A break from the heat and abundance of shade at Lowden State Park helped draw almost 4,500 people to this year's Oregon Trail Days on July 20 and 21.
“It's one of the largest crowds we've ever had,” said Amy Trimble, who helped organize the festival.
Trimble said that Lowden campground was full for the weekend, and around 300-400 people stayed overnight in tipis on Friday and Saturday, with the tipis being completely filled Saturday night.
“We were very pleased with the weather,” said Trimble. Unbearably hot weather in past years had affected the turnout, but an end to a recent heat wave encouraged many to check out the festival, she said.
Northern Illinois University's Taft Campus was also open to the public during the festival.
Tours of the campus were given, along with a quilt show with 51 different quilts on display.
A breakfast that included homemade cinnamon rolls at the campus Sunday morning was one of the main highlights.
Musical entertainment was provided in downtown Oregon on Saturday night.
“The Johnny Cash tribute at the Beer Garden was another highlight,” said Trimble.
Another new event at this year's festival included a 5K Rugged Run.
“It was probably the funnest course I've ever run,” said Jeff Golden, Geneva, who won the race.
The course featured intense uphill and downhill running, especially on the last mile.
“The downhill was actually hard, too, going fast,” said Golden.
The downhill was accompanied by tight turns as well.
“The volunteers did a great job so I appreciate all the support,” said Golden.
Volunteers were a large part of Oregon Trail Days festival. They helped run events such as Pioneer Games, tipi painting, and arts and crafts.
Several of these volunteers represented organizations from Oregon High School.
Erika Waldsmith, 16, Oregon, is a member of Oregon’s Key Club and helped at the Pioneer Village and Pioneer Games.
“I like to give people the best experience at Oregon Trail Days that they can have,” said Waldsmith.
Fellow Key Club member Emylyn Wright, 17, Oregon helped not only for Key Club, but for volleyball as well.
“It’s nice for the community to get together in an event like this,” said Wright.
Some visitors came for the family experience. Christa Gibson, Geneva, brought her two sons to the festival. Gibson was visiting the area for a camping trip.
“We normally go to White Pines State Park,” said Gibson. The family instead came to Lowden.
“I’m so excited that we did,” said Gibson.
Andrea Gomez, Dixon, visited the festival for the first time with her family.
“I like it. The kids enjoyed watching the Native American dances,” said Gomez. “There’s a lot for the kids to do here. I just hope that the kids take something about the Native American heritage away from here.”
Education was another aspect of the festival. Native American dances were accompanied by commentary of their culture and explanations of each dance.
Tours of the inside of Black Hawk statue were offered and even a Lorado Taft impersonator was on-site to talk to visitors.
Taft, a sculptor, created the world-renowned statue in 1910 as a tribute to Native Americans. His work was unveiled in 1911.
Cowboy re-enactments showed audiences what a showdown in a western town might have looked like in the late 1800s.
Various tents had displays of activities such as rope-making, weaving yarn, and blacksmith work.
Alan Harrison, Dixon, has been to Oregon Trail Days every year.
Harrison set up a wigwam for display, along with various animal hides, spears and arrowheads. He also demonstrated flint-napping.
“I’m a teacher; I love explaining stuff,” said Harrison. He continues to return to the festival because it is so close to home and can demonstrate his hobby and teach others about it.
The variety of events at the festival also helps bring even more visitors.
“It’s got everything,” said Harrison. “It’s for families. It’s a beautiful setting. You won’t find an event like this too many places.”
About $6,000 was raised for the Illinois Conservation Foundation to help restore Black Hawk statue.
Around $2,300 was raised from the festival alone, with that amount being matched by a local donor.
“We were very pleased with the number of people who contributed to the Black Hawk restoration,” said Trimble.