12/27/2012 11:01:00 AM This winter, unplug your gadgets & plug into Hennepin Canal Parkway in Henry County, Ill.
HENRY COUNTY, Ill. — With the holidays in the rearview mirror and winter settling in to stay, we're tempted to tuck ourselves indoors with our electronic devices and hibernate until spring. But getting outside to actually delight in winter can make the season seem a lot shorter! Just south of the Quad Cities and two hours west of Chicago; Illinois' Henry County offers a prime recreational outlet that promises to warm your body and keep winter blahs at bay.
The Hennepin Canal Parkway State Park is 104 miles long — one of the longest linear parks in the nation — that links the Illinois River on the east with the Rock River at Colona. Passing just outside the Henry County communities of Annawan, Atkinson and Geneseo, it offers four seasons of free adventure, and winter is no exception.
Experience the state's longest snowmobile and cross-country ski trail on more than 80 miles of tow path, which is great for hiking and snowshoeing, too. If you're lucky, you might even see a dogsled mushing along the trail.
When the ice thickens, you're welcome to enjoy ice skating on the canal itself. Pickup games of hockey are popular near Geneseo most winters.
All activities depend on certain criteria being met. There must be at least six inches of frost covered by four inches of snow on the trail, and six inches of ice on the canal for the route to be open. If in doubt about conditions, phone 815-454-2328 for an automated update before heading out.
The Illinois Department of Natural Resources annually stocks the canal with largemouth bass, bluegill, bullheads, channel catfish, carp and crappie. Fishing is good all winter, with or without ice on the canal. Keep in mind that an Illinois State Fishing license is required for ages 16 and older.
Observing winter wildlife along the canal is another popular pastime. "Park staff stock numerous wildlife food plots," says Henry County Tourism Executive Director Cathy Foes, "and some adjacent farm crops are left standing. Plus, the canal cuts through wetlands and areas of restored prairie, so look for river otters, deer and rabbits everywhere, and all kinds of birds, including wild turkey, pheasant, quail. Bald eagles can be seen soaring near Colona, and occasionally, you can spot fox, coyote and even bobcat."
The Hennepin Canal Parkway State Park is a gift from history. Opened to shipping in 1907, it remained in use only 44 years, rendered out-of-date by larger ocean-going vessels on the Great Lakes shipping lanes. In 1951, the State of Illinois purchased the entire canal and converted it into a state park.
Après winter recreation, don kerchief and cap and settle down for a long winter's nap in one of Henry County's charming B&B's or family-friendly hotels with indoor pools to help defrost your bones after a day in the snow. For more information about a Henry County winter outing, a full list of cozy accommodations, eateries and suggestions of other fun things to do, go to www.visithenrycounty.com, or phone the Henry County Tourism Bureau toll-free at 877-436-7926.