Smile Politely

The fall of Champaign-Urbana

I know that it’s not even Labor Day yet, but I cannot stress how much I am looking forward to the fall season. There is just something majestic and supernal about the fall here. I hate to be morose, but when things start to die, I feel more alive. I recently was a pallbearer in a funeral, so forgive me for being a little melancholy.

On a lighter note, even though things do die, from death springs new life. I’m not sure if I have even had the opportunity to enjoy all that there is to do around Champaign-Urbana in the fall, but I can tell you some of my favorite places to visit and things to do.

Allerton Park

If you have not been to Allerton, you are missing out. Allerton Park is considered to be one of the seven wonders of Illinois and it’s only about twenty minutes away via Interstate 72. If I was Ted Theodore Logan, I would travel back in time and kiss Robert Allerton for all that he has done for art. I have a hard time describing Allerton to anyone who asks me about it, because it is just that amazing. Robert Allerton collected art from all over the world and he donated it to many museums. Perhaps his greatest gift is what he left behind for us to enjoy in Monticello. Allerton Park is full of beauty. It is over 1,500 acres of wonderment. You can marvel at statues, flowers and trees while meandering your way through its grounds. If you feel like getting some exercise, you can follow a number of trails and wonder through dense forest, which seems so rare in this flat land of ours. I don’t want to spoil Allerton for you, so all I can say is go and visit it for yourself. Here is the website:


Kickapoo State Park

Kickapoo is situated in Vermilion County, just outside of Danville. It is unbelievably beautiful. It is nearly 3,000 acres of land that offers an array of activities such as canoeing, camping, fishing, horseback riding, scuba diving and mountain biking. I ride a motorcycle and if there is any place that I love to ride around here, it’s in and around Kickapoo. If you take 151 out of Urbana, it’s hard to miss it, because eventually you’ll start to see signs for the park just before you enter Danville. If you do plan to visit the park, make sure to go early, because there is so much to see. If you are into bird watching, you’ll find kingfishers and woodpeckers throughout the park. If you prefer wildlife without wings, the park also has plenty of deer, raccoons, squirrels and cottontail rabbits. There is even a horseback riding station just outside of the park. The people there are incredibly friendly, so even if you are unfamiliar with nature, they’ll help you understand and appreciate all that the park has to offer. Check it out at


Forest Glen Preserve

Not too far from Kickapoo is Forest Glen, my favorite place to go camping. Not that it is essential to get drunk while camping, but I do appreciate a park that doesn’t have rangers dropping by every hour on the hour. Forest Glen is a trustworthy park and campground that will let you bring in beverages without any form or harassment. You can bring in a truckload of booze without a problem, but they will get upset if you bring in outside firewood. However, you can purchase racks of wood there for a few bucks. Forest Glen is also in Vermilion County. It has lots of trails, so it is a hiker’s paradise. What I enjoy most about Forest Glen is the observation tower that quietly rests in its valley. Once you climb the towers stairs and reach the top, you will be out of breath, but it is worth the labor. I cannot think of anything that is more peaceful than to be there, alone or with friends, staring out of the tower that gives you just enough room to view the tops of the surrounding hillsides. If you can go there, I suggest that you do it when there is a full moon. Here is the website:


Lake of the Woods

Situated near Mahomet, Lake of the Woods is a forest preserve that has more than enough to offer. You can rent boats, fish, hike, golf, walk or run its trails. There is a covered bridge that you can drive or walk through without fear of a headless horseman. There is also a museum worth visiting that showcases agriculture, wildlife and art. My favorite spot to visit is the botanical garden. It has a small waterfall and a coy pond that offers an East Asian feel to its visitors. It is a serene area that is perfect for photos with friends and loved ones. If you like riding motorcycles, this is another great place to motor through. However, you have to stop and just take some time to soak in the serenity of the place. If you are a golfer, the course there is challenging and fun. It is an award winning course replete with bunkers and ponds, so bring plenty of extra golf balls. One other aspect of Lake of the Woods that I enjoy is its trails that are perfect for cross country running. I’m not the greatest runner, but I can tell you that I often get tired of running on pavement. Lake of the Woods has freshly cut grass trails that wind through the prairie landscape for miles and miles. The CU Buffalo Group often run out there, I believe, but even if you don’t want to join them, you can go alone, or take a friend. For me, running a new course, especially one through trees and up hills, is much better than dodging cars and cracks in sidewalks. Their website is


I know that there are many other areas to visit, and I’m sorry if I did not include areas like the local wineries or orchards. I encourage you to comment with your favorite place so that justice is served for all of our surrounding area. I would love to hear about other great places to visit. So many people look at Champaign-Urbana as a flat land without character, but that isn’t true. Even in our urban setting, there are great places to go, like Meadowbrook and Crystal Lake. I guess I just get trapped in the comfort of my home and I often stick to what I’m used to, especially when there is a heat index of 100-plus degrees. However, with the fall season ahead, I am looking forward to enjoying a more temperate environment that will give me the chance to be outside without anger-inducing humidity.

In my ordinary life, I too often feel like I have to answer emails, respond to text messages and check my Blackberry to make sure that there isn’t another work issue that I have to deal with. I watch television too much, or I find myself looking at useless information online. When I do this, I often feel guilty for not being outside. Even though technology is helpful, to me there is nothing better for my mental health than getting outdoors and appreciating the natural beauty of our world. The areas that I mention are great places to visit in order to escape from all of the little things that drive us crazy. Therefore, if you’re feeling down, if you’re tired of the same old bars, or if you think that all we have around CU is corn and beans, you should try to get out and visit some of the places that I have highlighted. All of the areas are amazing during any season of the year, but with the fall months just ahead of us, I know that you can’t go wrong by visiting these places as the leaves start to change and fall to the ground.

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