A weekend’s journey is closer than you might think. Check out these fun destinations that are close to home but feel far enough away.
Elkhorn, Wisconsin: Celebrate German Culture at DAS Fest USA
By Stephanie N. Grimoldby
Raise a stein if you know that Wisconsin has the second-largest percentage of German-Americans in the U.S., StatisticalAtlas.com, which uses data from the U.S. Census Bureau, puts only North Dakota ahead of Wisconsin, with 44.4 percent of the state’s population identifying as German, compared to Wisconsin’s 42.3 percent. However, Wisconsin’s millions far outweigh the 304,000 German-Americans you’ll find in North Dakota.
It would seem the Badger State is an ideal place for a celebration of German heritage, and this year Walworth County is hosting exactly that type of event.
DAS Fest USA – a free festival dedicated to German-American history – takes place Aug. 13-15 at the Walworth County Fairgrounds in Elkhorn.
“It’s a time for family and friends to get together and celebrate life outside, on what we hope is the heels of this trying pandemic,” says Tammy Dunn, executive director at United Way of Walworth County and the driving force behind the gathering. “We have a lot of exciting acts that will be entertaining for our guests, including educational attributes and a few surprises that will make DAS Fest unique.”
In its inaugural season, DAS Fest offers three stages of German entertainment, including polka and Grammy-nominated musician and producer Alex Meixner – performing all three days.
There also will be authentic German cuisine, highlighted by Mader’s Restaurant of Milwaukee, voted the top German restaurant in mid-America by TripAdvisor.
“We’re really excited about having Mader’s Restaurant,” says Chris Clapper, a director of the festival and executive director of the Elkhorn Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Center. “As our headlining food vendor on DAS Fest grounds, Mader’s will occupy the Methodist Dining Hall and offer a sit-down dining experience with a menu that includes their famous pork shank dinner. It’s exciting that we have been able to engage someone like Mader’s, and they are behind us 110 percent.”
German-inspired activities include Dachshund races, Bingo games – patrons have to yell “Volltreffer” to claim their prize – and other German competitions like stein hoisting, plus shopping at the indoor and outdoor Marktplatz for authentic German wares.
And, of course, there will be plenty of German bier. Friday’s opening ceremony features the Freistadt Alte Kameraden Band who help tap a keg and distribute free beer until it’s gone.
If you miss that experience, just stroll down Stein Street to enjoy German-style beverages from local wineries and breweries like East Troy Brewery, Duesterbeck’s Brewing Company of Elkhorn, and Wein-Bauer of Franklin Park. There even will be authentic bier all the way from Camba Brewery in Germany.
However, DAS Fest is more than just raising a stein.
“This event is being brought to the community by the Elkhorn Chamber and the United Way of Walworth County, where revenue captured by this event will be poured back into nonprofit agencies and businesses for the betterment of the county,” says Kate Abbe, a festival director who oversees partner engagement and marketing at the Elkhorn Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Center.
“It’s not to build wealth for one entity, but ultimately to build a sustainable pool of resources for the entire business community and the nonprofit arm of our county,” she adds. “The UWWC supports over 40 nonprofit agencies. A lot of them struggled through 2020, and added support is necessary. This is an opportunity to band together in a unique way, under a beer tent … and we just happen to be drinking Hofbräu.”
DAS Fest directors have high expectations. “We’re hoping for 30,000 over the three days,” says Clapper. “And it’s obtainable.”
DAS Fest received a Joint Effort Marketing (JEM) grant through Travel Wisconsin, which has given the directors nearly $40,000 to use for marketing the festival.
“They believe in the event,” Clapper says of Travel Wisconsin. “I think because we are easily accessible from Chicago, Madison, Milwaukee, that this will be big. That’s what we’re hoping. Our tagline is #DiscoverYourDeutsch, and we look forward to creating a space for German enthusiasts to ‘prost’ with us and to introduce German culture to an audience eager to be together this summer.”
Learn more at dasfestusa.com.
Starved Rock Lodge: It’s Finally Time to Reunite
By Kathy Casstevens, marketing director, Starved Rock Lodge
Now that the pandemic is in our rear-view mirror, it’s time to plan a getaway with family and friends. Starved Rock Lodge, located in Oglesby, has a calendar filled with fun things to do this summer.
Land & Water Cruises run every Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tickets are $45 per person. This is a great way to enjoy lunch in the Lodge’s air-conditioned historic dining room. After lunch, guests board the Starved Rock Trolley to take a ride on the Eagle 1.
One-hour Illinois River Cruises are offered on Saturday and Sunday at 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. Tickets are $20 per person.
The most popular activity is the combo tour, the Visit a Canyon & Boat Ride, offered on Saturdays and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. A snack, bottled water and souvenir drawstring backpack are included. Tickets are $35 per person. This tour includes a trolley ride, guided hike to see amazing examples of St. Peter Sandstone at Council Overhang and Ottawa Canyon, plus a boat ride along the Illinois River.
Guided hikes are offered every weekend. Departure time is 10 a.m., and lunch (in a drawstring backpack) is included. Historic Trolley Tours are offered on Monday, Wednesday and Friday with a 3 p.m. departure. Tickets are $20 per person. Reservations are required for all tours and hikes. Book online or call (815) 220-7386.
Why wait for the weekend for an overnight getaway? Whether it’s a family reunion, Girlfriend Getaways or a dream wedding, Starved Rock Lodge & Conference Center is close to home but worlds away. The unexpected beauty of the glacier-cut canyons, seasonal waterfalls and amazing bluff views are just what you need after being cooped up inside. Mid-week overnight packages are outlined on the Lodge’s website. Guests can choose a comfy hotel room or a cozy cabin in the woods with free parking – a fantastic benefit, especially on weekends.
If you’re a day-tripper, there’s nothing like having lunch on the Veranda at Starved Rock Lodge, where outdoor dining comes with LaSalle County’s best views of the scenic Illinois River Valley. Locally made craft beer is on tap from Tangled Roots Brewery, or else try the Starved Rock Signature Ale. The Grill Menu includes salads, grilled brats and burgers. There’s even a Doggie Delights menu for furry friends, who are welcome in dedicated sections of the Veranda. If you’d rather cool off inside, the Back Door Lounge and Main Dining Room serve lunch and dinner daily. Live music runs every Friday night from 8 to 11 p.m. Sunsets are photo-worthy and the mood is laid-back and relaxing.
If you want to stay indoors, don’t miss one of the Tribute to the Stars shows in the cool comfort of the historic Great Hall. You’ll enjoy live performances by talented tribute artists as they take you on a walk down memory lane. All matinees include a buffet lunch. Prices vary per show. Details are on the Lodge’s website.
Learn more at starvedrocklodge.com, or call toll-free at (800) 868-7625.
For Some Fresh Scenery: Explore Elgin Area’s Family Attractions
By Madison Bishop, Explore Elgin Area
Summer is a great time to escape with the family. Elgin-area businesses and attractions have continued to implement strong health and safety standards to ensure peace of mind for you and your family. And we have already done the planning for you! Here are some fun ways to spend a weekend exploring Elgin.
Start your trip with the basics, as you check in to where you’ll be staying. Hotel deals can be found at ExploreElginArea.com.
After checking in, head to South Elgin for the afternoon. Epic Air Trampoline Park is a great way to burn off some energy, but if fresh air and time outside is what you’re looking for, stop by SEBA Park. This park, located just off State Street, is outfitted with equipment for picnicking and play. The Fox River Trail runs directly through it, so you can hop on the trail and do some natural sightseeing all the way into Elgin. The Fox River Trolley Museum is just a block away, and it offers an outdoor museum experience.
Get the day rolling by heading to Elgin for an exhibit. There are many museums in the area, like the Elgin History Museum or the Elgin Public Museum. Both feature interactive exhibits that are great for kids. Near the Elgin Public Museum, you’ll find Lords Park, which is known for its beautiful pavilion and a zoo where you can visit bison. Another great museum is Elgin Fire Barn No. 5, which was the city’s last fire barn to be decommissioned. Built in 1903, this historically recognized landmark now houses the city’s fire-related collection of memorabilia. It’s open Saturdays.
Spend the afternoon getting some fresh air at one of roughly 70 parks and green spaces in town. Festival Park is located right along the Fox River and is a great fishing spot. The kids can cool off in the splash pad, enjoy some of the local public art and explore the playground. This park is also used as an event venue, notably for Elgin Parks & Recreation’s Movies in the Park series, which happens Friday nights from July 9-Aug. 6.
After checking out of your hotel, head over to Santa’s Village Azoosement and Water Park, a Christmas-themed amusement park that’s home to thrill rides, a zoo and the Santa Springs water park. For more outdoor adventure, stop by Randall Oaks Zoo, a barnyard zoo that’s home to a variety of kid-friendly farm animals. Come visit the mini horses, emus, reptiles, foxes and Great Horned Owls. And, if your family loves animals, Enjoy Pioneer Farm offers the opportunity to hold and interact with baby farm animals in the spring and summer months.
A great way to end your weekend getaway is to take a step back in time at the Underground Retrocade and enjoy numerous cabinets of arcade games. You can forget about the quarters, because for $15 you can get a wristband for unlimited plays.
Check out trip ideas and weekly Explore Elgin blogs for more inspiration. A visit to ExploreElginArea.com or any of the @ExploreElgin social media accounts is the first step to finding a relaxing escape with your loved ones.
Dekalb County: Corn, Cars and Tractors Spark the Summer
By Pat Szpekowski
There’s no need to wait for a show of hands to see who’s traveling this summer.
When deciding where to go, consider exploring the adventurous DeKalb County, filled with family-friendly events that are truly worthy of a day trip. About an hour west of Chicago, this sprawling and thriving area is jam-packed with things that cover every interest.
“We are so happy that our communities are opening up again after such a year of uncertainty,” says Cortney Strohacker, executive director of DeKalb County Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Without skipping a beat, we’re ready to welcome back everyone to enjoy our familiar and most cherished events that celebrate our region’s best assets and destinations.”
Summertime in DeKalb County is the perfect time to get outdoors, breathe the fresh air and enjoy a variety of diverse and cherished community festivals.
Take a ride to the farm-rich country atmosphere in Waterman, where the free Waterman Lions Summerfest and Antique Tractor & Truck Show will surely delight the entire family on Saturday, July 17. This all-day event is filled with fun and food, a beer garden and live entertainment for all. Here’s your chance to see a real Tractor Parade that winds through the streets of Waterman in the morning. By nightfall, the sky fills with bursts of fireworks and the sounds of an outdoor movie.
Need to rev up your engines? The 21st Annual Fizz Ehrler Memorial Turning Back Time Car Show, on July 25, is a fabulous day for car enthusiasts in the historic downtown area of Sycamore. This annual gathering of automotive art attracts show-and-go types and includes street rods, street machines, rat rods, custom trucks, race cars, antiques, classics and more. Throw in a mix of motorcycle displays, too. Sponsors and vendors line the streets with product demos to the delight of motor enthusiasts of all ages.
Before the leaves turn and it’s time for sweater weather, savor this year’s corn crop at the 43rd Annual Corn Fest in Downtown DeKalb, scheduled for Aug. 27-29. The three-day festival is filled with live music, a carnival, an auto show, and lots and lots of corn.
Join the happy crowd and enjoy free steamed sweet corn at Saturday’s Chuck Siebrasse Corn Boil, from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m. The event is named in honor of a lifelong DeKalb resident and respected community leader who chaired the corn boil for 25 years.
As you chart your course for summer fun, there’s a good chance you’ll want more info on DeKalb’s historical sites, forest preserves, venues and other destinations. It’s all conveniently available at your fingertips in English and Spanish, thanks to a new smartphone app.
“Why not download our free touring app, called ‘Out & About DeKalb County’?” adds Strohacker. “Within the app, you can map out which spots you’d like to visit in person, or even view them all from your phone.”
Find out more of what’s in store by visiting dekalbcountycvb.com.