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Thursday, June 3, 2004 08:25 pm

Springfield outdoors

art1931
Lincoln Memorial Garden
PHOTO BY NICK STEINKAMP
You’ve been doing a lot of walking, mostly from one historic site to the next. It’s not really the legwork that wears you out — you’ve simply taken in all the details a mind can absorb. Tourism can be exhausting. If you need a change of pace, why not check out one of Springfield’s more natural settings? The city offers great parks, nature spots, gardens, and prairie wilderness. All Springfield parks are open dawn to dusk. Take time to relax, have a picnic, and freshen up for the next historic site on your agenda.
ADAMS WILDLIFE SANCTUARY This is the perfect place for a quick nature walk without having to drive out of town. Just off one of Springfield’s busiest streets, Clear Lake Avenue, the sanctuary is a hidden jewel that’s accessible in minutes. Once a mid-19th-century farm, it’s now a wooded haven for birds and birdwatchers. One trail takes 15 minutes to complete; a longer trail takes 45 minutes. All told, the sanctuary features about one mile of trails. The visitor center offers information about the trees, plants, and birds commonly encountered. Adams Wildlife Sanctuary, 2315 E. Lake Ave., 217-544-5781. www.springfield.k12.il.us/adamswildlife. Go east of downtown on Madison Avenue, which turns into Clear Lake. 

CARPENTER PARK NATURE PRESERVE This 424-acre park, with a 341-acre nature preserve, hugs the sleepy Sangamon River just north of town along Peoria Road/Business I-55, just south of the Rail Golf Course. The park includes 10 trails, a large shelter with a fireplace, and several picnic tables. It’s just a short drive from the Illinois State Fairgrounds and Oak Ridge Cemetery and adjacent to the 270-acre B. Gurgens Park, a nature preserve in the raw. Heading west from Ohio, William Carpenter came upon what is now the park with his family in the fall of 1820. Native Americans from the Kickapoo and Tamaroa tribes were its residents at the time. Despite the Native Americans’ departure, the land remained fairly undeveloped through the years — you’re not going to find the park’s undulations and rock formations anywhere else. The trails are a perfect place for a hike past ponds, marshes, woodlands, and prairie. New restrooms have been added at the covered picnic shelter. The park is host to hundreds of bird, plant, and animal species, some unique to the area.

CENTENNIAL PARK Calling all skateboarders! Springfield’s newest park is a must-see for you! That’s because in addition to its wide open spaces, great for a quiet picnic if you’re headed west and away from Springfield, Centennial Park is home to a skateboarders’ run, dedicated in 2003. The smooth surface covers 10,000 square feet and is packed with the curves, dips, and banks that will make your day. Take MacArthur onto Wabash and continue west past White Oaks Mall, then start looking for Bunker Hill on your right. Look for the Centennial Park sign on that corner, then take a right onto Bunker Hill and keep going until you see the next sign and the parking lot. 

LINCOLN MEMORIAL GARDEN
Lincoln Memorial Garden was designed in 1936 by the great American landscape architect Jens Jensen. In 1992 it was added to the National Register of Historic Places. Six miles of trails take you through 100 acres of native woodland on Lake Springfield’s northwest shore. Each trail is dotted with benches etched with Lincoln quotes, and all plants derive from the three states in which Lincoln lived — Illinois, Kentucky, and Indiana. A popular area when the weather begins to warm is the grove of maple-syrup sugar bushes. Nearby are the garden’s Walnut Grove and Ostermeier Prairie Center, a former farm where once-cultivated fields have been restored to native grasses and forbs. The garden is open daily, sunrise to sunset. Special weekend events are held throughout the year, among them the Indian Summer Festival (second weekend of October) and the Holiday Market (mid-November). The park also includes the Nature Center and Split Rail Gift Shop, which offers crafts, books, and posters. The gift shop and nature center are open 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tue.-Sat. and 1-4 p.m. Sun. Lincoln Memorial Garden, 2301 E. Lake Drive, 217-529-1111, www.lmgnc.org. Admission is free, except during special events. Take I-55 south to the Chatham/ East Lake Drive interchange (exit 88), then head east (left) for two miles on East Lake Drive.  
LINCOLN PARK Though smaller than Washington Park, Lincoln Park has more wide-open spaces for playing baseball and Frisbee-hurling. Lincoln Park’s tennis courts are first-class, and the park also boasts a horseshoe park and an 18-hole disk-golf course. Nelson Center, at the park, is the only place in Springfield with two ice rinks and a swimming pool, which features a thrilling water slide. Lincoln Park’s paths, pond, shelters, playground, and proximity to Oak Ridge Cemetery make it a convenient and fun spot for a family picnic. Take Sixth Street north from downtown or Fifth Street south from the Illinois State Fairgrounds. From Oak Ridge, take Monument to North Grand (left), and North Grand to Sixth Street (left). For information on programs and events at the Nelson Center, call 217-753-2800. 

WASHINGTON PARK
This, the city’s flagship park, is also Springfield’s largest. The park’s main attraction is the Thomas Rees Memorial Carillon, the world’s sixth-largest carillon. A weeklong International Carillon Festival, held in June, brings in artists from around the world and audiences around from the country. During the summer, carillon concerts are held at 7 p.m. Wed. and 3 and 7 p.m. Sun. During the fall, winter, and spring, concerts are held at noon and 3 p.m. Sun. Tours of the carillon are offered noon-dusk Wed.-Sun. in the summer and Fri.-Sun. in the winter, spring, and fall. Admission is $2 for adults and $1.50 for students. Also located at the park: The Washington Park Botanical Garden, which includes a 9,000-square-foot greenhouse, conservatory, and gallery. Surrounding the conservatory is a variety of gardens, including a 5,000-plant rose garden, the largest of its kind in central Illinois; a scent-and-texture garden for the visually impaired; an iris garden; a perennial border; the Betty Mood Smith Rockery; and Roman-cultural and outdoor cactus gardens. Activities open to the public are many, including the Daylily Show, starting June 24; the Prairie Festival, Sept. 17-Oct. 8; the Chrysanthemum Festival, Oct. 34-Nov. 20; and the Christmas Floral Display, Dec. 3-Jan. 2. The botanical garden is open noon-4 p.m. Mon.-Fri. and noon-5 p.m. Sat.-Sun. See www.springfieldparks.org/garden. Washington Park is also home to ponds, picnic shelters, playgrounds, tennis courts, nature trails, and bike and jogging paths. As part of a three-phase renovation program, a 350-foot boardwalk has been constructed along the lower lagoon and new equipment has been installed at the playground adjacent to the picnic area. 
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