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Wednesday, May 20, 2009 01:01 am

Play in Peoria this summer

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The Spirit of Peoria paddles away on the Illinois River.

For some, a trip to the Peoria area is sheer Par-A-Dice, as they seek to fatten their pockets on the riverboat. While the riverboat is a popular spot, the river city, about 70 miles north of Springfield, has a variety of fairs, festivals and museums for the entire family.

For example, you may bask in the beauty and tranquility of the Illinois River on the state’s only authentic paddlewheel steamboat. The Spirit of Peoria offers 90-minute sightseeing cruises and theme cruises — including moonlight, murder mystery, gospel, Woodstock celebration, and Jimmy Buffett music. There are also one-day and two-day trips to St. Louis and Starved Rock State Park. The overnight cruises include meals, storytelling, singalongs, ragtime piano and guitar music. Call (800) 676-8988 or go to www.spiritofpeoria.com.

A visit to the annual Tremont Turkey Festival is sure to make you say “gobble gobble.” The event, located about 15 miles south of Peoria, kicks off Thursday, June 11, with the Miss Tremont Pageant. Throughout the weekend, the festival includes carnival games and rides, 5k run, car and craft shows, tractor pulls, petting zoo, balloon sculptures, frozen turkey toss, strawberry shortcake eating contest, horseshoe tournament, musical entertainment and bed races, where contestants compete to be the first to push a bed to the finish line. For times go to www.turkeyfestival.com.

Peoria has a rich Native American history. Native singers and dancers in full regalia are sure to make the “Return to Pimiteoui: An Intertribal Pow Wow” a celebration you won’t soon forget. Held June 13 and 14 at W.H. Sommer Park in Edwards, a ten-minute drive from Peoria, the event includes Native American drums and dancing, primitive camp and French voyageurs, storytelling, flute and bow-making demonstrations, finger weaving, woodcarving, food vendors and more. $5 per car. Call (309) 691-8423 or go to www.peoriapowwow.org.

On June 18 through 21 the city’s riverfront is transformed into a carnival for the annual Steamboat Sports Festival. The event begins Thursday at 4 p.m. with carnival rides, a paddleboat docking ceremony, salsa demonstrations and a “Steamboat Idol” talent show. The rest of the weekend features the Steamboat Classic race, volleyball tournament, freestyle jet ski show, parade of boats, a fire and light show, a children’s area, family entertainment, nightly concerts, and lots of food and games. Free admission and a wealth of activities for both young and old make the Steamboat Sports Festival the perfect place to spend Father’s Day. For more information, call (309) 681-0696 or go to www.info@peoriaevents.com.

Celebrate African American culture at the city’s 7th annual River City Soul Festival, held on the riverfront August 14 and 15 from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. The event begins with a “gospel extravaganza,” featuring the best gospel music the city has to offer. Saturday’s celebration of R & B includes a step show and performances by local bands. Each night includes a performance by a nationally known headline artist, yet to be determined. The Soul Fest also includes food and beverages, vendors and art displays. Call (309) 689-3019 or go to www.peoriaparks.org.

The riverfront again comes alive August 28 through 30 with a celebration of Irish heritage and culture. The annual Erin Feis highlights bands, dance troupes, storytellers, arts and crafts, as well as workshops on Gaelic, Celtic mythology and Irish knitting. Those interested in doing more than just observing can try their hand at Irish dancing or playing the Irish flute, harp and bodhrum drums. The event begins at 5 p.m. Friday, 12 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. Sunday. Daily tickets and weekend passes available. Go to www.myspace.com/riverfrontevents.

Top: Lakeview Museum of Art and Science

Become one with nature as you observe native animals in their natural habitat at Wildlife Prairie State Park. The park features an 86-acre enclosure housing bison, elk, river otters, cougars, black bears, timber wolves, coyotes, red foxes and other species. Eagles, hawks, owls, western hognoses and copperhead snakes, alligator snapper and red-eared slider turtles, western chorus frogs and native fish can also be found. Wildlife Prairie Park has several playgrounds — one with a 56-foot sliding board — a reconstructed 1850s log cabin and schoolhouse and intricate bronze statues. Admission is $6.50; $4.50 for children ages four to twelve. Visitors can also indulge in Sunday brunch at the park from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Brunch is an additional $13.99 for ages 13 and above, $9.99 for ages four to twelve. Call (309) 676-0998 or go to www.wildlifeprairiestatepark.org.

A trip to Peoria is not complete without visiting the Lakeview Museum of Art and Science. Children of all ages are sure to enjoy hands-on art and science exhibits at the museum’s Discovery Center. More than 30 displays, including a mineral house, cloud ring, duck-in kaleidoscope, shadow walls and other activities and demonstrations serve to educate and captivate the minds of its visitors.

A Midwestern folk art collection with more than 600 works of art spanning three centuries highlights the museum’s Folk Art Gallery. The gallery includes the Glick Collections of Illinois Coverlets and Quilts, Illinois River Wildfowl Decoy Collection and a display of carvings dating back to the 19th century.

Lakeview Museum is best known for its spectacular Planetarium, which includes the world’s largest solar system model.

The planetarium’s “Our Universe: The Uniview Experience,” is a live program taking visitors on a tour of the 14-billion-year-old universe. Volunteers have the opportunity to fly a spaceship from one planet to the next via an X-box controller. The “TimeSpace” show transports visitors across the universe to experience the Big Bang, the Doom of the Dinosaurs, and Apollo 11’s trip to the moon, before catapulting visitors into the year 3001. 1125 West Lake Street. Call (309) 686-7000 or go to www.lakeview-museum.org.

The Wheels O’ Time Museum is a true blast to the past with exhibits and artifacts dating back 100 years. The museum features collections of 47 antique automobiles, three fire trucks, pre and post-World War II model trains, farm tractors, bicycles, musical instruments, tools, toys and washing machines dating back to the early 1900s. Highlights include a life-size barbershop quartet of ex-presidents, a miniature circus, coin-operated player piano, orchestrion, jukeboxes, a steam locomotive, and an old-fashioned windmill as well as a Hurdy Gurdy man with his beggar monkey. Many of the museum’s exhibits are interactive, leaving visitors longing for days of old. Hours are noon to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. Adults $5.50, children 3-11 $3. 11923 North Knoxville Avenue. Call (309) 243-9020 or go to www.wheelsotime.org.

Wheels O’ Time Museum
PHOTO BY JERRY MILAM
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