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Bears training camp: Take some time and do a side trip, a few good suggestions

Resized/Sun-Times

A classic sunset at Kankakee River State Park.
Dale Bowman/Sun-Times

Sometimes I feel like a zealot beseeching the heathen. Actually I feel like that more than sometimes.

But I especially think of that when it comes to Chicago Bears training camp at Olivet-Nazarene University in Bourbonnais.

To me, if you’ve made the hour drive from Chicago, why not double down and do something outdoors, even if it is simple as picnicking at Kankakee River State Park?

It’s 10 minutes straight out Route 102, which ends or starts at ONU, to KRSP.

In reality, most years around training camp, one or two faithful readers who send a note of what they have done around a visit to training camp. When I got those notes, I think all is not lost and salvation is at hand. I really do think like that.

The first public day for fans is today. Off and on through Aug. 11, Bears training camp has public days. Click here for the Bears training camp schedule. And remember you need to sign up for a free ticket to gain entrance.

Here’s a list of suggestions descending from I consider the more basic side trips to the more involved.

PICNICKING: It’s minutes to KRSP, which has a mile or so of spread-out picnic tables. I would recommend the area to the west from the main entrance near the suspension bridge over Rock Creek, a wonderful canyon worth seeing up close from the water or from the suspension bridge above. Just below the suspension bridge is one of the great places to teach children how to chase crayfish.

PERRY FARM: A couple blocks south of ONU is Perry Farm, where you can do a short of long walk or run around a prairie area, though the prairie could use some care. If you have kids, go right and shortly you will come to a side path and a bridge over Bourbonnais Creek. For whatever reason, kids love that bridge area. Frogs have something to do with it.

INDIAN CAVES: A longer walk at Perry Farm can take you to the waterfall area on Bourbonnais Creek known as Indian Caves. It is well worth the hike.

HIKING: The KRSP has a 10-mile bike path on the Route 102 side of the river. A hike along the river can easily be incorporated into a picnic. There’s also hiking near Rock Creek. As mentioned above, there’s hiking at Perry Farm, too.

COUNTY FAIR: If you have never experienced a county fair or want to rekindle old memories, the Kankakee County Fair is Aug. 1-5, during training camp. It’s 15 minutes due south on 45-52. OK, that more of a general side trip than an outdoors one, but county fairs have their own wildness.

FISHING: I consider the Kankakee River, the best general fishing near Chicago. This time of the year, I simply wade in at a spot at KRSP and begin fishing. With 10 miles of shoreline, I am never going to learn it all and just exploring is worth it.

There are two prime areas at the state park, but you will likely not be alone, if time is limited. One is by Warner Bridge, just downstream of the main entrance to the park. The other is around the confluence of Rock Creek and in Rock Creek itself.

I prefer wet-wading this time of the year and feel safe doing it. If you don’t like wet-wading, bring waders, because you will want to be in the water.

My primary target is smallmouth bass, but I get my share of tangential northern pike while smallmouth fishing.

The best fishing is probably for channel catfish, especially at night or evening fishing. And walleye have really rebounded on the Kankakee River, best to fish late evening into night.

One rapidly improving fishery is for flathead catfish, from the Kankakee Dam on downstream. It’s something I keep meaning to target.

The easiest bait shop, which also has basic camping needs, is Kankakee River Trading Post in Altorf, just before you get to the state park. Click here or call (815) 933-9652.

BIKING: The area around Will and Kankakee counties has become one of the best biking spots around with many public areas linked by bike trails. As I mentioned above, the KRSP has a 10-mile bike path along the river. There are also connections to other bike paths.

Also a major bike ride, which draws from around the Midwest, is during training camp. On Aug. 5, the Two Rivers Century bike ride offers loops of varying length.  Click here for information and the options available.

PADDLING: We’ve had enough water this summer that the Kankakee River is in pretty decent shape for paddling.

Resized/Sun-Times

Kayakers and boats on the Kankakee River.
Dale Bowman/Sun-Times

If you’re an experienced paddler, I recommend the section from Kankakee or Bourbonnais downstream through the state park.

For less experienced I recommend the section Momence to Aroma Park.

For those without kayaks or canoes, Reed’s Canoe Trips is the place. It’s less than 10 minutes from ONU. I do a trip with them every other year or so.

VISIT MIDEWIN: Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie is only a half hour away from ONU. I would suggest catching it now. Late July and early August are my favorite times to visit there in terms of prairie beauty. A stop can easily be incorporated into the trip to or back from training camp. And there is always a chance of seeing bison.

HUNTING: Squirrel hunting season opens Aug. 1 in Illinois. Iroquois County State Wildlife Area is a good half hour away from ONU,. I think ICSWA is the only public site in northeastern Illinois open on Aug. 1 for squirrel hunters. There are both fox and gray squirrels for hunters. And, just as a side note, it is also one of the rare places in Illinois where the protected red squirrel, sometimes known as the pine squirrel, may be found.