Mike Graham photo

Genuine Northwest, Holiday Edition

Check out these unique destinations that reflect the genuine character of our region.

28th Illinois Snow Sculpting Contest

Sinnissippi Park, Rockford, Ill.
Sometimes the weather cooperates, and sometimes it doesn’t, but the 28th Illinois Snow Sculpting Competition at Sinnissippi Park is planned for Jan. 15-18, 2014. The massive snow sculptures draw about 40,000 onlookers. Thirteen teams from various parts of Illinois will compete for the right to represent the state at the 2015 U.S. Snow Sculpting Competition. On Jan. 16-18, northern Illinois high schools will compete against one another, as well.
The park is open for free sculpture viewing, by car or on foot, from sunrise to 11 p.m. daily. Extra parking is available at Nicholas Conservatory, across North Second Street.
The competition began after local businessmen Brian Hampton and Dennis Johnson happened upon a winter carnival and snow sculpture, while snowmobiling near Eagle River, Wis. There, they met snow sculpters Jim and Bev Neihaus and convinced them to sculpt some snow in Rockford. The couple did so in January 1986, sculpting three pieces near the former Sinnissippi greenhouse – an American eagle, the Statue of Liberty and the Liberty Bell. Staff members of Rockford Park District assisted.
The following summer, Dennis Johnson learned about a group in Milwaukee that sanctions state and national competitions. He and Rockford Alderman Frank Beach visited Milwaukee the following day, and Rockford became the host city for the first Illinois Snow Sculpting Competition, in 1987.
Let’s hope the weather is more cooperative than it was last year, when the event was cancelled due to lack of snow!

Tinker Swiss Cottage

411 Kent St., Rockford, Ill., (815) 964-2424
Rockford businessman and world traveler Robert Tinker fell in love with the architecture of Switzerland when he toured Europe in 1862. He decided to bring a bit of it back to the Midwest by building a 20-room Swiss “cottage” on a limestone bluff in Rockford, overlooking Kent Creek.
Tinker surrounded his new home with acres of trees and gardens, and even built a suspension bridge across Kent Creek, which linked his cottage to the home of his employer, friend and future wife, Mary Dorr Manny.
In 1942, the Tinker family handed the beloved cottage, with its original furnishings and artwork, to the Rockford Park District for use as a museum, one which truly revealed a glimpse of privileged Victorian-era lifestyle. For 50 years, the cottage was cared for and shown to the public solely by volunteers. Today, a board of directors and staff do that work, along with devoted volunteers.
Journey back in time and experience a Victorian-era Holiday Tea complete with scones, tea sandwiches and desserts on Dec. 7 at 11 a.m., by reservation. Tour the first floor of the cottage and see Tinker’s home decorated for Christmas. Ornament decorating workshops will be held immediately afterward.
On other days, view the cottage during one of the guided tours offered at 1 and 3 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays. A special feature running through Dec. 15 is the Dapper Gentleman exhibit, which visually explains, through various artifacts, what it was like to grow up as a male during Victorian times.

Rotary Botanical Gardens

1455 Palmer Dr., Janesville, Wis., (608) 752-3885
This isn’t just any public garden – it took First Place awards both in 2012 and 2013 for the All-American Selections Landscape Design Competition. If you’ve never seen this garden in spring, summer or fall, you may want to plan a future visit. But it’s also alive right now, in wintertime, as more than 330,000 lights twinkle and animated displays delight visitors during the Holiday Light Show.
The winter wonderland is spread throughout the 18-plus themed gardens, such as the English Cottage, French Formal Rose, Italian and Scottish gardens, sunken garden and moss garden. New this year is a special lighting of the Japanese Gardens, one of only a few such gardens in Wisconsin.
The Holiday Light Shows include visits from Santa and live reindeer; live music; pizza, cookies and cocoa; and magnificent indoor displays of running model trains and hand-crafted quilts.
The Rotary Botanical Gardens is located on 20 acres where a quarry once operated. There are more than 4,000 types of plants, trees and shrubs, as well as many sculptures and structures that lend form to the thousands of wintertime lights.
This magical place was founded by a Janesville chapter of the Rotary International service club in 1988. The light show is open Dec. 13-15, 19-23, and 26-29, from 4:30-9 p.m. The cost is $5 for adults, $3 for youths ages 3-15.