Allerton provides alternative spring break

Central Illinois temperatures are a good 50 degrees cooler than typical spring break destinations, but a small group of volunteers seemed to relish their alternative spring break last week at Allerton Park and Retreat Center near Monticello.

“I’ve gone to New York City twice for spring break, and have been to New Orleans. I feel like I’ve already done the big-city breaks and have had enough of that,” said Colten Jackson, a 23-year old Parkland College student from Decatur.

So instead of the hot sun of Florida, Jackson and 10 others opted for clearing trails, cleaning barns and planting trees on the 1,500-acre grounds.

Allerton Spring Break was a popular program 10 years ago, when attendance averaged 30 a year. Budget cutbacks claimed the effort in 2009, but newly-hired Allerton Volunteer Coordinator Mindy Brand was anxious to bring it back.

She has not been disappointed.

“They have been a great group, and have been very upbeat. They have not even complained about the cold weather,” said Brand of the program, which ran during daylight hours Monday through Friday.

The extra workers are a help for the staff of eight at Allerton, but Associate Director Derek Peterson said the main idea is to get people hooked on the park, which features not only trails but extensive gardens around the 1900-era Allerton Mansion.

“I went to the U of I and never knew about Allerton,” said Peterson, a 2003 Illinois grad who began working at the park in 2006. “I heard about it once, and it was in the Daily Illini, and it was listed as one of the 10 most secretive places in Illinois.

“It seems like a great idea to get kids out here, and then introduce them to the park and let them be here for a week where they have some ownership in the park, take some responsibility in the park, and I think those kids are most likely going to bring their friends out,” added Peterson.

The 11 involved this year include six University of Illinois students, but also four community volunteers who are already quite familiar with Allerton.

“I just like being a volunteer here,” said Roberta Klos of Savoy, who is at the park at least once a month as part of the Allerton Allies. The group assists staff in the natural lands in Allerton, which includes 14 miles of interpretive hiking trails.

“It’s one of the best parks I’ve ever been to. It’s just so peaceful. You come through the big pillars as you enter and it’s an instant peaceful feeling,” she added.

Bit of archaeology
Some of the work this week smacked of archaeology as workers dug down to put in trail markers. While digging a post hole near the massive Sun Singer statue Thursday, volunteers struck a hard surface they thought was a rock. Instead it was remains of a concrete road beneath the dirt that at one time led away from the statue.

But such glitches were few and far between during Allerton Spring Break, which was re-configured so it could return at a minimal cost. The 2005 version housed volunteers in the mansion, but this year a shuttle bus transferred participants to and from the U of I. Lunches were sponsored by the University of Illinois Credit Union.

And while some of his classmates spent the week in Florida, Jackson is playing in the dirt –  and wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I’ve gotten to see some things I don’t usually see when I’m just visiting (the park). We got a whole tour of the mansion, and even swept the attic. It was super dusty and dirty, but it was unique,” said Jackson.

Brand and Peterson hope the program grows to the point where participants can once again stay in the mansion, which now serves as a retreat and conference center.

Comments

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jeffrocker wrote on April 12, 2016 at 1:04 am

This is going to be a really nice change and a different experience for spring break like you never have seen or heard off. Just try it out once will make your day. Spread the word and encourage such things. This is fun :: house cleaning sunnyvale

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