Illinois State Fair wildlife: City to farm, chance to bridge a gap

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Yes, rides, animals and fair food are part of the experience at the Illinois State Fair, but there is more, including the chance to bring people together.
Credit: Dale Bowman

SPRINGFIELD— Near the Orion Samuelson Junior Livestock Building, three steers were being walked past parked pickups and among pedestrians and golf carts Sunday at the Illinois State Fair.

Inspiration hit me.

At least once during every gubernatorial term, the good citizens of the nine-county Chicago area should visit the state fair. Similarly, the good citizens of Illinois’ other 93 counties should visit Chicago’s Museum Campus at least once every four years.

There’s a divide in Illinois that really needs to be bridged. Make that a dangerous divide in the nation.

I’m not sure why the divide so hits me at the state fair, but it does. The divide seems starker this year.

For about the last 15 years, at least one of our kids has qualified for state in the 4H competition. So most years we journey to the state fair.

Most hackneyed comments about the state fair hold truth.

You step over or on sheep pellets (tiny turds) and splatters of cattle droppings. There are hogs of prodigious girth, worthy of a Samoan king. There’s improbable fried food. I spotted deep-fried brownies this year.

One of the longest lines was to milk a cow, which earns the milker a coupon for a carton of milk.

In truth, there’s only so much I can take of farm animals and smelling fair food.

A wildlife exhibit at Conservation World at the Illinois State Fair.<br>Credit: Dale Bowman

A wildlife exhibit at Conservation World at the Illinois State Fair.
Credit: Dale Bowman

My best couple of hours each year are at Conservation World in the northwest corner of the fairgrounds, near the Illinois Department of Natural Resources headquarters.

Conservation World is open daily from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. The fair runs through Sunday.

When our kids were little, favorite stops were the fishing clinics and archery or shooting tents. This year, the fish tanks were a particular draw, with a massive flathead and alligator gar sharing the same tank.

The fish tanks at Conservation World continue to be a draw for all ages.<br>Credit: Dale Bowman

The fish tanks at Conservation World continue to be a draw for all ages.
Credit: Dale Bowman

Even if you’re not an angler or a hunter, Conservation World touches many interests, especially if you’re a parent who needs a break from watching kids around animals. I picked up my free packet of pollinator wildflower seed mix.

I bumped into Dan Stephenson, Illinois’ fisheries chief. He had helped to judge the sport-fishing entries in the 4H competition the first four days. He said roughly

40 percent of the 65 entries he judged came from girls and young women.

‘‘It’s not just guys,’’ he said.

He said the best news at the IDNR is that they have started to post some positions and hire. Whether that will offset losses to retirement is another question.

OK, longtime readers will not be surprised that my last stop at Conservation World was at 17th Street Barbecue for a pork sandwich, baked beans, potato salad and sweet tea.

The last thing we did — other than my wife buying fried cheese curds on the way out — was watch two of our group chew through the daily 3 p.m. cantaloupe-eating contest.

Yeah, it’s the state fair.

It was time.

For more information, go to For general Conservation World information, click here, for the schedule at Conservation World, click here.

Wild things

Eyes to the sky, early reports of common nighthawks started on IBET, the birding network.

Stray cast

People who drive golf carts anywhere other than along a fairway should be relegated to unhooking every fish in a children’s catfishing derby.

Follow me on Twitter @BowmanOutside.

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