• The Decatur Navigator

    The Decatur Navigator

  • The Decatur Navigator

    The Decatur Navigator

  • The Decatur Navigator

    The Decatur Navigator

Over the past few years Decatur has focused on improving the overall perception of the city.  It’s true that the city has suffered from losses and bad news over many years but in my travels in the state and elsewhere that negative view isn’t what is holding the city back.

Businesses aren’t shying away from Decatur because of some negative perception they’re holding against us.  They’re staying away because they don’t know this city exists.  That has been my experience everywhere I go.  Even when I’m traveling within the state of Illinois, once I get more than 75 miles away from Decatur most people I speak with have no idea where Decatur is.

Nelson Park – Lake Decatur

When I’m on vacation and people ask where I’m from and I tell them Decatur, I almost always get a very blank stare back at me.  The vast majority of people have never even heard of Decatur unless they happened to have had some random family member or friend that once lived here.

Most people have heard of Springfield and quite a few have heard of Champaign so I have to explain to them that Decatur is located in between the two and then a light goes on in their head and they say, “Oh, okay I kinda know where that’s at.”

Coney McKane’s – Downtown Decatur

The good news is that most people do not have a negative view of Decatur at all.  The bad news is that they don’t have any view of Decatur at all.

I think it’s a good thing to have marketing campaigns to improve the overall impression of the city.  I think people in the community are more positive than they used to be but all cities suffer from critical residents.  To be fair, there are things worthy of being criticized.  There are problems but I think our biggest problem is that businesses picture Decatur as most individuals do.  They don’t have a picture of it in their head.

Scovill Zoo

So how do we climb out of the wallpaper in the dance and be noticed?  I think the city has to be very bold and daring.  Innovation, creativity, positive vibes all help.  We need to be known for something unique that is desirable and remarkable.  It can’t be tacky or gimmicky.  It has to be real.  I think many in the city are trying to go in that direction and there are many ways to distinguish ourselves.  I think our lakefront is our best bet as well as investing in green renewable energies and technology.  That’s where the future is.

Anyway, this topic is something I have planned to write about before but after my last trip it hit home even more squarely.  Most of the country doesn’t have a clue who we are or where we are or that we are.  We need to change that if we’re ever going to grow the city.

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In the midst of finals week for school I learned that the city of Decatur is planning to harvest trees on city property and sell the lumber.  The money would then be used for beautification projects.  The profits for the lumber appear to be split 50-50 with the company harvesting the trees, so the amount the city walks away with isn’t substantial.

I have several concerns about this, of course.  If you’re not already aware from my blog postings over the past 4 years I am a natural resources major and forest ecology is certainly something that I have learned a great deal about.  I can say with good certainty that most of the forests in Decatur are not in good shape.

Before European settlement fire shaped the natural habitat in Macon County.  Trees that were fire-resistant survived, most notably oaks.  Maples, which are killed by fire were thinned out. Fire in the tallgrass prairies carried the fire into the woodlands.  Much of Macon County was oak savanna and along the Sangamon River was dense woodlands of various species.

Today, there are almost no oak trees regenerating in our forest  because there’s too much shade for oak saplings to establish.  Oaks need sunlight to grow.  Our forests are densely shaded and maples love the shade so they are taking over.  Throw in thick, impenetrable thickets of honeysuckle and few trees of any species are growing in the most infested regions.  The forests are basically becoming a monoculture of a single species which reduces biodiversity and the availability of food for wildlife.

The city has one thing right about their plan.  The woodlands in and around Decatur need to be thinned out but they’re thinning out the wrong species if they care at all about ecology and sustainability.  If we harvest the oaks, there will be almost no oaks at all in our woodlands within the next few decades.  The same can be said for walnut and hickory.  I can take you through Garman Park and show you exactly what is wrong with our forests very quickly.

Maples are not invasive species or undesirable species but they need to be managed.  They simply take over if fire or other means aren’t used to control them.  If we had plenty of oaks and other commercially desirable species in our forests, I wouldn’t be opposed to harvesting some.  Trees are a renewable resource after all but not under the conditions they’re growing in today in Macon County.  In about 50 years, they’re will be no more oaks in many of our forest even without harvesting them for lumber.  Young oaks simply are not growing in most areas.  Period.

Other cities do harvest trees for profit but these are generally trees that are storm damaged or are potential hazards to structures or people.  I think it makes sense to sell lumber and firewood in these cases.

If you want to see how oak woodlands should be managed, visit Rock Springs.  Walk past the pine forest and look how the conservation district burned the understory of the forest on the other side.  Not only will oaks and other species be able to grow but also native woodland wildflowers and forbs that are ecologically valuable.  Fire may not be the best choice in more urban areas but mechanical thinning can be used to achieve similar results.

I hope that the city reconsiders their plan once they understand the ecological consequences of their actions.  I’ll be sending all the members of the council a message.

 

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I’m back from my trip to Oregon and California for my commencement at Oregon State University.  The graduation ceremony was a whirlwind experience.  I graduated along with 7,000+ other students in Corvallis and even though I had never been on the campus before as an e-Campus student from Illinois, I felt right at home.  Everyone was welcoming, friendly, and helpful.  I’m so glad.  I would have hated to to have gone there and found out my university was full of snobs. Ha.  Really everyone I interacted with in Oregon was very friendly.

The weather was perfect and I got to meet some of my fellow School of Forestry classmates and I might be biased but I think we were the coolest bunch.  We were the smallest group represented, as waves and waves of business and engineering grads swept passed us but we were way cooler, smarter and better looking.  Just ask any tree and they would agree.

Walking into the stadium

As far as the rest of the trip went, I was expecting Oregon to be scenic here and there but nearly every single sight I saw in Oregon was postcard quality.  It was gorgeous…everywhere!  I was not expecting such a green, lush landscape and neither was Oprah who was in the audience.  I got to see Oprah!  If only she paid off all our student loans.

All of the towns I visited were so clean and landscaped beautifully.  Above is a view of Corvallis’ courthouse.  Jeesh, could Illinois take lessons from Oregon.  I wish I had taken more photos of the towns I visited  because the streetscaping was spectacular with beautiful flowering shrubs and grasses.  I know Decatur is trying to improve its image but the powers that be really need to visit Oregon if they want to know how good a city can look.  Lots of great ideas – most inexpensive.

One thing that kept crossing my mind is that Illinois is the prairie state but nobody would know it if they were driving through Illinois.  Decatur is the “Pride of the Prairie”.  Shouldn’t we look like it?   We should incorporate our native plants along Decatur’s main corridors.  Let’s really be the pride of the prairie!

Anyway, off my soapbox.  Whenever I visit other cities I always look for ideas for Decatur.  I can’t help myself.  Oh, and another thing: I think we should add lighting beneath our main bridges crossing Lake Decatur.  Others have suggested this as well but just some simple colored lighting reflecting the bridge on the water at night would leave a remarkable impression on visitors and residents.  So much for being off my soapbox.

The Redwoods

After a very short stay in Oregon, we traveled to Crescent City, California to see the Redwoods.  I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.  The road pics are from southern Oregon but the rest are from California.

All of these photos were taken using my Samsung Galaxy S7.  It has pretty much replaced my Nikon because I think it takes better photos and it’s so much easier to carry with me.  I purchased a Samsung lens kit for it before the trip and used them for the wide format photos and they did a great job.  The pics are compressed to limit file size on the blog but the original non-compressed photos are spectacular.

Southwestern Oregon

 

Southwestern Oregon. After looking at the photo I think the rock formation look like a lion’s head!

 

Crescent City Lighthouse

 

Michael with the Pacific Ocean in the background. I wasn’t expecting the water to be so blue.

 

My first time seeing the Pacific Ocean in person.

 

Those pink flowers.

 

The Redwoods – awe inspiring.

The light coming through the trees in the foggy morning light was almost a religious experience.

If only I could have stuffed this driftwood in my carry-on bag it would have looked great in my backyard.

 

The Pacific Ocean is not to be messed with. Rugged and powerful.

 

My son is standing next to Paul Bunyan at the Trees of Mystery gift store and museum. No trip to the Redwoods would be complete without a photo next to Paul Bunyan!

Oh, I almost forgot the most important thing I brought back with me on my 4,000 mile round-trip to Oregon.  It’s pictured below.  And even though last quarter was overwhelming in so many ways, I still pulled off straight A’s.  I’m so thrilled with that.  In about 12 weeks the official diploma will be here after I finish my remaining summer classes and then the next chapter of my life will begin.

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One more final to finish and I’ll be done with another ridiculously stressful and overwhelming quarter at school.  After all the mental pressure I’ve endured thus far this school year I think I could qualify for a position with the CIA.  If this didn’t crack me mentally beyond repair, nothing will.

When I finish tomorrow, I’ll be getting ready to head out to Oregon.  I’m both excited and nervous about attending my commencement.  It’s going to be a long day on a campus, in a city, and in a state I’ve never stepped foot in.  I’ll also be wearing a black robe and a black cardboard hat in the sun on AstroTurf in a football stadium for about 3 hours. I really hope I don’t pass out in front of 30,000 spectators and amongst the 6,000+ graduates.  Not only would that be embarrassing, it would also probably disqualify me for that CIA job.

The graduation thing is exciting and all but what I’m really looking forward to is seeing the state I’ve been learning about for the past 2 1/2 years.  I almost feel like I’ve been preparing for a mission to Mars for years and years and now I’m finally going to see the red planet in person for the first time.  There’s so many things I want to see.  Salmon, Ponderosa Pine, Salmon, Douglas-Fir, Salmon.  Really, I don’t think I’ve taken a class at Oregon State, of any subject, in which salmon wasn’t mentioned.  I think Oregon cherishes and reveres their salmon as much as Central Illinois reveres Abraham Lincoln.

I’ve read the experiences of my fellow forestry students with the vast natural areas that are within driving distance of Corvallis – the mountains and volcanoes, the desert, the valley, the rocky coast and the  Pacific Ocean.  And they know all about Garman Park and Rock Springs.  Hey, Garman Park is pretty cool.  Crater Lake?  Mt. Hood? Overrated in comparison if you ask me.  Okay, sometimes I felt a little inadequate.  When I described Illinois to Oregonians, at times it felt like I was describing a vast paved parking lot with a couple lonely potted plants representing our remaining natural wonders.

Actually, I love Illinois. I love the gentle landscape. There’s beauty here but it’s quiet and unpretentious.

Well, I better get prepared for that last final and get the house ready for the house/cat/fish/bearded dragon/dogsitter.

 

 

 

 

 

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I’m finally over the worst of that horrible class.  I’m down to just my usual workload which feels like a vacation on a beach compared to what I had been going through.  It finally all caught up to me though and I’ve been sick as a dog the last week so I’m taking it easy again today.  Yesterday was Memorial Day and I didn’t touch my computer.  It felt so wonderful!  I know I sound psychotic but I probably am after everything I’ve been though since January.  School has been pure torture.

So, while I’m taking a break I thought I’d write about Decatur since that’s what this blog is supposed to be about with a few interrupting moments of my occasional mental breakdowns here and there.  Over the past several weeks I haven’t had time to think about Decatur really.  I guess it’s still out there.  Let me check through my blinds…Well the neighborhood is still here but it’s going to look different very soon.

I saw the piles of pipes and rock with big earthmoving equipment parked nearby on one of my rare excursions out of the house.  I got a notice last week hanging on my door that the city is replacing the water mains in my neighborhood.  I have a feeling my neighborhood is going to look like the after effects of the aerial bombings on Berlin in WWII for much of the summer.

Well, at least now I don’t feel so ripped off from our property taxes doubling this year.  Our tax exemption from our home addition is over.  The thing is, the house didn’t double in value.  It might have gone up 30-35% in value not 100%.  So why did the tax bill double?  The house isn’t worth twice as much.  I wish.  I’d sell it and buy a house with enough land for a pet goat – the ultimate status symbol that you’ve made it in America.  It used to be a Buick but now it’s a goat.  Times have changed.

If I’m going to be paying big bucks in property taxes, I better have sewer lines that don’t blow up in my basement (this really happened), water mains that don’t burst, and a street that doesn’t require military grade all-terrain vehicles to navigate.  I’m a little more demanding now that I’m paying steak prices for a Swiss cheese sandwich.  At least my street is still better than 51 between Garfield and Eldorado.  It might have served as a road in the past but now it belongs beneath an archeological tent for a future Ancient Aliens episode.

Well, I’m going to take a nap now and dream of my future goat on the prairie!

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