Visit the Illinois State Capital during Maple-Syrup Time

Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), February 20, 2000 | Go to article overview

Visit the Illinois State Capital during Maple-Syrup Time


Although Springfield, Ill., bills itself as Mr. Lincoln's hometown - and seeing the Lincoln sites unquestionably ranks as the major reason to visit - travelers will find many other notable attractions in the state capital.

They can stroll through a compact zoo specializing in endangered species and a pretty botanical garden with a conservatory that offers free carillon concerts. For the next few weekends visitors can attend a series of maple-syrup demonstrations and traditional pancake breakfasts. Maple trees will be tapped in an 80-acre woodland garden nestled along the southern shore of Lake Springfield. It should be no big surprise that the park is named Lincoln Memorial Garden. Honest Abe's presence is virtually inescapable in the Springfield area, and justifiably so.

The garden was designed by Jens Jensen, an internationally renowned Danish-American landscape architect whom the New York Times called "the dean of American landscape architecture." Jensen set out to reproduce the Illinois landscape as Lincoln knew it. Five miles of year-round trails lead visitors through rich woodlands that open into patches of sunny prairie. The trails cross gentle hills and, in springtime, pass through carpets of wildflowers.

The trails provide places to find solitude and to indulge in contemplation. Placed strategically along them you'll find 31 benches, each inscribed with an inspirational saying from Lincoln. These include famous quotations such as "A house divided against itself cannot stand" (from a speech in Springfield in 1858), as well as lesser-known sayings such as "Every blade of grass is a study" (from a speech in Milwaukee in 1859).

The park maintains a vigorous interpretive program that includes festivals celebrating the seasons, as well as nature walks, moon hikes, wildflower hikes, insect safaris, seed-collecting workshops and an activity called "brunch with the birds." A popular late- winter event called Maple Syrup Time will be held the next three weekends. Demonstrations are free and offered three times a day (at 1, 2 and 3 p.m. - no reservations necessary). Each takes about 45 minutes and begins with orientation followed by a visit to the sugar grove where the group leader, assisted by a volunteer, collects sap from several trees. The group then moves on to the cooker, where the cooking process is explained and where visitors can sample syrup. Syrup is available for purchase at all tappings.

On the Saturday and Sunday of the two following weekends (March 18 and 19, March 25 and 26) a pancake and sausage breakfast provides a chance to sample the freshly made syrup (reservations required; cost: $6 adults, $3.50 children younger than 12). Up to 300 people are seated at each breakfast - 60 at a time - so call early for reservations.

Another pretty Springfield park, 20-acre Washington Park, ranks as one of the region's major horticultural attractions. It contains a botanical garden and one of the world's largest carillons. You'll find the conservatory's collections arranged by their native regions. You can visit tropical Africa and the rain forests of South America. You'll also find changing seasonal displays. The Spring Floral Display (March 18 to April 8) features Easter lilies, begonias, coleus, geraniums and other spring blooms displayed among lush tropical foliage.

Also in Washington Park, the Thomas Rees Memorial Carillon uses bells hand cast in Holland and holds concerts on Sunday afternoons throughout the year. Tours of the carillon tower are offered daily Memorial Day through Labor Day and on weekends at other times, weather permitting. The park hosts a major international carillon festival each year in June.

Another important attraction that tends to get overwhelmed by Lincoln sites is the Henson Robinson Zoo. …

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