Genuine Northwest, Annual Edition

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

Jarrett Prairie Center Museum

7993 N. River Road, Byron, Ill., (815) 234-8535,

If you haven’t yet visited the recently renovated, award-winning Jarrett Prairie Center Museum at Byron Forest Preserve, you’re in for a treat. 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 new, 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, though hours may vary due to private rentals.

Jane Addams Recreation Trail

Freeport to Wisconsin; Open Dawn to Dusk
Info: (815) 235-6114,

This 17-mile multi-use trail reveals many facets of our region’s personality. It winds through woods, wetlands, prairies, farmland, interesting geological formations and historic Freeport.

“This trail is a prime attraction in our area,” says Steve Ehlbeck, chairman of the Jane Addams Trail commission. “You can use the trail to walk and bike, and snowmobilers can even use it in the winter.”

Built along a former railroad bed, the trail offers insights into history. It’s named for 1931 Nobel Peace Prize winner and human rights activist Jane Addams, who grew up in nearby Cedarville, Ill.The path also approaches the site of President Abraham Lincoln’s second debate with Stephen Douglas in Freeport.

A 13-mile stretch between the Wes Block Trailhead in Freeport and the Wisconsin state line is a 10-foot wide crushed limestone surface. The 4-mile stretch between the Wes Block Trailhead and Tutty’s Crossing Trailhead, adjacent to the Pecatonica River in downtown Freeport, is a paved surface. The Jane Addams Trail connects at the Wisconsin state line to the Badger Trail, a 40-mile path that leads to Madison, Wis.

Trail maps and information about access points are available on the website, which also explains the flora, fauna and geological formations you’ll see along the way, as well as other popular points.

Whether you hike a few miles or bicycle the entire route, time is well spent on this lovely ribbon through our region.

Angel Museum

656 Pleasant Ave., Beloit, (608) 362-9099,

What started with a Florida vacation ended with a new passion.

While on vacation in 1976, Joyce and Lowell Berg visited an antique store, where they fell in love with an Italian bisque figurine of two angles on a seesaw. Once they saw those angels, they wanted more and more.

Since then, Berg has collected more than 14,000 angel artifacts, which are now on display at the Angel Museum in Beloit. Located in the refurbished St. Paul Catholic Church, the museum has become one of the more popular visitor attractions in Beloit.

Berg, founder of The Angel Museum, believes it’s the largest private angel collection in the world.

“It feels like a little bit of Heaven when you walk in,” Berg says. “People come from all over the world to see this angel collection.”

The angels range in size from one-eighth of an inch to life size. They’re made from more than 100 materials, ranging from porcelain to macaroni.

“The angels are just so sweet, and my husband and I got caught up in the different types of figurines,” Berg says.

The Bergs found their angels in a variety of places, including antique shops, flea markets, estate sales and auctions.

Angel Museum is also home to more than 600 African-American angels donated by Oprah Winfrey. The angels, which were gifts from her fans, are on display.

Hours: Th.-Sat. 10 a.m.-4 p.m.