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Feature Stories

A year's worth of quirky things to do in Illinois

Cindy Richards, Editor

Illinois is famous as the home of Abraham Lincoln, but the state has lots more destinations, attractions and events that are worth a visit. Here's a year's worth of them.

January: Commune with bald eagles. Illinois is home to more wintering bald eagles than any state outside Alaska. More than 3,000 of these majestic birds of prey spend winter near Illinois waterways. Towns around the state, including Utica, Rock Island, Grafton, and Alton, celebrate eagles with weekend events in January.

A year's worth of quirky things to do in IllinoisFebruary: Celebrate Groundhog Day in Woodstock, setting for the 1993 same-name movie starring Bill Murray. Thanks to its picturesque downtown, Woodstock became the movie's version of Punxsatawney, Pa. Legend says  a groundhog predicts each February how many weeks of winter remain depending on whether it sees its shadow. Woodstock does a whole winter festival around the groundhog day celebration.  Groundhog Day Hotline: 815-334-2620 woodstockgroundhog.org/.

March: Learn about physics at Fermilab in Batavia. The physics research facility, which stands to become the world leader in Neutrino physics (Huh?), offers an Ask-a-Scientist lecture the first Sunday each month followed, by a behind-the-scenes tour. Or visit Wednesdays at 10:30 a.m. for an introductory tour of the Lab; then lunch in the Wilson Hall Cafeteria. (Maybe you'll learn what Neutrino physics is while you're there.) You can also just wander the grounds, home to a restored prairie and a buffalo herd. Bring a photo ID. Call 630-840-3351 or visit www.fnal.gov.

April: Watch a movie, Roger Ebert style. The legendary Chicago Sun-Times film critic died in 2013, but his namesake film festival lives on in Champaign. Scheduled this year for April 23-27, the film festival showcases movies and offers panel discussions. If you want to go, buy your tickets now. They often sell out by the end of February. To buy tickets, call 217-244-0552 or visit www.ebertfest.com.

May: Climb aboard a giant farm implement and pretend you're harvesting crops at this free John Deere Pavilion in Moline. To see how these rigs are made, sign up for a factory tour. Tour reservations are required. Call 800-765-9588 at least two days before visiting.

A year's worth of quirky things to do in IllinoisJune: Meet Superman. The films might claim Superman grew up in Smallville, Kan., but the Illinois State Legislature decreed his hometown is really Metropolis, Ill. There's a Superman Square that's home to a statue of the Man of Steel, the Super Museum filled with more than 20,000 pieces of Superman memorabilia, and a hometown newspaper called The Planet. On June 12-15, Metropolis will honor its favorite fake son with a Superman Celebration. Call 618-524-2714 or visit www.metropolistourism.com.

A year's worth of quirky things to do in IllinoisJuly: Take a ride on a mule-drawn canal boat in LaSalle. This throw-back to LaSalle's history as the final stop on the Chicago-LaSalle Illinois & Michigan Canal is a leisurely 19th century style ride. A mule walks along the canal path, tethered by a rope to the boat. Call 815-220-1848 or visit www.lasallecanalboat.org.

August: Explore a bog at Volo Bog State Natural Area in Ingleside. The bog was designated a National Natural Landmark in 1973 as the only remaining open-water quaking bog in Illinois. A byproduct of the glaciers, the bog is best seen from the half-mile interpretative hiking trail. Call 815-344-1294.

September: Take a drive. President Teddy Roosevelt called Peoria's Grandview Drive "the world's most beautiful drive." And it only gets better as the leaves change color in fall. The 2.5-mile drive can be reached from Prospect Road in Peoria Heights or from Illinois 29, near the Ill. 150 interchange. On a clear day, it's said you can see more than 30 miles of the Illinois River valley along the way.

October: Watch someone shoot a pumpkin out of a cannon. Or a trebuchet. Or a catapult. Or throw one yourself before eating pumpkin chili, pumpkin ice cream, or pumpkin pie during the Punkin' Chuckin' event in Morton, Oct. 18-19 this year. Bring your own lawn chairs and bundle up. The winds really whip across those farmers' fields. Call 309- 266-5135,

November: Go scuba diving. Rent a wet suit and all of the other equipment you need at Mermet Springs quarry in Belknap. The quarry is open all year long—even in the winter. Take a lesson, then dive in, on, and around a sunken 727 airplane, railroad coal car, pick-up truck, ambulance, semi-tractor trailer truck, cement "petting zoo," and other objects sunken there for your diving pleasure. Oh, and there's a shark too. (Don't worry, it's only fiberglass.) For more information, call 618-527-DIVE (3483) or visit www.mermetsprings.com.

December: Shop your way through the Christkindlmarket, a holiday-themed tent world set up in the plaza of the Daley Center in Chicago. Modeled after an outdoor German holiday market begun in Nuremberg in 1545, this is Chicago's largest open-air Christmas festival. Vendors sell ethnic foods and unique Christmas gifts under the glow of a giant Christmas tree.