Why not take advantage of long, summer days and the many events happening in our neighborhoods? Karla Nagy highlights some of our region’s best summertime hangouts and events.
Ah, the leisure of summer. Long days, extended evenings – plenty of time to do everything we want. Truth is, summer offers so many possibilities for fun, if we don’t plan ahead, we might miss out on some fantastic experiences. Here, Northwest Quarterly highlights six great events and destinations, all close to home.
1. St. Charles, Sculpture in the Park
Most of us expect to see a statue or two when we visit a city park – the likeness of an historic figure, a monument to some significant event. If we visit often enough, we may begin to look past them. And when they’re buried under leaves in autumn and snow in winter, we may even forget they’re there.
That won’t happen in St. Charles. For its annual Sculpture in the Park exhibit, 12 to 14 original works of art are installed at Mt. St. Mary Park each spring, displayed throughout the summer and removed in September. This will be the ninth season for the temporary juried exhibit, which draws works from local, regional and national artists, a joint project of the St. Charles Park Foundation and the St. Charles Park District.
Nationally renowned sculptor Ray Kobald, a lifelong St. Charles resident, was instrumental in developing the event, and continues to be very involved, submitting his own sculptures for consideration. “Many committees had talked about the idea over the years,” he says. “It’s such a beautiful area, a great place to showcase fine arts. We try to have a variety, and to include those that children will enjoy.” Kobald’s family donated Mt. St. Mary’s first sculpture, a turtle created by his son John, who lives in Meeker, Colo.
Sculptures for the annual event are made from a variety of media, including stone, bronze and stainless steel, and represent just about every art movement. “The subjects range from figurative and animals to the abstract,” says Kobald. “All are for sale, and each year, there’s what we call the Purchase Award. If funding permits, we purchase one sculpture out of the group that stays in the park. There are eight now.”
Mt. St. Mary Park, 100 Prairie St., is on 29 acres at the southern end of downtown St. Charles, and has ample parking, restrooms, drinking fountains, shelters and picnic tables, paved paths, tennis courts, fishing and an outdoor arboretum.
“The sculptures are scattered throughout the park,” Kobald says. “People can follow the circular path around the park and see each one. We encourage large pieces, but we provide pedestals for smaller ones. The layout provides people with different views of each one.”
The program attracts a great deal of attention. In October 2011, the Illinois Association of Park Districts and Arts Alliance Illinois recognized the St. Charles Park District with an Arts in the Park award, for its continual effort to provide cultural art experiences, especially the Sculpture in the Park exhibit, for people of all ages.
“We want to expose more people to the fine arts, and this is a wonderful area, with a gazebo, hiking and biking paths, a beautiful riverwalk,” says Kobald. “We can afford people a lovely day in the park, where they can walk around and enjoy the sculptures, each one unique.”
For more information about St. Charles parks and facilities, visit stcparks.org.
2. Sycamore, Turn Back Time Car Show
In northeast DeKalb County is Sycamore, the county seat, a quaint small town, a throwback to simpler days, but progressive and growing.
Its wide main State Street offers generous parking spaces with penny parking meters, in front of one-of-a-kind hometown businesses like The Confectionary, Sweet Earth Jewelry & Gifts, Stomp Shoes, Sycamore Antiques and Prairie on State Wine Cellars. At one end is the 107-year-old DeKalb County Courthouse, built in Classic Revival style, with stone columns and stained glass, added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1978.
“The heart of the community is the downtown, and everyone is proud of it,” says Lauren Diehl, director of Discover Sycamore. “We have a very wide main street and a car club in the community, so it’s the perfect setting for a car show.”
Chuck Criswell is a founding member of the Turning Back Time Car Club and organizer of the downtown event, “Turning Back Time Weekend, featuring the Fizz Ehrler Memorial Car Show.” Now in its 13th year, the event runs this July 27-29.
“It was put together, originally, to help out downtown businesses, back when Route 64 construction blocked everything off,” says Criswell, owner of Chuck’s Auto Center. “Fizz was a club member then, but he was battling cancer, and when he passed, three years later, we added the memorial.”
The event also commemorates hot summer days followed by cool evenings, spent cruisin’ the main drag in your hot car and lookin’ cool. The Sycamore club members drive rods and muscle cars – Criswell owns a ’69 Olds Cutlass and a ’69 Olds 442 – but the show draws all makes and models. “We get 900 to 1,100 cars every year,” says Criswell. “And we get a lot of everything, from the 1920s to the new generation of muscle cars.”
Centering around Somonauk and Elm streets, the event has grown immensely since its inception. “It started out as a one-day event, on Sunday, but hoping to increase overnight stays in Sycamore, the Chamber of Commerce made it a weekend-long event,” says Diehl. It kicks off on Friday night with a free outdoor movie – this year, Cars II – shown on the side of the building in City Lot 1.
Saturday is Cruise Night. Drivers gather and cruise their cars around the downtown and then past local retirement homes. “Many of the residents say it’s the thing they look forward to most each year,” says Diehl. The car cruise is followed by a street dance with live music.
“The band, Rick Lindy & the Wild Ones, plays hits of the ’50s and ’60s,” Diehl says. “People dress up in period clothing – leather jackets, rolled-up blue jeans, poodle skirts. It’s a fun celebration, and people bring their families, dance and listen to good music.”
Sunday is the car show, with owners on hand to brag about their vehicles, and upwards of 40 vendors selling car parts and vehicle-related items.
“It’s definitely not just for car owners,” says Criswell. “Spectators need to see it. It’s an amazing sight, to have all of those great cars in one place. And people need to see what Sycamore is all about.”
For more information about Sycamore or the car show, visit discoversycamore.com.
3. Crystal Lake, Three Oaks Recreation Area
This 500-acre facility, opened in 2010, is located in a former stone quarry and took extensive planning to complete.
Mining company Vulcan Materials gave full possession of the property to the City in the mid 2000s, after more than 40 years of mining. As often happens at rock quarries, excavation had broken through the water table and flooded the pit, creating two lakes that were then stocked with fish. Over the years, it become a popular fishing spot known as Vulcan Lakes. When the City took possession, it decided to create a full-service destination recreation area, and the result is Three Oaks Recreation Area. It includes a sand swim beach, splash park, playground, lake house, multi-use trail, picnic shelters, fishing, boat rentals and more.
“It’s a beautiful sight,” says Deputy City Manager Eric Helm. “The water is very clear. You can see 30 feet down, and there are several islands in the lake. It’s the best fishing in the area, with walleye, small- and largemouth bass, perch, even muskie and northern pike. It’s catch and release only, and we work closely with the IDNR to maintain amazing water quality.”
The project was especially tricky. Accommodations were necessary to control the water level, in order to secure the space needed for the lake house, marine, boardwalk and other facilities. Special care is being taken to avoid introduction of invasive species into the lakes. Because the area had been a quarry, it lacked the clay substrata and topsoil needed for good plant growth, but the sequenced construction plan allowed for the careful, systematic introduction of native plants to create a natural, self-sustaining landscape. Bioswales and rain gardens were incorporated to control storm run-off, and solar panels are used to light the inside of the shelters.
The marina opened in 2010 for fishing and boating, and the other amenities were completed and opened to the public this year. The flooded former quarry actually is divided into two lakes, called North and South.
“The only boats allowed on the lakes are those rented at the marina, which is part of the plan to control invasive species,” says Helm. “We have kayaks, canoes, pedal boats, row boats, and they can be outfitted with trolling motors. There’s a playground, a picnic grove, two sand volleyball courts, an interpretive boardwalk that allows access to one of the islands. People can bring their own food, but we also have our very own Culver’s, accessible from the beach.”
The shelters and 2,000-square-foot lake house are available to rent for weddings, corporate events and other gatherings. Parking and beach access are free to Crystal Lake residents, and non-residents can use the facility for nominal fees. Admission, rental fees and the park’s hours of operation can be found at threeoaksrecreation.com.
Visitors will also enjoy Crystal Lake’s beautiful downtown, with unique, fun shops and a variety of dining options.
Three Oaks is open year-round. The beach is open daily, Memorial Day to Labor Day, from 10 a.m. to dusk.
4. Elgin, Music & Movies
The warm summer nights around Elgin’s parks are filled with soundtracks, laughter and song, as the city offers free movies and music, June through August.
“They’re both longstanding events,” says Heather Williams, special events assistant. “It’s all for free. We try to showcase what Elgin has to offer, both to its residents and to others in the area.”
The summer concerts, held in the Wing Park Band Shell, feature a variety of local and regional bands. “We’ve scheduled seven unique bands for our seven dates, and they all play different styles of music,” says Williams. All concerts take place on Tuesdays at 7 p.m.
Wing Park’s more than 65 acres encompass ball diamonds, tennis and basketball courts, playground equipment, a gazebo and picnic shelters, restrooms, hiking and biking trails, and more. Visitors can come early, enjoy the park’s many amenities, and wrap up the evening with a picnic and a free concert.
“There’s band shell seating, of course, but many people bring blankets and picnic suppers, sit under the stars and listen to great music,” says Williams.
Beginning July 19, family-friendly films will be screened on Thursday evenings at Festival Park, on Grove Street in downtown Elgin. “Festival Park is a great venue for this event,” says Williams. “It’s in the midst of downtown Elgin, adjacent to the Grand Victoria Casino, right along the river. The film begins at sunset – 8 or so – but folks start coming around 7, to take part in the activities beforehand. We have a bounce house, games and things like face painting, and we have the Elgin Express, a trackless kids’ train that’s just $2 a ride.”
Festival Park also features a zero-depth fountain with jumping waters, where people can cool off and frolic, and a play area with equipment like giant musical instruments and a spider web for climbing.
“For the music and the movies, we invite local nonprofits to sell popcorn, snacks and sodas, as fundraisers,” says Williams. “We supply everything they need, even the popcorn machines, so there’s no cost to them at all.”
While in Elgin, summer visitors can also enjoy shopping, fine dining and nightlife, or take advantage of the many recreational opportunities offered by the Fox River, which runs through the middle of town.
Here’s the list of performers and films. For more information, contact the City of Elgin Special Events Department.
5. Elmhurst, “Sweet Home Chicago”
Brach’s. Ferrara Pan. Wrigley. Fannie May. Cracker Jack. Tootsie Rolls. Frango Mints.
The Windy City’s rich candy-making history gives added meaning to the celebrated Chicago blues anthem, and is being celebrated all summer long with a special exhibit, “Sweet Home Chicago,” at the Elmhurst Historical Museum, 120 E. Park Ave.
“For decades, Chicago was the world’s candy-making capital,” says Brian Bergheger, museum director. “This is a very fun look at the city’s candy manufacturing history.”
A short timeline: Founded in 1891, Wrigley Co. first sold soaps and baking soda. Founder William Wrigley added gum as a bonus with the baking soda, and switched over when the gum proved more popular than the baking soda. Cracker Jack was introduced in 1893 at Chicago’s Columbian Exposition. In 1904, Emil Brach began selling caramels from his store, Brach’s Palace of Sweets, in downtown Chicago.
Frango Mints were actually created in the Seattle department store Frederick & Nelson in 1918, but came to Chicago when Marshall Field’s bought them out. Fannie May grew from a small store opened in 1920 on LaSalle Street.
The exhibit, which runs through Sept. 30, also pays homage to Elmhurst’s own candy manufacturer, Keeler’s, which operated from the 1920s until it closed in 1992.
“There are lots of interactive displays and activities,” says Bergheger. “Visitors can try to identify popular candy bars by examining cross-sections, in an interactive quiz. We have a Candy Wrap Challenge, where participants imagine themselves on the plant floor and compete against one another in wrapping candy – not actual candy, but small blocks of wood.
“We show a 10- to 12-minute documentary, made by the museum and narrated by Bill Kurtis, on candy history and the exhibit. And there are video components throughout, with things like the famous candy clip from ‘I Love Lucy,’ and vintage TV commercials.”
On July 19 at 1 p.m., an expert from Blommer Chocolate Co. will present “The Sweet Smell of Success” at the museum. “The company’s been producing cocoa in Chicago since 1939,” says Bergheger. “That aroma in the West Loop is Blommer.” Then, on Aug. 9 at 1 p.m., a representative of the central Illinois candy manufacturer R.G.W. Candy Co. will talk about small-batch candy making in “Adventures in Candyland.”
“Everybody connects, in one way or another, to this exhibit,” says Bergheger. “We all have memories tied to candy.”
The museum is open Tues.-Sun., from 1-5 p.m., and admission is free. Other museums to visit in Elmhurst: American Movie Palace, Lizzardo Museum of Lapidary Art, and Elmhurst Art Museum.
6. Wauconda, Civil War Days
Wauconda was founded in 1850, on the shores of Bangs Lake, just a little more than a decade before the Civil War would divide not only the nation, but families and communities. Fitting, then, that an event that draws the most people together in this charming lakeside village commemorates that war.
This July 7-8 marks the 21st year for Lake County Discovery Museum’s (LCDM) Civil War Days, northern Illinois’ largest reenactment, held on the grounds of Lakewood Forest Preserve.
“It’s a really super event, my favorite of the whole year,” says Katherine Hamilton-Smith, director of cultural resources for the forest preserve district. “It’s completely immersive. We get about 800 reenactors, with horses, artillery, cannon. These people are very passionate about what they do, and they stay in character, even after the public leaves.”
Civil War Days isn’t just about soldiers and fighting. “Our event isn’t focused only on the military,” says Andrew Osborne, LCDM cultural resources manager. “We have a variety of camps – sutlers, civilian interpreters, artists, reporters, tinsmiths, blacksmiths – on both sides, all in costume, with period tools and items. It’s highly experiential, and lots of fun.”
Hamilton-Smith especially encourages first-timers to give Civil War Days a try. “People are hesitant to go someplace like this, because it’s new, or they think it’s only for history buffs, or war buffs,” she says. “I argue very strongly that it would be cool for everybody. Toddlers will love the horses and costumes. Tweens will be interested in the authenticity. And it’s outdoors. It’s like stepping back in time.”
Set amidst Lakewood’s 3,000 acres, the event draws up to 6,000, if the weather is good. “Even with that many, it never feels crowded, because of the space,” says Hamilton-Smith. “We don’t use the entire preserve, of course, but things are spread out. There are vendors selling era-type souvenirs and food.”
Because of the venue, visitors can easily escape the war for a bit if they wish. “This preserve has something for everyone,” says Rachel Kosmal, forest preserve communications specialist. “It’s a natural area, but with plenty of parking, drinking fountains, shelters, toilets, picnic tables and playground equipment.” More than 9 accessible miles of the Millennium Trail wind through a mix of wetlands and forest.
Another draw is the nationally accredited museum, which houses the Lake County History Archives and the Curt Teich Postcard Archives, and hosts temporary exhibits, such as this summer’s “The Blues: From the Heart & Soul.”
“It’s unique to have a museum on a 3,000-acre nature preserve,” says Osborne. “It’s a great outing for a day.”
“Better yet, get the two-day pass,” advises Hamilton-Smith. “Once you go, you realize it’s a very cool event, and you want to see more. It’s an opportunity to step back in time, into an entirely different world, but step back easily for restrooms and AC.”
Also, Civil War Days attendees can shop in nearby Wauconda’s one-of-a-kind antique and boutique stores, or dine at one of several popular local eateries, like Bulldog’s Burgers or Docks Bar & Grill, overlooking picturesque Bangs Lake.