Genuine Northwest: Summer/Fall Edition

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

The Healing Gardens at Stone Hill Farm

37W249 Dean St., St. Charles, (630) 740-2597,

Located just west of St. Charles, this farm is the privately owned home of the Healing Gardens, a spiritual oasis created by Deborah Marquie.

A psychotherapist and cancer survivor, Deborah felt a personal calling to create the Healing Gardens as a place for people to engage and connect with nature. Deborah and her husband, Buzz, invite members of the public to visit their garden sanctuary on the second Sunday of every month, from May through October.

Sitting on 2 acres and filled with lush greenery, beautiful flowers and winding wooded paths, the Healing Gardens offer nine separate spaces, each with a unique theme. By exploring each garden, visitors discover the story of Deborah’s journey, taking in the lessons she learned along the way.
Private visits can also be scheduled ahead. Group bookings are available, and regular events and classes are hosted in the gardens

Admission: Individuals $5, families $10, cancer survivors free. Call before visiting.

Crystal Lake Nature Center

330 N. Main St., Crystal Lake, (815) 459-0680,

Located in Veteran Acres Park, this nature center emphasizes the importance of preserving and restoring our region’s native ecosystems.

Open year-round, the indoor exhibits tell the story of our natural history with collections of mounted fish, birds and mammals – many of them native to our region. Live butterflies populate the center’s Butterfly Habitat each summer, and visitors can also watch bees at work inside the center’s see-through beehive.

Fossil enthusiasts will want to check out the Paul Friend Fossil Collection. Friend was an avid fossil hunter who donated his collection including fossilized jellyfish and a variety of plant, crustacean and polychaete worm fossils. Gathered mostly from the Mazon Creek area south of Joliet, the collection also includes petrified segments of Arthropleura cristata (a giant millipede) and the fossilized remains of a creature so unique it’s only been found in Illinois. The Tully Monster is a soft-bodied water creature whose fossil was designated the official state fossil of Illinois.

The log cabin-like building offers a full menu of drop-in events, classes, craft sessions and sensory workshops for people of all ages. Events are posted regularly on the center’s website.

Maintained by the Crystal Lake Park District, the Crystal Lake Nature Center is also a helpful starting point for hikers who wish to venture the trails that cut through Veteran Acres, Wingate Prairie and Sterne’s Woods & Fen. There’s a trailhead located just outside the nature center.

Hours: Daily 10 a.m.-5 p.m.

Ahlgrim’s Acres Miniature Golf

Inside Ahlgrim Family Funeral Services, 201 N. Northwest Hwy., Palatine, (847) 358-7411,

When Roger Ahlgrim moved his funeral practice into a new building in downtown Palatine in 1964, he discovered he had one extra room in the basement. So, the avid miniature golfer designed and constructed his own nine-hole course, setting it aside for himself and his lone employee as a way to stay occupied between funerals.

As his children grew, the course did, too, with pinball machines, arcade games and a shuffleboard course added over the years. Ahlgrim also built a foosball table, and the space became a gathering place for after-school groups and Boy Scout troops. Grownups took an interest in the room as well, frequently using it for civic and church meetings.

The golf course, appropriately, has a haunted theme, with golfers putting their ball through caskets, haunted houses and guillotines. Spooky music plays through each game, punctuated by groans, screams and rattling chains.

While access to the golf course is restricted during funerals, Ahlgrim’s Acres is a popular local fixture and has been featured on numerous television and radio segments nationwide. While the goal of the course is fun, the difficulty level is considered to be scary, even by the most experienced golfers.

Hours: Daily 5-10 p.m. Call before visiting.