Travel: Trail of History Oct. 17-18 in McHenry County

From press release

MCHENRY COUNTY, Ill.—The past lies hidden beneath expanding urban landscapes in this area just northwest of Chicago, but it springs to life in 3-D each fall, during the McHenry County Conservation District’s Trail of History. This year’s two-day event will be from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Oct. 17-18.

More than just a re-enactment of pioneer life, the 21st Annual Trail of History is a two-day, hands-on, interactive living history museum that takes you back to the old Northwest Territory during the years 1670 to 1850. The setting is the district’s 3,273-acre Glacial Park, a stunningly beautiful landscape carved by pre-historic glaciers that mimics conditions faced by settlers in the area.

From your car, you’ll walk a 1-mile trail through blooming prairie grasses and under a canopy of trees dressed in fall finery. You’ll meet in-character guides along the way who’ll explain the area’s natural and cultural history. At trail’s end is a large encampment, where you and your family will see, smell and taste pioneer life aided by scores of re-enactors from around the country. The district chooses re-enactors for their ability to accurately portray some aspect of the period. Each appears in character, and will have no idea what your cell phone is.

You’ll witness French fur traders hollow out birch bark canoes, in which they’ll glide down Nippersink Creek to trade with settlers at Voyager Landing. You’ll witness military tactics of the French-Indian War, and learn about medicine and dentistry during the Revolutionary War.

Kids can play pioneer games, have their picture taken in frontier-style costumes, and learn to make candles and corn husk dolls. “They’ll see that pioneer kids had few luxuries and usually worked all day,” says Wendy Kummerer, the district’s communications manager. “They can sign up at the Apprentice Servant Station, where they’ll haul water, wash dishes, beat rugs clean and perform other chores expected of kids back then.”

You’ll sample pioneer food and entertainment, too. Try a buffalo burger or a turkey leg along with a bowl of homemade chowder and some kettle corn, and then wash it all down with a blue bottle of Bud’s old-fashioned root beer. Enjoy musicians, dancers, fortune tellers on three stages, and hucksters selling potions and elixirs to cure your ailments.

Tickets at the gate are $7 for adults and $3 for seniors (60 and older) and youth ages 6-12, payable by cash or check. Children 5 and younger are admitted free. Groups and individuals may order discounted tickets in advance, by going to

Note that the admittance gate closes at 3 p.m., to allow visitors time to enjoy the whole experience. A shuttle is available from a special needs parking area to the encampment for those unable to walk the trail. No pets allowed.

Make a weekend of it

There is enough going on in McHenry County to easily turn your Trail of History outing into a family weekend. Saturday morning, farmers’ markets fill village streets and squares with fresh-picked produce, baked goods, honey, beef, pork, chicken, eggs, cheeses, wines, crafts and homegrown music. And learn why chefs in Chicago’s finest restaurants regularly shop roadside farm markets throughout McHenry County for the very freshest seasonal produce. Check out the world’s largest corn maze, pick some apples to take home, and enjoy weekend fall festivals throughout the county.

Contact the McHenry County Convention & Visitors Bureau toll-free at 888-363-6177 or visit

For more information about the McHenry County Conservation District and Trail of History, phone (815) 479-5779, or go to

From the October 7-13, 2009 issue

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