can spend an afternoon or a day in a town.”

“I want people to be aware of mass transit; I want it to become more accessible. That’s my dream,” said Fergus.

To view the article at MODE SHIFT go to

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