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Letting the Sun Shine on Another Peoria Magazine

by Peoria Magazine |
MB

Welcome to Peoria Magazine’s Outdoors and Recreation issue, devoted to all things sunshine and fresh air as spring turns into summer.

The cover of this issue barks, “Get outdoors!” Granted, that feels less like a gentle suggestion than a direct order, but after the trials of the last two years, well, perhaps we could use a more forceful nudge. If a global pandemic has taught us anything, getting outside might just be a lifesaver.

In 2020, COVID-19 had closed countless businesses, among them gyms and health clubs, deemed “non-essential” by the powers that be. My go-to was Five Points Washington, upon which I had come to depend for the daily exercise that left me in a much better place, physically and mentally.

In 2018, following a career change, I committed to a lifestyle change, as well, prompted by a doctor’s visit and an unsettling blood test. Fundamentally, I needed to get in better shape – or at least a shape other than oval, a bit less Humpty Dumpty — or else. After a year of forcing myself to eat healthier – way less sugar, if it wasn’t a food 100 years ago, walk on by – and to work up a sweat instead of succumbing to the temptations of a nap, I had lost more than 40 pounds.

Then along came COVID with all its collateral damage, which threatened to undo all that hard-won progress.

If hitting the gym was no longer an option, I would have to hit the trails.

Though just 10 minutes from my home, I had always driven by Farmdale Reservoir between Washington and East Peoria, nearly 900 acres of some of the best hiking and biking trails around and the stunning scenery to match. I stumbled upon the Fon du Lac Park District’s Spring Creek Preserve one day, and fell in love. Black Partridge Park in Metamora proved a very pleasant and attractive surprise. I had long known of Forest Park in Peoria Heights, though it sometimes slipped off the radar. Peoria’s Rocky Glen and Robinson Park sounded intriguing but I wasn’t precisely sure where they were; GPS got me there the first time and I didn’t need it the next times.

In short order, they became part of my circuit. My arthritic knees weren’t always willing or grateful, but I was healthier and happier. The wild was a social media-free zone, which lowered the blood pressure. I didn’t go into the woods to get away, as I would always find company  there. I can’t say I ever ran into anyone who wasn’t friendly. I noticed nature for the first time in forever. I planted eyes on pileated woodpeckers and even managed to sneak up on a mink in its natural habitat. These were explorations, adventures, and so they became something to look forward to. Because of the time away from work, at work I was more productive.

And like Julie Robinson – teacher, founder of the outdoors website Local OPAL and the subject of this month’s cover story — I wondered to myself: “How have I never been here before?”

Sensing that the antidote to what ailed her students – poisoned by the toxic stew of obsessive social media use and the enforced isolation of COVID — was to spend more time outdoors, Robinson set out to inventory and map virtually every publicly accessible recreational area in central Illinois. Many central Illinoisans may not think of themselves as rich, but what Robinson discovered is that we are wealthy beyond measure in things to do, and most of them are free.

As a result, in this June issue of Peoria Magazine, we take you to those places that expose us to the sunshine – and to the mood-improving serotonin our brains produce when we’re in it – and that compel us to get off the couch. We take you to kids playing ball at Peoria’s Louisville Slugger complex, introduce you to pickleball, put you at Peoria’s first professional soccer game, invite you to the Courtyard Summer Concert Series in Peoria Heights.

Some readers may be familiar with the name Frederick Law Olmsted, who lived primarily in the 19th century and was considered America’s “father of landscape architecture.” He was the artist behind New York’s Central Park, the grounds of the U.S. Capitol and White House, the Biltmore Estate in North Carolina, the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893 and the University of Chicago, Stanford University and too many other masterpieces of green to mention. 

In short, he was the ultimate master of luring people outdoors with his creations. He also was a thinker and writer of social commentary who spoke of “the genius of a place,” who believed in the democratization of nature, who placed great faith in the healing powers of being outdoors.

Central Illinois has its own unique genius. We flatlanders too often sell ourselves short.

“We should be a mecca…We have it all,” insists Robinson. “It’s a great place to call home.”

Please enjoy this issue of Peoria Magazine, and then get outside!

MB

 

Mike Bailey

Mike Bailey

is editor in chief of Peoria Magazine [email protected].
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