ChicagoTourismChicago set a tourism record in 2017 as an estimated 55.2 million visitors made a stop in the Windy City, according to initial estimates.
The visitor total is up 2.5 percent from the previous year, bringing with it economic benefits for the city and the state.

Travel Daily News estimated that the tourism industry supported 146,500 jobs in 2017, a 17 percent increase since 2011.

Hotels were a major beneficiary of the upturn in visitors, as there was a 7.6 percent increase in occupancy during the peak tourism season of June to September. In all, hotels saw a 3.3 percent increase over 2017, according to the city. The city also saw five new hotels open in 2017, with eight more scheduled to open this year.

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2016 04 09 09.32.39Charlie Martin is an artist from Quincy. He creates a variety of pieces by mixing mediums, including ink drawings and paintings. Martin is also a children’s book illustrator.

How long have you been an artist or when did you start? Was there a single incident or moment when you realized this was your passion and if so, tell us about it?

I’ve been drawing since I was a little boy, and my family considered me2015-12-01 14.25.40.jpg to be an artist even then. My first job as an artist, however, was when I was 21 years old. I was a graphic designer. Since that time, my craft has changed and continues to evolve. I began painting in my forties. I believe that you become an artist when you decide to be one.

I can’t define or articulate a single moment when I realized the deep relationship I had with art. I know art to be an essential part of my existence just because I always find my way back to art and the magic of creating something new.CameraZOOM 20141224092410013 I have many interests, but it always cycles back to art.

Illinois has been factored into your work in the past. What does being able to live and work in Illinois mean to you?

Illinois has many flourishing art programs and communities. This state has given me some incredible opportunities to grow my craft.

What opportunities does Illinois present to local Illinois artists?

Each community in Illinois is different.2016-01-18 06.28.57.jpg Opportunities are available for all types of artists throughout the state. There is so much art married into our history.

What do you like about Illinois?

I really appreciate its history. The stories of courage are impressive. Midwesterners are a hearty lot for sure. 

What is your favorite medium to work in?

I like mixed medium, but if I had to choose a favorite, it would be pen and ink.

Eden and Her Joy coverWhere can people view or purchase your work?

Artists and collectors may view my work on Facebook (Charlie Martian) or on Instagram (sketchbot).

What artist inspires you and why?

Tony DiTerlizzi inspired me to delve into illustration. He is part of the reason I decided to start illustrating children’s books. I also am inspired by Norman Rockwell and Alphonse Mucha.

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According to a survey conducted by YouGov, a significant portion of Americans are resolving to eat better and exercise more in 2018. Those focusing on health and wellness this year should visit the Fay Pickering Memorial Trails at Mill Creek Park in Marshall, where over nine miles of running, hiking and mountain biking trails are open 24 hours a day, all year long.
 
Four single-track trails snake through the old growth forests near Mill Creek Lake at an average grade of nine percent and a maximum grade of 64 percent. The trail system is classified as intermediate, but individual trails can be modified for runners, hikers and bikers of all skill levels from beginner to expert.
 
Those who enjoy outdoor recreation with their canine companions will be glad to know that the park allows dogs to roam off-leash. Motorized vehicles and horses are prohibited, and trail users are discouraged from using the trail in wet conditions.
 
For the truly brave, the Ninth Annual Clark County Polar Bear Dare Trail Run will take place on Jan. 13, 2018. The run includes 10.3-mile, 3.9-mile and half-mile races followed by a mountain bike race. The event is expected to take place regardless of weather, giving athletes an opportunity to compete in unique conditions.
 
The Fay Pickering Memorial Trails system is considered one of the best in the state. It is about a 20-minute drive from I-70 in Clark County and features a restroom and pavilion at the trailhead near the dam at Mill Creek. For more information, call 217-889-3901.

PP0111When the weather gets cold we tend to find ourselves spending more time indoors, snuggled up with a hot beverage. Although that sounds like bliss, getting out and enjoying events that only happen during the winter season can be just as fun, and support a good cause!

If you have never experienced ice sculptures or ice sculpting competitions, Rockford holds the High School and State Competitions. You can walk through and watch the ice sculptors, or you can drive through and view from the warmth of your car. The competitions are held at Sinnissippi Park. Admission is free and you can see ice sculptors creating their master pieces from sunrise until about 10:30 p.m. This is an activity the entire family can enjoy.

The High School Competition is held Jan. 18-20 and the State Championship will be held Jan. 17-20. For more information about this event, click here.

Another fun winter activity that you may have heard of is the Polar Plunge. This event supports the Special Olympics in Illinois by raising money for the events and programming the organization provides for the 42,000 athletes across the state. Participants raise a minimum of $100 in exchange for jumping into cold waters in the middle of winter. All the proceeds benefit the Special Olympic Athletes.

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Lewis UniversityLewis University has been named one of the best colleges for veterans, ranking fifth in the United States and first in Illinois, by College Choice, an independent ranking organization that utilizes data-driven research and methodology to help students and families find the best schools.

College Choice reviews a number of factors including institutional excellence, student satisfaction and return on investment to help develop its rankings.

Located in Romeoville, Lewis University offers more than 80 undergraduate majors, including options for Air Force ROTC through the Aerospace Studies program and Army ROTC through the Military Studies program. The university has also partnered with the Department of Defense to provide affordable, high-quality education globally.

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