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In a few weeks the 32nd Decatur Celebration will take place with some major changes.  The Celebration has always been on the verge of being canned due to financial shortfalls.  Every year we’re warned that it might be the last.  Festivals aren’t the easiest things to make money off of.

For one, some of the vendors which pay to be in the Celebration, don’t show all of the money that they actually make, of which the Celebration is supposed to get a cut of.  I don’t know how many vendors do this but I know that many under-report for obvious reasons.  Then the wrists bands for buying food didn’t quite pan out like some thought it would.

I know for my family, only one of us purchase the wrist band.  It would be kinda silly for both of us to, when only one of us does the purchasing.  One year a man gave his wrist band to ******* (to protect the guilty) as he was leaving.  He didn’t sell it.  He was just giving it away.  He did a masterful job making the band appear like it hadn’t been cut and taped back together.

Then of course, an outdoor festival is always at the mercy of the weather.  I think over the past 31 years just about every type of weather, except a blizzard or a Category 5 hurricane has hit downtown Decatur during the first full weekend in August.  One year, I spoke with a craft vendor who  literally watched her money go down the drain.  A severe thunderstorm had blown in and blew her tent and several other tents over.  Her merchandise and cash box bounced along the pavement.  As she was ducking wind-borne crafts of various media she watched helplessly as her cash box broke open and her hard-earned cash flowed down a gutter towards a storm sewer.  Luckily, she kept her sense of humor about it, at least while she told the story afterwards, but it just goes to show that festivals are a risky business for the organizers of the festival and those hoping to make an income from them.

Fenced In

This year the Decatur Celebration will be fenced in for the first time, assuming the city council approves the fence perimeter. It will no longer be a “free” street festival.  I don’t know how well this tactic will work out.  I think a lot of it depends upon how interested people are in the musical acts that are scheduled to perform.  I think it will keep a lot of people out during the afternoon when major acts aren’t playing but we’ll see.

I don’t mind paying a few dollars to see a musical act that would normally cost way more in any other venue.  My only concern with the fence is safety.  Only time will tell if fencing and charging a gate fee are good ideas or not.

Going Stale or Somewhere?

What I am more interested in is how to make the Decatur Celebration better.  It has become a bit stale and maybe in its current form it has run its course.  Every year it’s the same thing, which has its appeal.  It’s kinda become a late summer ritual for me to brave the weather, the smoky BBQ fires, and crowds to pay homage to downtown Decatur, which seems almost nothing like it feels the rest of the year.

It’s like downtown fades into the background and isn’t even there during the Celebration.  Over the years, downtown Decatur businesses have become less and less involved to the point where they don’t even participate or maybe I just don’t see them.  I’m not sure which but maybe there needs to be a whole lot more of “Decatur” in the Decatur Celebration.  I’d love to see the work of local artists and craftspeople featured.

Memories

The parade has been interesting over the years.  I remember one year we invited our new pastor and his wife to the Razzle Dazzle Goodtimes Parade and both my husband and I wanted to hide beneath a manhole cover when the scantly clad middle-aged belly dancers stopped in front of us and and made suggestive gestures to the crowd.  They had turned Franklin Street into a poorly casted remake of a really bad Arabian themed porn video.  None of us knew quite what to think.  My young children couldn’t process the information.  I didn’t know what to do but to turn around and say, “Welcome to Decatur!”

The parade has always been a funny thing.  I remember one year when the then mayor wasn’t in the car that was supposed to be carrying him.  It was just an empty convertible with his name on the side of it driving by.  It was indicative of the local political climate at that time.  Then there is always the jail-themed float for Crime Stoppers that many joke is carrying a former Illinois governor or two.  One year, there was a big uproar as Decatur Memorial Hospital tried to rename the Celebration in their honor.  (Decatur roars over silly things quite often.)

It was going to be the “Decatur Memorial Hospital Decatur Celebration”.  Besides not having much of a ring to it, the plan didn’t go over well.  Hundreds of St. Mary’s Hospital employees (Decatur’s other hospital) and their family members marched by in the parade, cheering and laughing, while about a half-dozen Decatur Memorial Hospital employees shuffled by, probably wishing they had paper sacks to wear over their heads.  It was a hoot.  You’re really missing a lot if you keep up local politics and don’t attend the parade.  There’s always some local political satire or message included but you have to be informed to see it.

The more I write about the Celebration, the more I hope it continues and the more I realize it’s special.  It’s something and it’s usually memorable.  It’s always uniquely Decatur one way or the other.

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I’m finishing up the second week of my last quarter at school.  I knew it would be hard to get back into the swing of things after attending my commencement ceremony last month.  Mentally, I was finished with school and ready to move on.  In reality, I still have a few classes to finish this summer to complete my degree.  It’s like winning the Super Bowl and instead of going to Disneyland to celebrate, I had to go back and win another playoff game. It’s been hard to concentrate.

Waterparks

Yesterday my family visited Knight’s Action Park in Springfield.  Can you believe I had never been to that waterpark?  It’s true- I never had.  We all had a good time but something became very obvious in regards to the waterpark Decatur is planning.  I’ve visited other much larger waterparks including Great Wolf Lodge and Mt. Olympus in Wisconsin Dells, Holiday World in Santa Claus, Indiana and Raging Rivers in Grafton, Illinois.  They’re all a little bit different but by far the most popular features for adults are the lazy rivers and wave pools.

I still think it’s a big mistake to not include either one of those in Decatur.  Slides are neat but who wants to stand in line forever and climb hundreds of stairs over and over?  Not me!  I remember reading that the waterpark is being geared towards kids and I think that’s a big mistake.  Every successful waterpark I’ve been to caters to all ages.

What are parents and grandparents going to do while the young people are on the slides?  Be bored out of our minds?  Plus kids love lazy rivers and wave pools too.  They get sick of standing in line as well.  I understand there’s going to be a pool but that’s not enough, especially if it’s too crowded.  I think they should ditch a couple of the fancy slides and give what almost everybody has been requesting – a lazy river.

It’s like a fast-food restaurant not serving french fries because they want to be different, even though their customers are expecting and wanting french fries.  That’s silly.  Unless you have something way more spectacular than french fries as a side to a cheeseburger, you better keep fries on the menu.

 

 

 

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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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