21 August 2007

Virtual homecoming: Spring Bluff/Camp Logan

My earlier post pissing all over Illinois Beach State Park was actually meant to set up a surprising contrast with the delightful pictures I planned to take there on my triumphant return home from Wisconsin a few weekends ago. It's been about five years now since the last time I was at Illinois Beach on a bike, and I was curious to see whether much had changed (I had a hunch it was mostly my own perspective). But the weather and the tourist trap known as Lake Geneva conspired to thwart half my plans, so I came back to Chicago from Harvard without ever seeing either Milwaukee or Illinois Beach (or my parents, for that matter). I'm going to try again for Milwaukee this Saturday, but I will now conservatively assume that I won't make it back very far past the state line. And since I probably won't be bored enough to head up thereabouts with my bike for another indeterminate amount of time (and the place is dreadfully dull from late summer to late spring anyway), I've gone ahead and posted this now.

You see, I purposely didn't mention something important because I was saving it for a surprise. The world's most boring cattail marsh--which really isn't--actually runs clear up to the state line and beyond. As I mentioned earlier, the former nuclear power plant in Zion divides Illinois Beach State Park into two separate parts, officially referred to by the functional names of North Unit and South Unit. The South Unit has the campground, the resort (is it ugly or what?), the main swimming beach, and the defunct nature center that's still the hub of all the nature trails, making it the main unit where all the tourists go. So all the locals go to the North Unit instead, and though the reason grows increasingly obscure with time they still affectionately refer to it as Camp Logan.

North of Camp Logan there used to be a quaint little harbor of some extremely local historical significance [nuts, where's that nice little page on WH's history I found once?], a long, beautiful municipal beach, and the nicest length of natural shoreline you can ever imagine. Then the state decided that we needed a marina and destroyed all of it. It was supposed to boost the local economy and put Winthrop Harbor on the map, but we've all heard that story before and it rarely has a happy ending. In this case, the problem is that North Point Marina is a long mile down Main Street away from what could be called the center of town, and Spring Bluff forest preserve lies squarely in the way. To the unappreciative eye Spring Bluff is a bunch of useless weeds separating the community from the unrealized economic promise of the marina. But to me it was gem hidden in plain sight, all that remained of the landscape before North Point. It was my small sanctuary in a place I was otherwise fed up with. It was home.

And that's the surprise! Gullible nature enthusiasts apparently tend to start in Zion and work their way south, then wonder where the wilderness is, while the best stretch of beach and the best stretches of prairie lie in peaceful obscurity to the north on the other side of the old nuke plant. Start instead in Winthrop Harbor. Park your car (if you must) at the marina or ride the train to our sorry excuse for a Metra station just up the road, then take the somewhat hidden "trail" to Camp Logan. This is the back door to the back end of Illinois Beach, but trust me, you won't regret it.

I already have dozens of photos of the place, but they're so old that they're actually 3x5 prints in a Market Day box in a closet at my parents' house. Thank goodness for Google, though; below I've shamelessly posted some Illinois Beach pics that aren't mine. Enjoy!

Rich Thickets (Chicago Wilderness Magazine)

Nature Along the Lakefront (Chicago Wilderness Magazine)

Great Lakes National Program Office - Image Collection (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency)

Great Lakes National Program Office - Image Collection (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency)

Illinois Beach [Resource Rich Area], Northeastern Illinois, USA (Illinois Natural History Survey)

Visiting "Chicago Before Chicago" (Chicago Public Library)

Visiting "Chicago Before Chicago" (Chicago Public Library)

Visiting "Chicago Before Chicago" (Chicago Public Library)

Visiting "Chicago Before Chicago" (Chicago Public Library)


At 13 November, 2008 16:15, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your reference to Camp Logan caught my eye. Contrary to popular belief, it was NOT a civil war POW camp. It was an Illinois National Guard rifle range. It is currently on the National Register of Historic Places.



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