If you were to follow the Yellow Brick Road in Champaign County, it would lead to Curtis Orchard & Pumpkin Patch with its The Wizard of Oz-themed playground, complete with a yellow brick road and murals from the movie, apple orchard, pumpkin patch, small petting zoo, and a bakery famous for its freshly baked apple donuts and apple slushies. It’s also a great example of how Champaign County combines the arts and agriculture to create a fascinating destination.
Offerings From Nature
Champaign County has joined forces with neighbouring Quad Cities to create “Illinois Countryside Journeys”, a self-guided taste of soft agricultural experiences like farm attractions and petting zoos, launching in November.
Prairie Fruits Farm & Creamery is the state’s first cheese-making farmstead. Using goat’s milk, it churns out handcrafted, predominantly French-influenced cheeses. There’s also an organic orchard onsite featuring a wide variety of fruits.
For something more unusual, there’s the “Ultimate Reindeer Tour” at Hardy’s Reindeer Ranch. Here, visitors can pet and feed Alaskan reindeer. There are also a seasonal corn maze and lots of Christmas trees. Prairie Farm is a replica of a turn-of-the-century farm complete with farmhouse and barns, topped with traditional farm animals like pigs, sheep, cows and geese.
Lake of the Woods Forest Preserve is home to a colony of brown bats that roost in the Covered Bridge. From spring to fall, you can watch them flying to and from the bridge from dusk to dawn. Several other attractions lie within the Preserve. At the Museum of the Grand Prairie – formerly called the Early American Museum – exhibits reflect life in the 19th and 20th centuries. The museum is part of the Looking for Lincoln program featuring sites associated with former US President Abraham Lincoln, who practised law here. Other activities within the Preserve include hiking, biking, fishing, kayaking, golfing on a championship course that is a Certified Audubon Sanctuary and cross-country skiing.
Besides agriculture, Champaign County is refreshingly arts-oriented. Krannert Center for Performing Arts is the professional stage for the University of Illinois’s performing arts program. It also hosts renowned artists like Ravi Shankar and Mark Morris Dance Group.
The Italian Renaissance-styled Virginia Theatre has been a downtown icon since 1921. Through the years, it functioned as a vaudeville house, theatre and cinema, featuring the likes of Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and the Marx Brothers. It has been restored to its original grandeur and now hosts the annual Roger Ebert Film Festival. Mixing the old with the new is the interactive Orpheum Children’s Science Museum, housed within the 1914 Orpheum Theatre.
Chanute Air Museum is the largest aerospace museum in Illinois. Named after Octave Chanute, an engineer whose research and writings on aviation inspired the Wright brothers, the museum details the history of aviation and features the local 99th Pursuit Squadron (from the Second World War) exhibit.
Champaign County Historical Museum documents the area’s history while the Anita Purves Nature Center offers a look at Illinois’s natural history, its landscape, plants, animals and eco-systems.
For more information, visit www.visitchampaigncounty.org