When I visit Illinois State Parks, I
am reminded of what a great country this is and of the magnificence
of our state.
Weldon Springs State Recreation Area in DeWitt County is a place
where one can reflect on the men and women who gave their lives to
preserve all that I hold dear. This park is home to a very special
First, to tell you a little about
the park: Weldon Springs is 550 acres in size. At its center is a
29-acre, spring-fed lake. Fishing platforms dot its two miles of
shoreline. I pass anglers of all ages as I walk the groomed path
that rings the lake.
Another attraction of the site is
the Union School House, which was moved to the restored prairie at
Weldon Springs. It is equipped for use as a visitor center and
temporary classroom for school groups, with an interpreter available
year-round. Also in the schoolhouse is a collection of
taxidermist-mounted mammals native to the park and a discovery box
filled with natural treasures.
The park is full of hiking trails.
My favorite is The Schoolhouse Trail. It loops just over a mile in
length, with an 80-box bluebird trail maintained in the park.
Bluebirds can be observed from late February to October. That trail
is also the ideal place to observe the native prairie restoration
project. Grasses are already knee-high, and more than 30 different
butterfly species flit across the path.
The park has two amphitheaters,
which today are used for events like weddings, and for church
services. But years ago, this park was scene of the annual summer
event known as Chautauqua. For 10 days each summer from 1901 to
1921, area residents gathered at the site to hear some of the best
public speakers and entertainers of the day. Among those who were
guests here: William Jennings Bryant, Carrie Nation and Helen
I am reminded of the words of Helen
Keller just now. She said, "Alone we can do so little; together we
can do so much." These words ring in my mind as I walk to Veterans
Point, down a short pathway to the water's edge. Holidays such as
Memorial Day, this path is lined with 50 American flags -- flags
that are 4 feet by 6 feet in size.
As I reach the water's edge,
emotions overwhelm me. Atop the three flagpoles here at this point,
extending lakeside, fly three symbols which are so much more than
cloth: the American flag, the Illinois flag and the POW flag. I
think of those I have known who have lived and died for our
country's freedom, and I am reminded they are part of a vast fabric
of commitment to country.
[to top of second column in this article]
Granite memorials here at Weldon
Springs honor veterans from all branches: Army, Navy, Marines, Air
Force and Coast Guard. The granite is engraved with the names of
1,100 men and women from 23 states, whose loved ones appreciated
their sacrifice and shared their memories of courageous service by
dedicating memorials in their honor.
It would be easy to be sad amid the
names of those who gave their lives for this great country. Yet, in
this park, where bluebirds mingle with butterflies and fisherman nod
hello to hikers, I find not just the peace that comes with visiting
a state park but a reminder of the source of peace. The flags snap
soundly in the breeze, mixed with the soprano of children laughing
on the swings.
Helen Keller once said, "Optimism is
the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without
hope or confidence." To her words I add, there may be sacrifice in
achievement, and to those who sacrificed, I offer my appreciation.
Because of them, I can sit in this park, on this point, and be awash
All the best,
~ ~ ~
If you go:
From the stoplight south of Clinton
on Route 51, follow signs three miles to the east; or go east of
Clinton on Route 10 to sign, turn south and follow signs two miles
to the park.
Now in its fourth and final year of
construction, the Flags of Freedom project remains $15,000 short of
its $175,000 total cost. Dedication day for Veterans Point is
scheduled for Oct. 9. Memorials can be bought or donations made by
calling the Weldon Springs park office at (217) 935-2644.
Department of Natural Resources news release]