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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Photo by Neal Herbert

The yearly descent into another Midwestern winter need not be a cause for hibernation. This winter, snow and ice will cause some people to spend longer hours in the comfort of their homes, waiting for an eventual return of spring to venture back out again. However, in parks across the state of Illinois, winter weather is no deterrent from enjoying the great outdoors and the many activities that are only possible when the air is cold and the ground is blanketed in snow.

This month we are featuring the Hennepin Canal State Trail as our park of the month due to its unparalleled access to snowmobiling.

Snowmobiling is a uniquely thrilling way to take in winter scenery. The Hennepin Canal State Trail, located just outside of Sheffield in Western Illinois, is one of the best places to enjoy snowmobiling in Illinois. Hennepin Trail is home to Illinois’ longest snowmobile trail, which runs for 91 miles along the canal’s old tow path, offering unique views of the canal’s historic locks and viaducts.

When there are at least six inches of frost in the ground and at least four inches of snow on the ground, the trails are open to snowmobiles. Riders may travel on the ice at their own risk when snowmobiling is allowed. Park staff posts this information at the site access areas and on the park’s telephone system at (815) 454-2328.

Parking, toilets, and a warming house are located at the visitor center just east of Sheffield (RR #2, Box 201 Sheffield, IL 61362). Other registration points and parking are located at Lock 24 near Geneseo, Lock 23 near Atkinson, Lock 11 near Tiskilwa, Route 92 Bridge 56 near Tampico, Route 88 Bridge 45 south of Rock Falls and Bridge 15 near Sheffield. Because they are supported by snowmobile registration fees, all public snowmobile trails in Illinois are free to use.

During the warmer months, Hennepin Canal State Trail is ideal for biking, equestrian riding, fishing, hiking and hunting. The park is also open to boats and canoes on the canal from which the trail takes its name. Built between 1892 and 1907, Hennepin Canal was the first American canal built entirely out of concrete. Visitors to the trail still enjoy learning about the canal’s large and innovative locks.

The end of temperate weather does not mean the end of outdoor fun in Illinois. Schedule your visit to Hennepin Canal State Trail before the winter wonderland warms up!

lightsThe Grant-Grusecki family of Park Ridge has a special holiday tradition that is guaranteed to light up your world – literally. 

The family puts on an annual Christmas light show, which features thousands of lights that are synchronized to music.

Viewers can enjoy five music and light shows by tuning into 98.1 FM. The family also features and illustrated show on the chimney and roof of their home that is in sync with the music.

The shows include a special tribute to the military, Michael Bublé’s “Holly Jolly Christmas””, Prince, “Beauty and the Beast” and Darlene Love’s “All Alone on Christmas.”

The family also sets up lawn displays and a sled for visitors to take photos with. But don’t worry, you can still hear the music from speakers on the lawn while you’re at those attractions.

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Reindeer in redYour kids won’t have to sneak to the window when they hear Santa’s sleigh land on your roof in order to see his reindeer this season, thanks to Snowman’s Reindeer Farm near Canton.

Scott and Tracy Snowman’s family farm, just ten minutes from historic downtown Canton, is currently home to four reindeer – Sven, Snowball, Mistletoe, and Kringle. Open Friday through Sunday during the holiday season, with extended hours beginning the Wednesday before Christmas, admission to the farm is free, though the reindeer experience itself is $5 per person. While you’re there, take a few minutes to see Santa and take pictures with the Jolly Elf, free of charge.

Snowman’s Reindeer Farm opened in 2015, after several years of research that began as Scott and Tracy were working on illustrating their 2011 children’s book, “’Twas the Night Before a Green Christmas.”  Their first reindeer, Klaus and Nutmeg, joined their farm family in September and were visited by several thousand guests the first holiday season. Sven joined the family shortly after and Snowball (2016), Mistletoe (2016), and Kringle (2017) were all born on the Snowman farm. Now in its third year of operation, Snowman’s Reindeer Farm employs about ten people from the Canton area, as well as a similar number of Snowman family members.

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halloweenkidsAccording to a study done by SmartAsset, the Midwest has the overall safest cities to trick-or-treat in. Seven of the top 10 cities were found in the Midwest, including two of our very own cities, Aurora and Elgin.

Aurora was ranked number 4 because of its low crime rates and its population density, which makes it not only safe but gives children the opportunity to have their bags filled by the end of the night. Aurora’s trick-or-treating hours are 4:30 – 7 p.m. on Halloween.

Elgin was also recognized and ranked number 9 as one of the safest cities to trick-or-treat in by having the lowest property crime rate in the study. The city of Elgin has trick-or-treating hours on Halloween from 4 – 7 p.m.

Although the study recognized and applauded the top 10 safest cities, Joliet was close behind, ranked number 11.

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