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3 A Forest Preserve With A Lot More Than Forest

North of I-74 near the town of Mahomet sits Lake of the Woods Forest Preserve. I had set off for this park early on a Saturday morning to feed my need of covered bridge images (those who’ve read some of my other posts know I have an affinity for them). I had heard there was a covered bridge there that had been constructed in 1965, patterned off of the Pepperel Bridge in Boston, and that sounded like something I’d certainly have to shoot.
Situated just 15 minutes or so west of Champaign, Lake of the Woods is a rambling complex over 900 acres. As mentioned I had come to shoot the covered bridge and found out that this forest preserve had a lot more than a forest. Upon arriving at the west gate we discovered a wonderfully kept and well rounded collection of early American artifacts in the Early American Museum. Describing every aspect of life in early Illinois from living with the Indians to getting the crops harvested, there’s not a bit of early American life that’s missed. Stunning examples of antique furniture, tools and explanations of techniques inhabit every square inch of this beautiful piece of architecture.  There’s also a great educational / play area for the kids.
Behind the museum is the stunning Botanical Garden. A photographers dream, this sprawling complex is alive with every manor of ornamental flower, shrub and tree. In the center is a picture perfect oriental influenced bridge and lily pond, backed by a beautiful waterfall. What a gem! The area is a popular spot for weddings and can be rented for such an occasion.
Moving up the road, we came to the Covered Bridge that I’d come to photograph. This structure was built when the original 80 acre tract of land was acquired to join the two sections of the park. It’s 140 foot span is open to pedestrian and motor traffic and was renovated in 1996. A great example of a more modern covered bridge constructed with classic early American architectural style!
Venturing over the bridge one finds an award winning regulation 18 hole golf course and extensive camping, fishing and day use areas. There are kayaks and rowboats for rent on the lake, a 3 mile bike/running path and woodland trails. A six story bell tower caps the high point of the park with a carillon chiming out a happy tune now and again.
I’d come to shoot a bridge and found so much more at this park….what a great place to spend a day with the family, with so much to do one could visit again and again……..

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-Ed Baumgarten

4 Fall in IL

Fall In Illinois

It’s time to enjoy the fall colors of nature in Illinois.  I recently visited Kankakee County, where you will discover many fall colors.  I had a picture perfect day to take in the colors of the trees. I visited the Kankakee River State Park which has over 4,000 acres where you can hike, bike, and fish. Taking in the fall scenery is a great way to relax and enjoy the outdoors. I could have easily spent all day viewing the scenery, but I decided to move along to view more places before my drive home.  It  was suggested I see the newly opened Frank Lloyd Wright’s Bradley house right on the river path. 

Wright in Kanakakee (Bradley House)

Tours are available to view the Bradley home, a sight to see for all Frank Lloyd Wright enthusiasts. If you enjoy a neighborhood feel, stroll along Kankakee’s Riverview Historic District. The Riverview Historic District has many Victorian homes and English gardens along the river that reminds you of a bygone era.  

After lunch I decided to check out the local corn maze. I needed to walk off a few of those onion rings.  So I headed to The Fall Gathering out in the Kankakee Valley Park District (kvpd.com). This maze is 10 acres large and takes about an hour to walk through. I made it to a few markers and turned back, call me chicken!  The haunted maze is October 23rd & 30th if you like to be scared.  The maze is open on Saturdays and Sundays from 1-5PM, $5.00 per person.

The Fall Gathering

I spent a great day in Kankakee county and will be returning soon.  There is so much I missed, like the Barn Quilt Tour, and The Historical Society, and the land of the original Dairy Queen. I was told the original was torn down, however there is still a DQ standing in its place.  On my next visit to Kankakee County I will start at DQ, since I missed dessert last time.



5 Cathedral of Clouds

Long, long ago, in another century in fact, I sought inspiration in chapels of pine and spruce. I sometimes went there for solitude, sometimes for friendship, but in each visit, I was able to exchange my carbon dioxide for the oxygen so generously provided by the green things which were my host.

This past weekend, I was privileged to attend the consecration of love shared by a young man and a young lady. One was a grown up lady, who I remember as a child, and the other, a new acquaintance. They chose a larger, leafier setting for their ceremony, on a point jutting out into a manmade lake, but still surrounded by a canopy far older than any of those in attendance.

They were married at Picnic Shelter number 3 at Wayne Fitzgerall State Park, near Sesser.

The shelter and picnic area overlook Rend Lake, a large manmade body of water created and maintained by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. There are a number of features found near the lake, including an artist colony, a golf course, and a resort facility, including modern cabins that look right out over the lake.

If you are interested in a weekend getaway, some good fishing, a little golf, a wedding, or a work related conference, you might check out the website at http://www.rendlakeresort.com You can also call them at 1-800-633-3341.

The park is located along Illinois 154. If you are traveling along Interstate 57, take exit 77 west toward Sesser. The turn for the park is on the right. The golf course is on the left. You can see a humongous golf tee and ball as you approach from any direction.

The drive to Rend Lake is gorgeous when our leaves turn. Our hot, dry summer has caused some of the trees to color already.   I’ll be exploring more of our “leafy” adventures in future blogs. There is plenty of green space to be seen as illustrated by the Artist who created the cathedral of clouds.

Enjoy your travels!

-Bill Byrnes

6 The Great Pumpkinfest

The City of Highwood, IL is ready to make pumpkin carving history, as host of the Great Pumpkin Fest of 2010.  The four-day festival will bring people from all over together as they attempt to break the Guinness Book of World Record for the most jack-o-lanterns lit in one location.  Plans call for 32,000 pumpkins to light up Highwood on Saturday October 23rd to break the current world’s record set in 2006 of 30,128 pumpkins in Boston, MA.

Great Pumpkin Fest 2009

The four-day Great Pumpkin Fest kicks off on Wednesday, October 20th and will culminate on Saturday, October 23rd with the grand lighting.  The family fun festivities leading up to the record breaking pumpkin lighting will offer plenty of opportunities for people to come and bring their own jack-o-lanterns or carve pumpkins and place them in the display, and then take them back home after the Record Breaking attempt.

Each day of the festival will include the Highwood Evening Gourmet Farmers Market at City Hall Park (17 Highwood Ave), vendors galore, live music on multiple stages, hay rides, a haunted house, pumpkin carving stations, massive pumpkin displays, lighting of the towers,  and much more!

•Wednesday October 20th – 5pm pumpkin pie baking and eating contests at City Hall Park, 6pm kicks off the lighting of the first pumpkin wall of the fest.

•Thursday, October 21st, 4-7pm Pumpkin Dinner and BBQ at Scouts Park benefiting the Wounded Warrior Project(www.woundedwarriorproject.org).   Military and wounded warriors eat for free.  There will be a Pumpkin Catapult, live music, and pumpkin carving.

•Friday, October 22nd, 3pm-8pm- Carving Night, get your carve on all night! 3-6pm Trick-or-Treating throughout the business district, specials at designated restaurants, taverns, and businesses throughout Highwood, 6:30pm Thriller Dance at City Hall Park.

•Saturday, October 23, 9am-8pm – 9 am Midtown/Athletico Pumpkin Run, 11 am Pumpkin Regatta featuring giant pumpkin flotillas on Lake Michigan, 2-4pm Dress Your Pet Halloween Costume Contest at School of Rock Park, and from 4-5:30pm The Great Costume Parade starting from the School of Rock Park.  From noon-8 pm a day full of pumpkin carving and counting, food, children’s entertainment, live music,and haunted house hay rides, etc.  The festivities culminate at 6:30pm with the lighting and grand display to break the Guinness Book of World’s Record for the most jack-o-lanterns.  At 8:00 pm we will announce the record totals!

Anyone looking for Halloween fun, click on the link for full details http://www.celebratehighwood.com/

Ciao –


7 The Great Pumpkin Patch Autumn in Amish Country

The town of Arthur and it’s surrounding area is known as Amish Country in Illinois…..but in the fall, it’s known as Pumpkin Patch country. Every autumn for the past 22 years, the Condill family have opened their farm, and their hearts to thousands of children (of all ages). The Great Pumpkin Patch sits on the prairie just a couple miles south of the town of Arthur.
Open from September 15 through October 31 every year, the farm touts over 300 types of pumpkins, squash and gourds to be enjoyed, visually as well as tasted. A myriad of baked goods are available in the onsite bakery and all of the pumpkins and their cousins, are availalbe for sale for recipes or decorating. There’s a huge straw maze, plenty of displays for photo opportunities and some of the best fall color in Central Illinois. Tucked into the center of the complex is an authentic One Room School House, complete with period furniture and decoration.
Row after row of ‘little red wagons’ await visitors to assist in bringing your pumpkins to the checkout area, and just being in the midst of all the happy faces pulling their bright orange treasures around the property will warm anyone’s heart on a chilly fall day!

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-Ed Baumgarten