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Illinois State Fair offers fun for whole family



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Updated: September 16, 2012 6:19AM

SPRINGFIELD — The insistent croaking of a frog drifted from the exhibition building Sunday at the Illinois State Fair. I finally took our youngest to investigate.

Avery Loya, a cheerful young man at the From the East booth, created the croaking by rubbing a small stick over ridges on the back of a small frog made of mango wood. At $5, it was the one souvenir we bought, a perfect symbol of the state fair: a mix of the real, the remembered and the ridiculous.

On another level, few things show the division between Downstate and northeast Illinois — loosely called ‘‘Chicago’’ — than the state fair.

Every year or so, one of our kids qualifies for state with a 4-H project. Two made it this year (fudge and theater arts), so we had to go.

I enjoy it, perhaps because the outdoors straddle the divide between Downstate and Chicago. I still remember the first time Carol Knowles, then the spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, heard of our clan making its way through Conservation World at the state fair.

‘‘What are you doing here?’’ she asked.

The implication being, ‘‘Why are Chicago people at this amalgamation of cattle and corn dogs?’’

I think more of us should go. It might bridge that Downstate/Chicago divide.

I enjoyed Sun-Times columnist Neil Steinberg’s recent account of his family’s first visit to the state fair. It held true to his aim not to engage in ‘‘snarky urban sneering,’’ which comes naturally for him.

From the outdoors side, it’s a chance to experience Conservation World, the 30-acre park adjacent to the IDNR office building. It’s free with regular fair admission and is open daily from
10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Maybe it was the moderate weather, but Conservation World was so packed that we finally plopped down with 500 or so people sprawled on a hill to watch Chris Camp, ‘‘The Whip Guy.’’ I loved his ‘‘Blue Danube’’ with a kazoo and two whips.

Our boys’ favorite stop was looking at the huge fish, especially the big flatheads in tanks, and the aquarium with turtles.

We usually do the fishing clinic, which is part of the embattled IDNR Urban Fishing Program, with the youngest ones, but they are outgrowing it. The lines were so long that we passed on the BB and archery shooting, something we usually do.

The busiest table was for licenses, permits and FOID card applications. Near there was my favorite stop: a mounted wildlife exhibit of a wild turkey, coyote, multiple buck trophies and other creatures.

Back at the main fair, after tours of the swine, sheep, livestock and horse barns, I made a key visit to the artisans building. Why not? Embrace diversity of experience.

For those expecting corn-pone art, forget it. Even the whimsical rural scenes were well done, but far more were forays into more modern styles of photography and art.

When the last kid was done with project judging, rain spit with enough authority to drive us to cover. It was time.

Back at our car, my wife shared a fried brownie she had bought on the way out. It was as decadent and layered as being in love.

The state fair ( runs through Sunday. Saturday is Park District Conservation Day at Conservation World.

Wild things

Marcus Benesch reported dead deer along the Des Plaines River in the near western suburbs. That’s the sort of report that usually indicates a localized case of epizootic hemorrhagic disease. EHD often is associated with drought conditions.

When given details, forest wildlife program manager Paul Shelton emailed: ‘‘I haven’t heard any reports from that far north. Most all reports that I’ve received, with the exception of Knox County, have been from about here [Springfield] on south.’’

Stray cast

White Sox slugger Adam Dunn hits like a muskie guy fishes.

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