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Thursday, May 5, 2016 12:14 am

Springfield, the staycation destination

Tourism agency urges residents to explore their hometown

The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum offers fresh exhibits to try to lure locals back for another visit.


May 1-7 is National Travel and Tourism Week, and Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau Executive Director Gina Gemberling wants Springfield-area residents to join in the fun right here at home.

“We are so fortunate in Springfield to have Abraham Lincoln sites, a full calendar of events and festivals throughout the year, a fine culinary scene, and so many other sites and attractions, including the Thomas Rees Memorial Carillon, Dana-Thomas House, African-American History Museum, Illinois State Military Museum, Knight’s Action Park, Hall’s Harley Davidson, Scheels” and more, says Gemberling, whose SCVB also goes by the name Visit Springfield Illinois these days.

Gemberling’s team of marketing, sales and service professionals offers a wide range of information and planning helps for out-of-towners and locals alike. They’ll help you find the perfect meeting location or create a day visit, weekend staycation or longer itinerary to enjoy your town’s highlights with new enthusiasm.

“We want our residents to go out and experience the local sites, attractions, festivals, fairs and historic sites. We’re used to seeing these everyday but, sometimes, you have to take a step back and say, ‘Wow! We really do have so many jewels right here in Springfield!’ We can be proud of that and embrace it.”

To get the word out, Visit Springfield Illinois, an agency of Springfield’s municipal government, is partnering with area sites, agencies and businesses to generate social media buzz. Materials and media feature lots of information about tourism, tax receipts, jobs and such. But for residents and their guests, Springfield’s treasures are more about the experience than the economy.

Knight’s Action Park keeps Springfield cool.

Elizabeth Simpson, a longtime volunteer for the Old State Capitol, shares her passion. “The building is majestic. When you walk through the iron gates, over the stones, up to those majestic pillars, and open the big doors, you can almost feel Abraham Lincoln’s presence.”

Just think, Simpson continues, “Abraham Lincoln worked and received his paycheck there. He sat in the library and pondered whether he should give the ‘House Divided’ speech. He gave a lot of himself there. And after he died, in just 24 hours, 72,000 people walked up the stairs to view his casket. That was more than the entire Springfield population.”

As Superintendent of State Historic Sites in Springfield, Justin Blandford manages the Old State Capitol, Lincoln Tomb and three war memorials in Oak Ridge Cemetery, the Lincoln-Herndon Law Office (currently closed for a $1 million capital restoration project), the Vachel Lindsay Home and Dana-Thomas House. Despite Illinois’ ongoing budget problems, all sites are thriving, says Blandford.

“We’ve actually expanded hours at the Lincoln Tomb. It’s open seven days a week now. People have come on Mondays almost with tears in their eyes and expressed appreciation to our state for the opportunity to go inside the monument.”

The lakeside Lincoln Memorial Garden, designed by Jens Jensen, offers a peaceful respite for both residents and tourists.

The Lincoln Tomb, Lincoln Home National Historic Site and Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum are open seven days a week.  According to Blandford, this is due in large part to staffing efficiency, dedicated volunteers, excellent programming and successful efforts to increase private funding. “The Illinois Historic Preservation Agency works extremely hard to deliver great service.” And it shows. History Comes Alive, including the Lincoln Troubadours, the Civil War Encampment and other top-notch programs will continue during summer 2016.

The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library also offers engaging experiences to local, state and international visitors throughout the year, according to Chris Wills, director of communications for the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency. “Getting central Illinois visitors to come, and come back again, is an important part of our attendance efforts. We make an effort to constantly offer new exhibits and displays so the museum is fresh for everyone, no matter how many times you’ve been there.

“For instance,” Wills continues, “we just opened the exhibit ‘Unfinished Work,’ which features dozens of Lincoln items never displayed before. Later this year we’ll open the ‘Rare and Rarely Seen’ exhibit of non-Lincoln items from our huge archives. Items will range from a 12th-century British document to a Marilyn Monroe dress.

“We want the museum to be new and fun for everyone,” says Wills.  

Prairie Capital Convention Center General Manager Brian Oaks shares that goal. “We pride ourselves in bringing something for everyone.” Concerts include country, classic rock, Christian, hard rock; family highlights include the Harlem Globetrotters and “Disney on Ice,” various sport and cheerleading tournaments, and more, says Oaks.

Springfield really does offer something for everyone, both on and off the beaten path. Among Springfield’s most beautiful natural assets are the designed lakeside woodland landscapes of Lincoln Memorial Garden, the elegant Washington Park’s gardens and ponds, the ruggedly beautiful bluffs and river views of Carpenter Park, wide open Southwind Park, and more, all offering free admission every day.

From fine dining to free fun, farmers markets and festivals, Gemberling and her team have an easy sell. Take a few hours, find a familiar spot or discover a new favorite, and then tell your friends.

For site information and an area events calendar, visit www.VisitSpringfieldIllinois.com, or call (217)789-2360.

Hometown tourist DiAnne Crown is planning a vacation day beginning with the downtown farmers market, a visit to the Old State Capitol, browsing at Prairie Archives and lunch next door, and an evening of theater and music at either the Hoogland Center for the Arts or Theatre in the Park (depending on when that vacation day actually arrives).


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