Genuine Northwest, Spring Edition

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

Geneva Lake Museum

255 Mill St., Lake Geneva, (262) 248-6060,

Geneva Lake and its surrounding hills were carved into the landscape as giant glaciers retreated north more than 10,000 years ago. The centuries that followed brought a diversity of people whose stories are preserved at the Geneva Lake Museum, a veritable time machine into the region’s past.

“This area has such a unique history, starting with the early Native Americans up to the golden age of lakeshore homes after the Chicago fire,” says Helen Brandt, museum curator. “About 70 to 80 percent of our visitors come from Illinois, because we’re so close to the border.”

The museum began in 1983 at a home on Geneva Street, before it was moved to the former Wisconsin Power & Light Building in 2004.

The latest temporary exhibit, “Chairs: History, Humor & Highlights,” shows off more than 150 seats that span 200 years of design. Visitors can see the display until January 2017.

The largest permanent exhibit is Main Street, a re-created downtown with a “cobblestone road,” where you see turn-of-the-century architecture, a Potawatomi wigwam, a blacksmith shop, a fire house and engine, an 1890s classroom, a 1920s-era dental station and more.

Upstairs, visitors can explore displays on local boats and yachts (including Buddy Melges, whom you can read about on p. 60), the Chicago & North Western Railway and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Hotel Geneva, to name a few.

Geneva Lake Museum welcomes school field trips, group tours and event rentals. Hours vary by season.

Amber Sun Acres

19819 University Road, Malta, Ill., (815) 825-2168,

When Bill and Anne Phelps built their first barn in 1994, it was just for them and their four horses in Malta, Ill. But when more and more people began asking about boarding horses there, the couple expanded the facility to three barns, indoor and outdoor riding arenas, and a clubhouse. Soon enough, they started holding events.

“Twenty years ago, Anne and I started these little rodeos, where friends and family would come out for a picnic and other things,” says Bill Phelps. “Today, it’s a full-time thing.”

The farm now hosts its own team of cowboy mounted shooters, part of a fast-growing equestrian sport that harkens back to the 1800s. During competition, riders on horseback maneuver around an obstacle course while shooting 10 balloon targets with single-action revolvers and special blanks.

Many riders travel to the Phelps’ farm for practices and four weekend competitions with the Prairie State Rebels, a club affiliated with the Cowboy Mounted Shooting Association.

Every July, Amber Sun Acres celebrates the National Day of the Cowboy with a two-day festival open to the public. Mounted pistol, rifle and shotgun competitions, vendors, food and cowboy games honor the western way of life. Visit their Amber Sun Acres’ Facebook page for a complete schedule and event updates.

“My favorite part of all this is the people you meet,” says Bill. “It’s like one big family now.”

Wildlife Discovery Center

1401 Middlefork Dr., Lake Forest, (847) 234-2600,

One of the region’s most acclaimed nature centers is a hidden gem in Lake Forest. The Wildlife Discovery Center, nestled on Elawa Farm Park, creates an all-ages educational experience of nature and wildlife.

The tallgrass savanna campus houses indoor and outdoor exhibits with more than 85 species from around the world. Animal keepers regularly lead tours, talks and demonstrations throughout the year, allowing visitors to get close to reptiles, amphibians, birds and mammals both exotic and native to the area.

“When I first started WDC in 1996, it was originally housed in the fitness room at the recreation center,” says Rob Carmichael, center curator. “We moved to Elawa Farm in 2003 and we’ve continued to grow to this day.”

Recently, the center has welcomed new species and facilities including an Aldabra giant tortoise, Siamese crocodiles and a new pond to house American alligators outdoors. The grounds also host interpretive trails, an outdoor pavilion and a playground to enjoy in the summer months.

Various children’s classes, adult programs, internships and research opportunities are available for the public to learn about environmental conservation and the efforts to care for and save endangered species.

“Mentoring these young students is one of my favorite parts of the job,” says Carmichael. “Students learn and grow so much through these hands-on experiences, with guest speakers, field trips and working with animals.”

The WDC indoor exhibits are open Tuesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Outdoor exhibits are open daily from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.