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Despite some closings, McLean County offers outdoor rec options

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A barricade blocks the parking lot at the Comlara Park visitors center, which is closed because of the coronavirus pandemic, at Evergreen Lake near Hudson. Trails and boat ramps were reopened Monday, however.

BLOOMINGTON — State parks remain closed in Illinois, but McLean County’s Comlara Park has reopened its trails and boat ramps, and other options are available for those experiencing cabin fever — but not real fevers.

“Outdoor recreation” is listed among the exceptions to Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s stay-at-home order, although playgrounds are off-limits and people should still keep their distance from one another.

“It is a good time to get out and breathe fresh air, to experience what nature has to offer us and give thanks that we can still go there,” said Deanna Frautschi, chair of the McLean County Greenways Advisory Committee.

City parks are open in Bloomington and Normal, as well as Constitution Trail. For more ideas, check out

Before heading out to your favorite places, check websites to see whether they are open. For example, in addition to state parks such as Moraine View near LeRoy, the ParkLands Foundation’s Merwin Preserve is closed until further notice.

Although trails and boat ramps are open at Comlara Park, located near Hudson, its campground, visitors center and picnic areas are closed through at least April 7.

“We usually follow what the state does,” said Mike Steffa, the county’s director of parks and recreation. “We went back and forth.”

When cases or coronavirus started to pick up, the county decided to close Comlara Park. But after receiving a lot of pushback, including calls from some board members, Steffa said, “We re-evaluated it on Saturday and decided to reopen on Monday.”

When people are hiking, they are often doing it by themselves or with one or two others and can keep their distance, noted Steffa. Likewise, cyclists stay fairly far apart and people fishing often are alone or with one other person in a boat, he said.

“Outdoors is a better place to be than indoors,” said Steffa. “Just keep your distance.”

Ron Hershow agrees. He is director of the Division of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the University of Illinois at Chicago’s School of Public Health.

“One of the safest and healthiest things that people can do now is go out and take a hike or a walk or even a bike ride or a run,” Hershow said on a “Teach Me About the Great Lakes” podcast in an episode titled, "Is outdoor recreation safe during COVID-19?”

Hershow said the virus is less transmissible outdoors than indoors.

People should use common sense, he said, such as staying home if feeling sick, not huddling in groups and not sharing water bottles.

But if someone should happen to come near you as you pass on a narrow trail, “don’t drive yourself crazy by jumping into a bush,” said Hershow.

Frautschi said, with spring here, there is a lot to look for, even in a walk around your own neighborhood.

Spring migration is bringing new feathered visitors on their way north and “goldfinches are starting to turn back into their spring coats of bright gold,” she said. “A lot of early spring wildflowers are starting to show a little green.”

Frautschi especially encourages parents to walk with their children, saying the adults often learn a thing or two as well, especially if they have to check the internet when they get home to answer their children’s questions.

Although the building is closed at Sugar Grove Nature Center, near Funks Grove, more than 8 miles of trails are open.

“You don’t need a prescription for nature, so get a dose while you can,” advises the Sugar Grove Nature Center website.

Options abound for outdoor recreation. Check these out.

Contact Lenore Sobota at (309) 820-3240. Follow her on Twitter: @Pg_Sobota


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