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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Nov AOM Darby Head ShotDarby Ortolano is an artist in Murphysboro. She’s been creating art for nearly 50 years. Ortolano works mainly with clay, creating functional pottery and wall pieces.

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 started in 1970!  That was a long time ago, and I was a young single mother living and working in New York City. For the next 20 years, I took many ceramic classes and shared a group studio and store in the East Village. Essentially, I never stopped working at my art, even as I pursued a career in human resources. In 1990, I left New York to attend the Kansas City Art Institute nov aom vases1(KCAI). I was on my way to some serious work and study.  

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

I came to Illinois to attend the Master of Fine Arts program in Ceramics at Southern Illinois University Carbondale (SIUC). After two years at KCAI, I knew I would never give up my work in clay. The program here was known for its focus on “functional pottery,” and I spent three glorious years working as hard as I’ve ever worked. When I graduated, I was invited to stay as a visiting instructor in the ceramics program at SIUC for two years. Teaching and living in Illinois prepared me to stay in the area. Within a short time, I was hired by John A. Logan Community College. I spent the next 12 years teaching full-time in their art program.

nov aom red kettleWhat opportunities does Illinois present to local Illinois artists? 

I live in a rural part of Illinois, and the opportunities to show are limited. There is a venue connected to the Carbondale Community Art program (which is partly funded by the Illinois Arts Council), a scattering of galleries, an outdoor fine art fair and SIUC still has holiday craft fairs. We miss the Illinois State Museum facility at Rend Lake, which was a wonderful venue for Illinois artists. The SIUC University Museum has been closed for a year but is now projected to reopen next year.

The opportunity to be connected to other artists is a reason many artists stay here. Also, the cost of living is definitely lower than any big city, and this area is beautiful. We are only two hours away from St. Louis, four hours from Memphis and Louisville, and five hours from Chicago.   

What do you like about Illinois?

Aside from the family and friends I have here, I would have to say that rural Southern Illinois is astonishingly beautiful. Gone are the flat plains of the Illinois heartland; here you run into the hills, valleys and cliffs of the Shawnee National Forest. There are gorgeous lakes for boating and fishing; vibrant grape growing and winemaking businesses with award-winning wines; and hiking, canoeing, horseback riding and biking are all easily accessible. In response to this natural beauty, there is a growing tourism business with multitudes of secluded cabins for rent for those who wish to experience the activities and landscape of the area. Giant City State Park is unique and beautifully maintained. Our local towns – Carbondale, Murphysboro, Cobden, Alto Pass, and Anna to name just a few –  offer areas of charm and culture. And Southern Illinois University Carbondale offers venues, award-winning plays, musicals, concerts and well-known lecturers. Because of the influence of the foreign-born professionals and students, we also have a diverse population and excellent restaurants offering a variety of cuisines. My hometown of MurphysboroNov AOM Circle Flowers is also the Barbeque Capital of Illinois!  

What is your favorite medium to work in?

I work in clay, and at various times that has included porcelain, stoneware and earthenware. I now work mainly in mid-range white stoneware. I also use a variety of glazes, and throughout my career have used other types of clay surfaces. I primarily make functional ware, and I enjoy playing around with forms and combination of forms to enhance the experience of using functional pottery. Most recently, however, I’ve been inspired to create intricate wall sculptures, which has been most satisfying!

Where can people view or purchase your work?

I have work at the Anthill Gallery in Cobden and the Carbondale Community Arts shop304 showcase. You can click here to see my work on Facebook. I will soon be selling online, which I will announce on my Facebook page. You can also click here to see my work on the Oak Street Art Group’s website. The Oak Street Art Group is made up of five artists, all who live and work in the Murphysboro area. We sponsor an Oak Street Fine Nov AOM Blooming VaseArts Fair in the spring, have group shows and promote local artists in our community. I am also a member of the Shawnee Hills Pottery Tour, an annual tour of ceramic artist studios in Southern Illinois. You can read more about that here.  

What artist inspires you and why?

I would have to say that I am inspired by the history of ceramic art, primarily Asian. I was trained as a functional potter, which includes paying attention to proportion, balance, form, surface treatment and use. Those attributes were at their height in historical Japanese, Chinese and Korean pottery. I have taken those standards and infused them with my own aesthetic interests, which primarily center on forms from the natural world. Early on, I decorated my pots with colorful abstractions of natural forms. More recently, the functional work can be either simply covered with a soft white glaze, or by a colorful bright glaze. The forms themselves relate to nature’s forms. I let my work speak for itself. My recent sculptural work is directly inspired by the natural world and my interpretation of it. 

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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