September 2011

What’s in a Name?

Whether you hail from the “Prairie State” or you’re a Hoosier at heart, there’s a lot to discover in the symbols that represent your Midwestern home. Red cardinals, white-tailed deer, tall blue grasses – Illinois and Indiana promise a lot of color for your next getaway.
 
Both states have adopted the northern cardinal as their state bird, but that’s only one of many species you’ll find that make their homes here. One of the best areas anywhere for bird watching can be found on the southern edge of Lake Michigan at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, particularly during the fall, when migratory birds are attracted in large numbers as they make their way south. Loons, green herons, hawks and swallows are just a few you’re likely to spot; in fact, over 350 species have been identified here. A checklist for birders is available for download, along with additional information at the National Park Service website, www.nps.gov/indu/index.htm.
 
In Illinois at this time of year, it’s likely to be the Canada goose that will get your attention. The Union County State Fish and Wildlife Area provides sanctuary to thousands of geese and other waterfowl and animals including eagles and the Illinois state animal, the white-tailed deer. Park rangers are available to provide information on the area’s diverse wildlife; enter at the Visitor Center just seven miles west of Jonesboro, off Highway 146. For details, visit the Illinois Department of Natural Resources online at www.dnr.illinois.gov.
 
While Illinois is known as the Prairie State, less than 1/100th of one percent of the state’s original prairie remains intact, but efforts are underway to preserve this beautiful ecosystem statewide. To go in search of the state’s official prairie grass, the Big Bluestem, head to the West Chicago Prairie Forest Preserve—316 acres of scenic hiking and nature watching along nine paths. This is one of the most biologically diverse areas in the state with over 600 plant and animal species. Download a map and get additional details at www.dupageforest.com.
 
Check out Salem limestone, Indiana’s state stone, in southern Indiana’s Lawrence and Monroe counties. Here, limestone quarrying dates to the early 1800s, and many famous buildings are built from stone that came from the area. A tour along the state’s historic Limestone Trail takes you through quarries, stone cutting mills and caves. A visit to Bluespring Caverns in Bedford provides perspective on just how much stone there is underfoot. As you travel a placid underground stream by boat, you’ll see vast formations of centuries-old limestone. Get directions at www.bluespringcaverns.com. Learn more about additional attractions along the Limestone Trail at www.limestonecountry.com.
 
Take some time to appreciate the symbols that make Indiana and Illinois so special. Learn more about Indiana state symbols at www.in.gov/history/emblems.htm. For Illinois, visit www2.illinois.gov/about/pages/statesymbols.aspx.