Check out these unique destinations that reflect the genuine character of our region.
Great River Trail
Trailheads in Savanna, Cordova and Rock Island, visitcarrollcountyil.com
Beginning in Savanna, Ill., and ending in Rock Island, Ill., the Great River Trail stretches 60 miles along the picturesque Mississippi River. The path combines paved trails, sidewalks and designated bike lanes for public hiking and biking.
“The scenic trail is beautiful, and it’s relatively flat, compared to the rolling hills of northwest Illinois,” says Diane Bausman, executive director of Blackhawk Waterways Convention & Visitors Bureau. “It’s great for people looking for a variety of things to do.”
Visitors can stop along the trail to shop at local stores and boutiques, such as Heirloom Market and Café in Thomson, Ill. In addition to antiques, this store sells sandwiches, pastries and coffee.
Each town offers a wide range of exhibits and activities worth a visit. “I recommend checking out the different European windmill models at the Windmill Cultural Center in Fulton, Ill.,” says Bausman.
The trail also passes the John Deere manufacturing plant and beautiful parks in Hampton, Ill. In Albany, Ill., see the ancient Albany Indian Mounds and view the river boats at the Stephen B. Hanks Public Boat Access Area. On Aug. 13-15, stop in at Port Byron, Ill., to partake in Tug Fest, an annual festival featuring tug-of-war competitions and fireworks.
Rapids City, Cordova and Moline also border the trail.
Public Sculptures Downtown
Various locations in downtown Rockford, gorockford.com
The Rockford Area Convention & Visitors Bureau (RACVB) has introduced five sculptures in downtown Rockford. Previously located on Illinois Wesleyan University’s campus, these sculptures will be displayed in Rockford for one year, at which point new works of art will replace them.
“World-class cities have world-class art,” says John Groh, RACVB president and CEO. “We wanted to create the program to help reinvigorate downtown Rockford by adding richness, vibrancy and color to public spaces.”
The RACVB is modeling the project after a program in Sarasota, Fla., called Season of Sculpture. The program enhances the community, while making it possible for artists to display their work in a unique setting each season. The Rockford project will showcase two internationally acclaimed sculptors’ work this year: Hans Van de Bovenkamp and Boaz Vaadia. Van de Bovenkamp’s stainless steel pieces are titled Red Trunk (2006), Elephant Heart (2002), Oracle (2007) and Sagg Portal, #6 (2004). The last sculpture, Ah-av (2013), is made by Israeli artist Vaadia.
Other organizations involved in this project include Behr Metals, the City of Rockford, Rockford Art Museum, Rockford Park District and Sanders Design Group.
Midway Village Museum Heritage Gardens Program
Midway Village Museum, 6799 Guilford Road, Rockford, (815) 397-9112, midwayvillage.com
Traveling back in time is easy at Midway Village Museum’s Heritage Gardens. The eight gardens provide insight into what life was like for Rockford gardeners between the years 1890 and 1910, a period of great interest in horticulture.
From the decorations adorning the gardens to the types of heirloom plants being grown, the historical time period of the 19th century is available for the public to witness and enjoy.
Community members help to maintain the gardens and act as interpreters. They wear traditional 1800s-style clothing and provide examples of how people in that time period grew and cooked food, and made crafts.
The gardens are the result of extensive research on the part of Museum historians, to ensure that the plants accurately reflect the late 1800s and early 1900s. Many plants grown in that era are not as common today, so you’re sure to learn about history, while taking in the wonderful fragrances of the beautiful flowers.
In addition to the gardens, Midway Village is working to bring back prairie acres that once existed when people first settled in Rockford. Illinois is known as “The Prairie State,” but only a tiny fraction of its land remains natural prairie today.
Guided tours of the gardens are available. Call (815) 397-9112 to learn more.