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Can’t Bear to see the wild wasted near Bourbonnais

The Kankakee River promises rich experiences before or after Bears training camp Bourbonnais. | Dale Bowman/For Sun-Times Media

The Kankakee River promises rich experiences before or after Bears training camp in Bourbonnais. | Dale Bowman/For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: August 22, 2013 6:55AM



I  trend toward the weird.

I understand that.

When I cover the Chicago Half Marathon on the South Side each September, my great joy after writing is to stroll Wooded Isle and the Osaka Japanese Garden.

The juxtaposition connects with me — coming off the bedlam of thousands of runners pouring through urban trails and roads, then retreating to the isolation of a man-made natural setting with a few like-minded souls.

So imagine how disconcerting it is for me to see more than 10,000 people pour into Bears training camp at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais on any given day each summer, then turn their big butts right around and drive back home.

For the life of me, I don’t understand.

South on Route 45, a couple of blocks from Olivet at Perry Farm, is Indian Caves, or Bourbonnais Geologic area, a dolomite cliff and cave community. It’s flat-out cool and takes about a half-mile of walking each way.

Too much of a rush to do that even once? Seriously, you want to be in that traffic knot on Interstate  57 in a rush to get to I-80 or the Tri-State?

Take an hour and enjoy something wild with your football. Hell, take a couple of days.

The Kankakee River is the greatest wading river in Illinois for fishermen and one of the best in the Midwest. And it’s just minutes away.

Instead of stopping for a drink at TJ Donlins at Routes 102 and 45, go west on 102 to the four-way stop at Warner Bridge Road. Turn left, then park on either side of the river and wade in. If you’re any kind of fisherman, you can catch smallmouth bass or channel catfish in that area. This isn’t In-Fisherman stuff — it’s smallmouth and cats in summer. Branch out over future training camps; there are 10 miles of river in the Kankakee River State Park alone.

If you’re a dam fisherman, take 45 south a couple of miles to Kankakee and join the community fishing around the dam.

Or throw a bike in and do the 10.5 miles of an easy but wild ride in the state park. Or switch over to Route 113, then at Custer Park begin the Wauponsee Glacial Trail, which runs to Joliet.

If you have kids, take an hour before going home. Go to the state park and park by the bike-path bridge over Rock Creek. Climb down and join the other kids and parents looking for crayfish. It isn’t that hard to get kids outside. You just have to do it and join in.

The McDonald’s, Subway and KFC/Taco Bell in Manteno can wait another hour. They’ll still be there.

You can swim/wade in the Kankakee. I do it every summer with my kids. If you want to do that with your kids, drop me a note on social media or email.

Go a couple of miles east of Bourbonnais on 4000 North to Rietveld’s Farm Stand. They just reopened to sell sweet corn. There are a couple of other stands east of town where sweet corn is picked fresh during the day.

Tack on Whispering Willows Park, a 120-acre, two-lake getaway in the middle of farmland a couple of miles south of Rietveld’s. It’s one of my favorite places to separate from the world.

Connect with what Doug Buffone calls the ‘‘Neanderthal gene’’ at training camp, then add something primal and get a little wild before heading home.

There are options other than jumping right back on I-57.



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