Check out these unique destinations that reflect the genuine character of our region.
Wisconsin Great River Road
Western Wisconsin, WIGRR.com
One of the most important scenic byways in the nation runs right through our region. The 3,000-mile Great River Road National Scenic Byway hugs the Mississippi River from northern Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico, passing through 10 states, including Wisconsin and Illinois. It takes about 36 hours to drive it straight through, but a good alternative is to take your time driving only the 250-mile Wisconsin stretch along State Highway 35, stopping at picturesque old river towns along the way. Wisconsin Great River Road signs guide you, and you’ll discover natural, cultural and historical delights, including small-town shops, diners, historical points and many quirky attractions.
Some of the oldest towns in Wisconsin are on this route – a few even dating back to the 1600s. Native Americans lived in the river corridor for thousands of years; reminders of Oneota, Hopewell and other ancient people are found in the burial and effigy mounds along the route.
Wetlands and river-bottom forests run along more than two-thirds of the Wisconsin Great River Road, thanks to a 1924 Act of Congress that established the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife Refuge. Stop in at places like the Fountain City Historical Museum or the Historic Hixon House in La Crosse to unlock secrets about those who came here before us.
Jarrett Prairie Center Museum
7993 N. River Road, Byron, Ill., (815) 234-8535, byronforestpreserve.com
The award-winning museum at Byron Forest Preserve is a real treat for families. The 4,000-square-foot space tells the story of northern Illinois’ vanishing tallgrass prairie ecosystem and the complexity of our interactions with it.
Wide expanses of the Jarrett Prairie Nature Preserve are visible outside the large windows of the museum and hands-on learning opportunities abound for all ages.
There’s a new immersive theater that delights children by incorporating a “wolf den” bur oak tree from the old museum and another immersive theater that teaches visitors about local prairie ecology.
There are several large natural history dioramas and fossil exhibits, plus prairie restoration information and a prairie agriculture exhibit in which visitors design their own farm. A 2,600-square-foot observation deck wraps around the museum.
Byron Forest Preserve received an Award of Merit for the renovation project from the prestigious American Association for State and Local History (AASLH).
The Jarrett Prairie Center Museum is open seven days a week, at no charge.
Field of Honor Veterans Memorial
100 Heart Blvd., Loves Park, Ill.
Loves Park’s Field of Honor Veterans Memorial was dedicated more than 20 years ago to honor all who served during the 20th century.
It features five vertical columns representing the five major wars and eight resin-composite life-sized soldier statues surrounded by 40 U.S. flags. The memorial also honors civilian contributions to the war efforts.
Located in Arthur W. Anderson Peace Park, the memorial was constructed largely due to the efforts of late local World War II veteran Arthur “Art” Anderson. Staff Sergeant Anderson served in the field artillery division of General Patton’s Third Army in Europe and fought in the Battle of the Bulge. At the end of the war he helped to liberate prisoners from war camps.
Anderson raised money and chose the location (just north of Loves Park City Hall) for the memorial, in hopes of educating the community and future generations about the sacrifices made by those who fought in the wars of the 20th century.
The memorial hosts celebrations including Memorial Day and Veterans Day programs. Rockford Park District maintains the memorial.