Maybe they should change the name of it. Perhaps something more along the lines of “Big-Arse Bears and Cougars in the Woods of Illinois” or “Ohmigosh, is that a Herd of Buffalo?” would have a little more zing.
The thing is, even if you have visited Wildlife Prairie State Park (on the outskirts of Peoria), you’d be in pretty slender company.
At least, every time my family goes, it seems like the place is pretty empty. This made me wonder whether the name itself, which conjures images of some trees, maybe outfitted with a bench or two for birdwatching, just doesn’t appeal to the crowds.
The reality is that the place itself is much, much cooler than that. My kids used to call it “Buffalo Zoo,” because a herd of buffalo roaming freely on a massive stretch of plain is the first thing you see when you visit, and because the place really is more like a zoo than a park.
Except, it’s even a little bit cooler than a zoo, because the animals that make their homes there either are or once were indigenous to Illinois. Black bears, cougars, red foxes, grey wolves, and badgers are just a few of the critters who are on display at the park. And, their habitats are not the sometimes small confines of a zoo; rather, they are given whole stretches of land to make a true home in. The whole experience is designed as a trip back in time.
To further that cause, the park includes a small museum with artifacts from Illinois’ pre-European past on the near end of the property, and a replica of an old schoolhouse and farm on the far end.
Though our membership to Wildlife Prairie State Park has lapsed, we’ve visited it many times as a family and still have yet to see all the park has to offer. Train rides run every day during the warm season, there’s a giant slide built into the side of a hill for the amusement of young and old alike, and camping and fishing are offered on site.
It’s fun, it’s educational; it’s definitely worth packing a picnic lunch and the family to check it out.
Where: Hanna City, IL (just past Peoria). Take I-74 to exit 82 and follow the signs for the park.
When: 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. every day, October – May; Starting May 1 through Sept. 30, 9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.
Cost: $8.00 for guests age 13 and up, $6.00 for guests age 3-12, children 2 years old and younger are admitted free of charge. There are reduced admission prices during the winter months and group rates (25+) are available.
Bonus: Check out their calendar of events for information about special brunches, scouting days, and more.
Rachael McMillan teaches sixth and seventh grade history at Campus Middle School for Girls. She also tutors at The Reading Group and serves as the education coordinator for Ten Thousand Villages, a fair trade retailer in downtown Champaign. She is totally in love with her Chambana life, which she shares with husband Scott, second grader Jack, first grader Kate, and sweet, cooing baby William.