Chicago Sun-Times
With Lori Rackl

June 2010 Archives

Outdoor enthusiast and Decatur native John Schirle literally wrote the book on camping in Illinois.

I asked the author of The Best in Tent Camping: Illinois (Menasha Ridge Press, $15.95) to share some of his favorite places to camp in our fair state. Here's what he e-mailed:


Best campground to really get away from it all:

I was most impressed with Trail of Tears State Forest, down in southern IL. There are just 14 established individual campsites, spread out along two one-way forest roads. They are well-separated from one another, but you can drive right to your site, and each is close to an outhouse. Plus four sites have a three-sided wooden Adirondack shelter. Water is available at the ranger station. Otherwise, nothing else but over 5000
acres of densely wooded forest covering hills and ravines. You're also fairly close to lots of neat places in the Shawnee National Forest if you want to hike/explore.

If you're a little more adventurous, there are some state parks/county parks with backpacking sites. Some are only a quarter-mile or so from parking, others several miles. And with certain exceptions, you can camp just about anywhere for free in the vast Shawnee National Forest -- check their web site for the details.


Most under-rated campground:

In general, I would say the county conservation districts/forest preserve district sites. Everyone knows about the state parks, many are familiar with the Shawnee National Forest in southern IL, but often the sites maintained on the county level aren't even well known in their own county. In your area, I like Sugar River Forest Preserve (Winnebago County), with a great RV campground, and also 12 walk-in sites along a very pretty river.

Also Marengo Ridge Forest Preseve (McHenry County) -- nice campground, with about half the sites fairly secluded walk-in tent sites, nice hiking trails. The area is perched atop the Marengo Moraine, a ridge left by the westernmost expansion of one wave of glaciers. From the observation area near the park entrance, you can get quite a view of the undulating prairie stretching out before you.

A little further south, near Danville, Forest Glen County Preserve (Vermilion County) features camping, hiking, a neat little visitor's center, and one of the only remaining fire towers in the state open to the public. (Most have been locked or torn down due to liability concerns.) It's quite a climb, but the view at the top looking out over the Vermilion River valley is impressive.


Best for families with kids:

I like COMLARA County Park. Nice swimming beach with things to play with, playground, lifeguard, tube rental, diving platform, for one. And even though it's a "lake" beach, the swimming area is actually a separate little "lake" off the big lake, so it doesn't have fish, etc., in it. Nice shower house at the beach. Boat rental, lots of well-maintained bike trails, some special activities scheduled during the summer.

A bit closer to home for your readers is Lake Le-Aqua-Na State Park, which also has a small swimming beach.

And in general, for families look for parks/forest preserves with a visitor's center, interactive exhibits, even site interpreters who can teach the kids or have activities for them. I know some places have something like an "explorer's kit" that you can check out of the visitor's center, with various things the kids can use to examine and identify things they see as they hike trails. (I know Argyle Lake State Park does, as well as some of the DuPage County Forest Preserve District sites.)


Best for camping rookies:

Not too far from you all, Johnson-Sauk Trail State Recreation Area is pretty good. 71 electric hook-up sites, 25 walk-in tent sites beneath pines, but you actually drive to the sites to set up camp, then take your vehicle back to a parking area. It's good for rookies in that it has showers (always nice), and a great store & restaurant. If you've forgotten something, they may have it, and if you struggle with cooking outdoors, hit the restaurant. They also rent canoes, paddleboats, rowboats and even trolling motors.

In general, a park with a good concessionaire (restaurant & camp store) is a good choice for rookies. You can usually purchase ice, firewood, camping supplies, food, plus eat in air-conditioned comfort.

Also, there are a number of state parks which have simple rental cabins. You have to reserve them well in advance, for weekends, in particular, but if you want to enjoy the camping experience without dealing with tents or an RV, they're a nice choice. This web page:
http://dnr.state.il.us/lands/landmgt/programs/camping/rent_a_camp.htm
gives you a map of all the state parks with cabins.

Most beautiful:

Very hard -- so many good choices. As for the view from the campground itself, I like Pharoah Campground at Garden of the Gods in the Shawnee National Forest. I believe it's the highest elevation established campground in the state, and you've got quite a panoramic view from some sites. Plus it's in the midst of a designated wilderness area, so there are no truck noises, no city lights at night -- it's quiet, and you can certainly see the stars on a clear night.

A number of state parks have walk-in tent camping areas spread out on a point on a lake, and those are also beautiful. My favorite is Sam Dale Lake State Park. At most of these you don't have to walk very far at all, and you are rewarded with a nice site on the lakeshore, where you can cast a line in or just sit with a cup of coffee and watch the
sunrise/sunset.

And closer to home for your readers would be Apple River Canyon State Park. For peace & quiet & neat topography, Apple River Canyon State Park in the NW corner of the state is very nice. This corner of the state escaped the scouring of the glaciers, and there is left picturesque dolomite canyons with a clear, bubbling stream. Nice hiking, fairly private drive-in campsites suitable for tents or small RVs (no hookups).

What's your favorite place to camp in Illinois? Let me know and I'll post it here.

Travel -- especially air travel -- can be frustrating. But what I just witnessed an hour ago at O'Hare was beyond the pale.

Flights are delayed and canceled today because of a storm, so things are already backed up and problematic. But I and a couple dozen other poor saps were treated to a 90-minute wait in line while, at times, ONE person was behind the Delta counter on a Saturday afternoon. Mind you, they had TWO agents trying to facilitate the first class passengers while we rotted on the vine. Listen, I know first class passengers pay a lot and deserve extras, but this situation was out of control. And a big reason why: some woman and her three pre-teen daughters (I don't know they were daughters -- I'm guessing) completely brought the line to a standstill for a half hour. I'm not exaggerating. Between them, they had two carry ons each and eight massive suitcases, each of which was over the 50-pound limit. So we got to sit there and watch as the woman oh so slowly pulled things out of each of the eight suitcases to reach the magic 50-pound limit. Her daughters proceeded to try to cram the discarded goods from the massive suitcases into their already bulging carry ons. Personally, I would be mortified holding up a line like this. I sure as hell would move quickly when redistributing my overweight cargo, which this woman didn't seem was necessary. And the Delta agent behind the counter didn't seem to think this was ridiculous. I get more attitude from desk agents when I deign to request an exit row. This was completely surreal.

Eight bags -- each over the 50 pound limit. All of us in line -- who were trying to rebook canceled flights or make tight connections, etc. -- were in shock at the way this was handled. Delta needed to get more people behind that counter (or divert some of their attention from first class) or tell that passenger with the bulging bags to move off to the side while she took her time redistributing her luggage weight.

Make no mistake: I love to travel. It's not just my job; it's my passion. But it's afternoons like this that put that love to a massive test.

Spirit Airlines strike

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This just in...

As a result of the pilots' decision to strike, Spirit Airlines flights are cancelled for Saturday, June 12 and Sunday, June 13, 2010.

· For those customers whose flights are cancelled, Spirit is processing a credit for the full amount of the flight, as well as providing a $100 future flight credit.

· Customers who made their reservation prior to May 11, 2010 directly with Spirit and purchased travel insurance should call Travel Guard at 866-877-3191 if their flight has been cancelled.

Be glad you weren't responsible for either of these two recent travel-related snafus:

Tampa officials fume over Fla. tourism brochure
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) -- Tampa Bay area officials are fuming over glaring errors in a Florida tourism brochure that went out in newspapers last Sunday.
The color brochures stuffed into 1.7 million Florida newspapers put Clearwater Beach in north Florida, the Salvador Dali Museum in Tampa instead of St. Petersburg, and incorrectly refers to the baseball team as the Tampa Devil Rays.
The brochure, intended to persuade Florida residents to vacation in the state, was produced under the auspices of Florida's tourism bureau by a Georgia company, which took responsibility.
The gaffe comes at a time when local hotels are already facing problems attracting customers spooked by the Gulf oil spill.

Delta was having a rough day, too...


MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- Delta Air Lines blamed a paperwork mix-up for sending two children to the wrong cities as they flew under the airline's unaccompanied minors program.
Delta said the children were connecting through Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport on Tuesday when they were put on the wrong connecting flights because of a "paperwork swap."
Delta spokesman Paul Skrbec on Wednesday said a boy ended up in Cleveland instead of Boston while a girl was sent to Boston instead of Cleveland. He would not release information about the children, citing passenger privacy.
WHDH-TV in Boston identified one of the children as 9-year-old Kieren Kershaw, who was flying alone from Spokane, Wash., to Boston to visit his grandparents when his paperwork was switched with the girl's paperwork during the Minneapolis layover. The girl also was traveling alone.
"It was just weird. I was like, 'I'm supposed to be at Boston, not Cleveland.' It was just weird," Kieren told the station after eventually landing in Boston.
Kieren said employees apologized to him when he was in Cleveland.
"'Sorry for leaving you here when you're really supposed to be in Boston,"' the boy quoted employees telling him. "It was kind of nice. They gave me some free food and some Dunkin' Donuts."
Kieren's grandfather, Larry Kershaw, criticized Delta.
"We're paying them to check on him and be with him. They just threw him in the plane like anybody else, they didn't even ask his name to match the paperwork," Kershaw told WHDH.
"Not only that, there's another child, a little girl, that came to Boston. We don't even know who she was. So you mean to tell me you mixed up a boy and a girl and the paperwork?" he said.
Larry Kershaw did not return a phone message left at his Massachusetts home.
Skrbec said he didn't have details about how the mix-up happened and said it was under investigation. Delta said the two children were under airline supervision at all times.
"The situation itself is exceedingly rare, and we take it very seriously," Skrbec said. He wasn't able to give any numbers on how frequently such incidents happen.
Delta's policy for children traveling alone requires unaccompanied service for all children ages 5-14 when they are not traveling in the same compartment with an adult at least 18 years old or the child's parent or legal guardian. Under the rules, an unaccompanied child cannot be booked on the last connecting flight of the evening, to prevent the need for an overnight hotel stay. The policy also sets several identification requirements for the child and for the adults dropping off or picking up.
Delta said it has apologized to the families, sent the children to their final destinations at no cost, arranged full refunds for the children's tickets and provided credits to the families for future travel.

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