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Watch now: Nature a blessing in Central Illinois

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"Explore with Lenore" columnist Lenore Sobota talks with people on the trail about what they are thankful for and expresses thanks of her own.

BLOOMINGTON — If you are someone who loves the outdoors, there’s a lot to be thankful for in Central Illinois.

As we celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday this week, take time to be grateful for all we have to enjoy in our areas — sometimes just by looking out the window.

Better yet, get out and enjoy some of those places whether you take a hike in the woods, bike along Constitution Trail or even take part in the annual Turkey Trot at Bloomington’s Miller Park on Thanksgiving.

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Constitution Trail provides access to nature for all ages throughout Bloomington-Normal on foot and bicycles and skateboards. I’m thankful to those with the foresight to convert old rails to trails here and elsewhere and for the trail extensions along old Route 66.


Emma Wellwood, Elisa Zehr and Addison Wellwood led their family on a hike at the ParkLands Foundation Merwin Preserve near Lexington on Nov. 7. The girls expressed thanks for their family and Emma said, "I am thankful that God gave us all these trees."

I’m thankful for the parks and nature sanctuaries in Bloomington and Normal as well as nature areas outside the city, whether it’s McLean County’s Comlara Park, state parks such as Moraine View, Sugar Grove Nature Center or preserves protected by the ParkLands Foundation.

Earlier this month on an unseasonably warm day, I encountered numerous people hiking at the ParkLand’s Merwin Preserve near Lexington. Some groups included three generations.

“I think I’m most thankful for just the peace and calming and quiet I find outside,” said Lindsay Bachman of Lexington, expressing the sentiments of several people I talked to.


A massive oak tree watches over the Mackinaw River along a trail at the ParkLands Foundation Merwin Preserve near Lexington on Nov. 7. Kellie Cuzan of Lexington said she loves looking down at the water.

Jackie Wellwood, who has eight grandchildren under age 7, said she was thankful to have natural areas to take hikes with them. Four of them were with her that beautiful day.

As Ron Hardy of Normal sat on a bench in Bloomington’s Ewing Park, he expressed thanks for “the wind laughing through the trees today.”

Katie Willis of Pontiac said she was “just thankful for the fresh air in November.”


Alex Clark of Peotone crosses a bridge over Sugar Creek in Bloomington's Miller Park on Nov. 7 with her friend Luke Mittler of Mokena.

Luke Mittler of Mokena said, “I’m thankful for all the trees that grow behind us and give us energy and oxygen and beautiful leaves.”

At times this fall, it seemed the trees would never change colors and leaves might go straight to brown and down. We were missing ingredients such as cool nights and sunny days to fulfill the fall color recipe. Then, practically overnight, the colors erupted, like Dorothy opening the door to Oz.

Because we’d almost written off fall colors, their final arrival was that much sweeter, like getting an unexpected Christmas present. That’s one of the things for which I’m thankful this year.


A sugar maple glows in the sunshine Nov. 7 at Bloomington's Miller Park. Luke Mittler of Mokena expressed thanks for the beautiful leaves plus the "energy and oxygen" trees provide while he hikes in the park. 

I’m also thankful that more people have discovered or rediscovered the outdoors during the pandemic, even though it has resulted in bigger crowds in some areas on a local to national level. I hope this column has helped people find new places to visit and things to do outdoors.

I also hope the resources will be provided to cope with increased visitation and prevent us from loving places to death. We all have a role to play in that by cleaning up our own messes (and sometimes others’), following “leave no trace” principles and supporting the areas you love through donations or volunteer work.


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Chinquapin Bluffs, located in Woodford County, is the largest preserve owned by ParkLands. The foundation is a private, nonprofit organization, founded in 1967, to protect, restore and manage natural land in the Mackinaw River watershed.

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