Looking for a breath of fresh air? Peoria Outdoor Adventure website aims to help you find it
Mark Monge is a Peorian by birth, Realtor by trade and self-professed outdoor enthusiast by passion. It’s for these reasons he created Peoria Outdoor Adventure (POA), a website and labor of love that showcases the area’s outdoor activities and opportunities.
POA (peoriaoutdooradventure.com)brings together multiple resources and links to a seemingly endless array of options for hiking, biking, paddling, climbing, camping and more. The site also features local restaurants, bars and coffee shops that offer refreshments and respite along the way.
“The impetus of the site was for those who are new to the area or looking to relocate,” he said, “but I discovered that people who live here are using it as their go-to resource for outdoor ideas and plans because it offers so much information — or links to the information — all in one place.”
Heavy on imagery, the site features vibrant photos and video taken by Monge on his many adventures. An avid outdoorsman, he posts an aptly named “Adventure Log” recounting his experiences, which include everything from a snowy fat bike race along the Mississippi River to a packrafting trip, which incorporates both rafting and cycling.
While some of Monge’s adventures may seem on the extreme side, he emphasized that the site has something for everyone. “Whether you’re looking for a hiking trail for you and your dog, a bike path for a family outing or an itinerary of outdoor activities while you’re hosting friends from out of town, you’ll find it at Peoria Outdoor Adventure.”
All Walks of Life
The POA site highlights Peoria’s impressive trail system, which within the Peoria Park District (PPD) alone spans more than 9,000 acres. The most well-known and easily accessible stretch is the Rock Island Trail, extending 26 miles from Alta north to Toulon. Follow the trail south from Alta and it’s called the Rock Island Greenway, which runs 13 miles to Peoria’s RiverFront.
“It’s so convenient because you can access it from so many locations,” said Nancy Flagg, a runner who frequents the trail. “It’s a safe outdoor space for me to walk, run or bike by myself or with friends several times a week. I think it’s rare for a community the size of Peoria to have such a valuable and well-maintained resource.”
POA’s site links directly to the PPD’s trails page, which categorizes each path by length and difficulty, complete with maps. One of the most popular is the Illinois River Bluff Trail (IRBT), the longest continuous hiking trail in the area. It connects the PPD properties of Camp Wokanda, Robinson Park, Green Valley Camp and Detweiller Park.
Just when you thought central Illinois was flatlander territory, you learn that IRBT boasts the most elevation gain, with an ascent of 3,146 feet. PPD recently received approval on a grant to acquire 40 acres to extend the IRBT by another mile, which will connect the trail to Forest Park Nature Center and Grandview Drive.
Spin Your Wheels
If you’d rather use your wheels than your heels, POA’s site can connect you with cruise-worthy roads, trails, gravel or even snow. Monge pulls from and links to a variety of area resources, including Illinois Valley Wheelm’n, Peoria Area Mountain Biking Association (P.A.M.B.A.), Pedal Peoria, Gravel Dogs and Bike Peoria Co-op, Peoria’s assisted DIY bicycle workspace.
“Between all the groups and places like Bushwhacker and Trek Bicycle Peoria, there’s literally a ride every single day of the week in the summer,” said Monge.
Andy Stow started making the 18-mile round trip trek to work via bike in 2013. “When I first started cycling regularly, it was rare to see another cyclist if the weather was below 50 degrees,” he said. “Now we see over a dozen people show up for some group rides when it’s in the 30s. My favorite group rides are the Gravel Dog rides, but I also enjoy the slower-paced Bike Peoria breakfast rides and First Friday night rides.”
Up a Creek (With a Paddle)
If water’s more your thing, central Illinois has a plethora of paddling places. “From lakes to creeks to reservoirs, there are so many opportunities to get out and explore on the water, whether you’re in a kayak or canoe or on a paddleboard,” said Monge.
A kayaking enthusiast, Monge has explored many if not all of the locations he links to on fellow adventurist and master naturalist Julie Robinson’s website, Local OPAL, which offers an extensive list of paddle-friendly areas.
“There’s already a pretty good calendar of paddle events going on this summer,” said Monge, “including an event I’m leading on the Illinois River around the McClugage Bridge construction project on May 20.”
Forming an Alliance
While working with Robinson and Local OPAL, Monge connected with Shannon Halford of the Grindstone Group, a web design firm, and Bethany Fosdyck, owner of Bushbaby, an outdoor clothing and gear retailer for kids. In 2021, they created the Illinois River Valley Outdoor Alliance (IRVOA), a passion project to help promote all things outdoors across a 70-mile stretch of the Illinois River valley, from Henry to Havana.
The group is pooling its resources — Monge with his sense of adventure and exploration, Robinson with her education and information, Halford with her web capabilities and wanderlust, and Fosdyck with her focus on growing and clothing the littlest adventurers — to build an outdoor community driven to protect and honor the natural environment while deepening shared passions and respect for nature.
One way they’re working toward this goal is with the 2023 Equinox to Solstice Challenge, a nine-month collection of 18 mini-challenges that encourage people to get outside and explore.
“In 2022, we put on our first Equinox to Solstice Challenge, which was a much smaller, shorter version of what we’re doing this year,” Halford said at a recent IRVOA open house. Details on each challenge will be released through the IRVOA website and various social media accounts, including POA’s Facebook and Instagram pages.
While this labor of love may be intensive and always-changing, Monge said there’s nothing he’d rather be doing for his community.
“Being outside is good for your mental health, your physical health and your spiritual health,” said Monge. “You don’t have to wait until the weather is perfect. Sometimes the best adventures are the unexpected ones. Just get up and go outside!”