Friday, December 28, 2007

'My Deadly Valentine' Stikes Pavilion Love Birds

“Bloody Williamson” takes on a whole new meaning this Valentine’s Weekend when the Williamson County Pavilion hosts “My Deadly Valentine” murder mystery dinner theater on Friday, February 15.

Vendettas and valentines may not seem a likely match-up for a romantic dinner but we’ve wanted to host a murder mystery for quite a while. In addition to the dinner and entertainment local lodging operators are offering special room rentals for the weekend.

As part of our promotions we will encourage couples to extend an overnight into a two-day stay. They can check out one of the many wineries in the area on Saturday and stay for some country music at the Southern Illinois Opry Valentine’s Dance Saturday night in the Expo Hall of the Pavilion.

The Random Acts thespian troupe of Ohio will provide the entertainment at the dinner Friday night. Doors open at 6 p.m. with the elegant dinner starting at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $40 per person which includes a catered dinner, glass of wine and the performance. Group table discounts will be offered for tables of eight.

The dinner will also include dinner music and wine tastings from area wineries.

For more information contact the tourism bureau at 618-997-3690.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

New Year Brings New Fishing Season

I know it's just the day after Christmas, but it's never too late to start planning those late winter fishing trips to Williamson County as Don Gasaway notes in his latest column sent out this week as a news release.
MARION, Ill. - Groaning through the mists, the bass boat slips away from the ramp and out on to the lake. The driver gives it more throttle and the boat goes up on plane and disappears into the pre-dawn fog. Long after it is gone from sight, one can hear the roar of the big engine carrying the anglers to a meeting with Mr. Largemouth Bass.

Bass fishing in southern Illinois begins to heat up in March. Warming temperatures, tending to average about 10 degrees warmer than the northern part of the state, spark the activity of both fish and angler. Williamson County contains several prime bass lakes. They contain many fish in the 2- to 6-pound class.

Crab Orchard, Little Grassy, Devils Kitchen, and Lake of Egypt all hold good populations of trophy size largemouth bass. Together they provide some 11,200 acres of water available to the angler in search of fishing recreation.

There's more online at, just click on news.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Maid-Rite Seeks Suitor For Marion Franchise

The Marion Daily reported yesterday that long-time restaurant chain Maid-Rite whose closest restaurant is in Christopher is now seeking franchisees for a new store in Marion.

It's part of the company's aggressive expansion of the established brand that's been around since 1926.

MARION — Maid-Rite, famous for its ground beef sandwiches, has targeted Marion as a priority city to open one of its franchisee-owned sandwich shops.

“In our opinion, a Maid-Rite Sandwich Shoppe restaurant in Marion would be very successful because of the population size of the city of approximately 17,000 residents, plus with the traffic from Interstate 57, along with your city council’s recent approval for a new major retail distribution center,” said Bradley Burt, President and CEO of Maid-Rite.

“The entire community would enjoy our famous sandwiches, thick Blue Bunny malts and shakes and our homemade pies.”

For more information check out the story.

Herrin Chamber Seeks Fireworks Sponsor

The Herrin Chamber of Commerce is seeking a new entity to produce the "Fireworks in the Park" event next July 4th. The chamber produced it in 2006 and 2007 using donated funds.

Their board has decided not to sponsor the event in 2008 so they're calling on all civic organizations in Herrin to see if another entity would like to take over the sponsorship.

They have $1,357.70 in donated funds to give to that organization if one steps forward. Interested organizations should contact the chamber office at 618-942-5163.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Boat and Fishing Show Returns Feb. 1-3

MARION – The Southern Illinois Boat and Fishing Show sponsored by Marion Toyota will return to the region during the first weekend of February.

The Williamson County Events Commission, in partnership with the Youth Outdoor Education Foundation, will produce the event at the Williamson County Pavilion behind the Illinois Centre Mall in Marion on February 1-3.

“The first show we did last February turned out great with nearly 7,200 people flocking to the event,” said Jon Musgrave, executive director of the Williamson County Tourism Bureau which operates the Pavilion.

“Last year we promised a hard-core boat and fishing show for the sportsmen of Southern Illinois and their families and it’s still going to be a hard-core boat and fishing show this year, just bigger and better,” promised organizer Ron Allen.

“We’re expanding a bit this year. We have some boat dealers from Kentucky coming up. One of the most important things we are proud of is that it will still be free to the public,” Allen added.

The 2nd Annual Southern Illinois Boat & Fishing Show is the only such show south of the St. Louis MetroEast. Hours will be 4 to 8 p.m. Friday, Feb. 1; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 2; and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 3.

There will be a $500 cash drawing on Friday night and bluegrass entertainment on Saturday afternoon, in addition to a number of seminars throughout the day.

Interested vendors can contact Allen by phone at 217-787-8862 or 217-725-7602, or by e-mail at Interested persons can also contact Musgrave at the Williamson County Tourism Bureau at 618-997-3690 or

The Youth Outdoor Education Foundation is a non-profit, charitable organization, the mission of which is to assist in providing free or low cost programs to educate youth in the safe and responsible use of the outdoors.

The Williamson County Events Commission is a non-profit, charitable organization organized to build and develop the city-owned Williamson County Pavilion conference center and exposition hall.

For more information on the event check out the show’s website at

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Is Target Targeting Marion?

The Southern Illinoisan is reporting today that Target is apparently the corporation looking to build a regional distribution center east of Marion southwest of Route 13 and Crabtree School Road.

Last night the Marion City Council annexed the property for the new center after the city engineer Glenn Clarida publicly provided more details about the project.

The property - 149.5 acres - is owned by Marion attorney Ron Osman. On Monday, the council, at Osman's request, annexed his property from the county into the city. That makes the city responsible for infrastructure improvements at the site, including road, water and sewer.

"The site development plan calls for a 1.3 million-square-foot warehouse with a 35-foot ceiling and 253,000-square-foot shipping center with a 24-foot ceiling," Clarida said. "Combined, that's 200,000 square feet larger than the Circuit City distribution center."

To measure it another way. That's more than 35 acres under roof.

Other details revealed included a new entrance off of Route 13 into the new industrial park as well as improvements to Crabtree School Road; plus new water and sewer lines, all totaling around $2.2 million. Clarida and the city expect the state will help on the roadwork and additional grants or low interest loans will likely be made available for the other infrastructure.

The city still isn't releasing the name, but apparently the contact number passed out to the media last night is for Target Communications of Minneapolis, Minnesota.

To give an idea of how active a distribution center might be consider the new one Target is building near Allenwood, Pennsylvania. There the company plans to send "have a truck in or out of the facility every seven minutes each day except Christmas."

According to the company's 2006 Annual Report Target built 113 new stores last year in 36 states, closed some older ones for a net gain of 91. At the time they planned another 100 net new stores each year for the "foreseeable future, potentially doubling" the current store base by 2021.

As to distribution centers they added three in 2006 for a total of 25 and planned to open two more this year. The company had 79 stores in Illinois in 2006. Based in Minnesota the company has been around since incorporating in 1902.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Old Executive Inn May Reopen

The shuttered Executive Inn may reopen in 2008 as a Garden Inn with 100 rooms, but major hurdles remain.

The city has started the process of condemnation and major health and life safety issues remain in the building shut down by the courts after numerous fire code violations.

The owner, Dr. Yuseph Tai, told the Southern Illinoisan last week a $4 million two-phase renovation will begin soon.
"We're starting soon," Tai said of the remodeling effort. "The first phase is to get the building in compliance (with city fire and county health codes) and get 100 rooms open to the public."

Tai said phase one will cost him about $1.2 million. The next step would be to get the additional 100-plus rooms and banquet hall up and running. Total cost is projected at upwards of $4 million.

Tai said his hope is to open next spring possibly in connection with the Hilton Garden Inn chain, but he said he hasn't worked out a deal with the corporation.

Built as the first motel west of the interstate in Marion as well as the largest motel with 200 rooms, the building first housed the Holiday Inn before it first lost its franchise and the owners picked up the Travelodge brand. After losing that national brand it became the Executive Inn.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Perry County Development Still Alive

The Southern Illinoisan is reporting this afternoon that plans for a new Branson-like development in Perry County are still underway despite the lack of formal public progress.
Jacquie Vick, senior vice president for the Glen Carbon-based Toney Watkins Company, said “it’s just a manner of trying to finalize some things” before the company will be able to announce more details of its plan.

Published reports have suggested that the development near Pinckneyville, about 70 miles southeast of St. Louis, would be a recreational theme-park tourism destination featuring music entertainment venues, golf courses and a BMX bike-racing area.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch last the last update on the venture back in September.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Workshop Tonight on Smoke-Free Illinois Act

The Carterville Chamber of Commerce sent out this e-mail today regarding the new law banning smoking in public places that will take affect in a few weeks:
The Smoke-Free Illinois Act will require all workplaces in Illinois to be smoke-free beginning January 1, 2008. You can view the entire act by visiting the Franklin-Williamson Bi-County Health Department website at

A workshop will be held to clarify the law and enforcement issues as well as possible. The Illinois Joint Committee on Administrative Rules is busy developing the specifics of the rules on enforcement and clarifying issues with the law. There is a possibility they will be finalized this month. This workshop will address questions regarding: whom the law affects, signage, enforcement, and cessation resources. The date and time is listed below:

Monday, December 10, 2007 6 – 7 pm John A. Logan College, Room F119

Illinois Department of Public Health is currently developing a website to assist workplaces in complying with the law. There will also be an online complaint system accessible through the website as well as a toll free number for complaints.

The website will also have signage available to download that meets the requirements of the law. The website is The website is currently under construction and will be online soon.

IDOT Puts Route 13 Plans Online

The public apparently likes what it sees when it comes to the Illinois Department of Transportation's plans for Route 13 widening and expansion between Marion and Carterville.

Today's Southern Illinoisan reported feedback from last month's public unveiling of the plans here at the Williamson County Pavilion proved to be mostly positive.
According to IDOT, about 170 people attended and 226 comments were submitted with 115 supporting the project, 38 supporting with suggestions for revisions, 63 opposing the project and 10 who were neutral.

"We were pleased with the overall results from the public meeting," said Carrie Nelson, program development engineer at IDOT.

The biggest complaints came from the Crainville area which would lose their four-way intersection at Main Street and Route 13 (Pioneer Log Cabin restaurant), but would gain a diamond interchange at Wolf Creek Road and Route 13.

The proposal for the highway expansion is also now online at the agency's website.

Part of the website shows the updated 2007 traffic count for Route 13, as well as what it projected by 2025.

Route 13 and Halfway Road, the first stop light west of Interstate 57 sees 38,100 vehicles a day. With a projected 3 percent growth rate, IDOT is projecting 64,800 vehicles on average to be pulling through there in 2025.

Down the road at the next stoplight at Williamson County Parkway where the Pavilion has its sign in front of Steak 'n Shake sees 29,800 vehicles passby each day and is expected to grow to 50,700 daily by 2025.

Father west the traffic count stays pretty steady. Even at the west end of the project at John A. Logan, 28,100 vehicles pass by daily with a 2.5 percent growth coming out to 43,800 vehicles daily by 2025 at Route 13 and Greenbriar Road.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Federal Funding Announced for Scenic Byways

Southern Illinois will receive a good chunk of $2 million in federal funds announced yesterday for scenic byways in the state. U.S. Senator Dick Durbin's office released the details Thursday.

According to Durbin's office the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has awarded the following National Scenic Byways Discretionary Grants to the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) for the Ohio River Scenic Byway.
  • Pulaski County — $262,561 in funding for the design and construction of an overlook of the Ohio River including parking, a walkway, an overlook platform, landscaping, interpretive signs and directional signs.

  • Cairo — $275,000 in funding for the re-creation and re-construction of Fort Defiance as it existed during the Civil War. Fort Defiance was used by General Grant to lead the great Western Campaign of the Civil War. This funding will be used as part of a $2.6 million park improvement program by the City of Cairo.

  • Southeastern Illinois — $25,000 in funding for the implementation of the Corridor Management Plan which will enable the byway coordinator to coordinate and manage initiatives and projects while developing a marketing plan to promote the byway.

In addition to these projects funds were awarded to the Historic National Road byway which runs through Vandalia and three projects for the Meeting of the Great Rivers Byway in the St. Louis MetroEast area.

Improvements Set for Cairo

Monday's Southeast Missourian had a good story about some of the improvements taking place in Cairo.
CAIRO, Ill. -- This community once envisioned to become a great Midwestern metropolis has suffered from an economic depression for at least half a century. But flickers of life have appeared recently. Biodiesel and coal gasification are two of the industries considering locating in Cairo. There's talk of relocating the airport to make room for other industries.

Another sign of life can be found in attempts to preserve Cairo's history. In a few weeks, construction is scheduled to begin on a design that will rehabilitate and expand the vacant tollhouse next to the Ohio River bridge into a museum that will reflect Cairo's Civil War and transportation history. The $1 million project is being funded through a variety of sources but primarily the Illinois Department of Transportation.

Cairo's history offers tremendous potential for tourism development. It's good to see a new administration in the city working toward that goal.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

New Convenience Store Opens Below Hill

The new FiveStar Food Mart convenience store opened yesterday at around 2 p.m. located at the northeast corner of Route 13 (West DeYoung) and Halfway Road just west of Exit 54.

The store is the first Illinois location for Newcomb Oil Co., a Bardstown, Kentucky-based company.

It's also the first of what will hopefully be several new projects on the former site of the old Wolohan Lumber Co. The parent company sold most of its stores and morphed into a real estate development company focusing on its real estate holdings such as the Marion land.

The convenience store is just one of several projects underway on the city's west side.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Big New Industry Targeting Marion

It's not on their website yet, but WJPF News Radio is reporting a large national retailer may be just weeks away from announcing the selection of Marion for a new regional distribution center employing hundreds.

Marion Mayor Robert L. Butler told the station he's not been given the go-ahead to identify the name of the company but added that an announcement could come before the end of the month.

The new plant is a distribution center that could employ between 300 and 400 workers. Marion is already home to the large Circuit City distribution plant.

The Circuit City building is so big it's measured in acres rather than square feet. The new distribution center could very well be on the same scale. If so, that will be good for the hospitality industry. Construction jobs that big often involve specialized workers who come in and stay at area motels.

The new plant would be located east of Marion in a new industrial park on the south side of Route 13. The city council authorized a Phase I archaeological survey on the grounds earlier this summer. Later when U.S. Rep. Jerry Costello announced a multi-million dollar grant to extend a water line from Rend Lake to Marion Butler again commented about the number of jobs this would initiate.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Eagle Tours Registration Begins Dec. 10

Reservations open next week for the Bald Eagle tours at Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge. The tours take place the third and fourth weekends of January and begin at 8 a.m., 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. and last 2.5 hours. The dates are January 19-20 and 26-27.

Reservations open on December 10 and may be made by calling 618-998-5933.

Each Eagle Watch tour begins at the refuge visitors center on Route 148 with a brief overview of the species and what visitors might expect to see on the tour. The tours use the refuge's vans and travel to places where bald eagles have been visited in the past.
Last year, of the six nests on the Refuge, five had at least one chick fledge. The new nest in Crab Orchard Campground was successful and hatched two eaglets. Eagles were seen at the other new nest on the east side of Little Grassy Lake near thedam, but they didn't actually produce any eaglets.

With six nests on the refuge, there should be at last 12 eagles on or near the refuge year round. Immature bald eagles usually remain near their nest for a couple of years after they've hatched, too. Wolf Creek Causeway near the fishing piers is a good places to spot one of the young eagles.

Bald eagles that winter at Crab Orchard NWR spend their summers in the northern United States and Canada feasting on fish. In the midst of the Southern Illinois winter, eagles often feed on sick and injured waterfowl.

According to the refuge's newsletter "Wild Times" every Eagle Watch tour over the last decade has seen at least one bald eagle.

Agritourism Conference Set for January

The Illinois Specialty Crops and Agritourism Conference is set for January 9-12, 2008 at the Crowne Plaza hotel & Convention Center.

Wendesday will be for workshops for specialty crops. There's one on using high tunnels and greenhouses to extend seasons and the other is on growing grapes in Illinois.

Sessions on Thursday and Friday are split into five tracts: Fruits, Vegetables, Herbs, Agritourism and Cross-Cutting Issues.

I attended this conference last year and it offered a number of good ideas and discussions.

Check out the group's website for more information.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Little Egypt Off-Road Wins State Grant

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources just awarded a $210,000 grant to Little Egypt Off-Road east of Crab Orchard earlier this month. The money comes from the state's Off-Highway Vehicle (OHV) Recreational Trails Program.

Little Egypt was one of six sites that will share $1.4 million in grants announced Nov. 9.
The OHV Recreational Trails Program is funded through the title fees on all-terrain vehicles and off-highway motorcycles, and through the sale of public access stickers that must be displayed on all off-highway vehicles using grant-assisted facilities. The program provides up to 100 percent reimbursement for approved project costs, which may include land acquisition from willing sellers, construction and maintenance of OHV trails and related facilities, restoration of areas damaged by OHV use, and for education and safety programs.

Local governments, not-for-profit OHV clubs and organizations, businesses and private individuals may apply for grants through the program. Projects are reviewed and recommended for funding by the Off-Highway Vehicle Trails Advisory Board composed of representatives of motorized recreation groups and organizations.

The grant to the Little Egypt Off-Road Motorcycle Club will help the group's 718-acre site south of Route 13 east of Marion.

According to the state's news release the project will include "construction of a shower and bathroom building, a picnic shelter with 20 picnic tables, the purchase of two utility ATVs for trail maintenance/security/rescue operations, the development of 12 additional miles of OHV trails, and funds for advertising the site."

Also in Southern Illinois Williams Hill Pass Association in southern Saline County will use $188,700 for improvements to their 220-acre OHV park on the north side of Williams Hill. There, "funds will be used for improvements to the showers, to widen and upgrade the entrance and site interior road, to install a water line to the welcome center/shower building, and funds for advertising the site."

The next round of grants will be accepted from January 1 to March 1, 2008. For more information check out the IDNR Division of Grant Administration.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Kerasotes to Donate Varsity to Stage Co.

Carbondale Mayor Brad Cole unveiled news this morning at his annual State of the City Address that Kerasotes Theatres will donate the shuttered Varsity Theater for the new home of The Stage Co.
Just yesterday, I spoke with one of the Kerasotes’ brothers, and after several years and more intensely the last several weeks and months, I am proud to announce today that the Varsity Theater will soon be donated to the community and will be available to become the permanent home of The Stage Company and hopefully some other not-for-profit organizations, such as Carbondale Community Arts.

That property will then become the Varsity Arts Center, a community-oriented, visual and performing arts center that will combine the nostalgia and romanticism of the past with the modern conveniences of the present.

Now, there is still much work that needs to be done, to renovate the property and to build proper offices, community rooms and staging areas, but this is a dream come true for many. It is certainly something I am very excited about and it will return the Varsity Theater to an active, integral part of the downtown entertainment atmosphere.

Several people are responsible for making this happen. First, of course, the Kerasotes family and Kerasotes Theaters company should be thanked and thanked again. Also, we should thank Trace Brown and Charlie Brown and Associates for doing a thorough inspection of the property and detailing an appraisal that makes it financially worthwhile for the company to donate it to us. And, without a doubt, all the people that have supported me behind the scenes (pun intended) to work with the property owners to get to this point… that specifically includes people like Blanche and Fred Sloan and Trish and John Guyon, who have all kept hoping and pushing to see something come to fruition. I hope they’re as excited about this as I am.

Congratulations Carbondale, not only will this be a boost for the Stage Co., but also for the Strip along South Illinois Avenue

Las Vegas Flights Cancelled Before Take-Off

Dreams of direct flights from Williamson County Airport to Las Vegas dissipated over the weekend with Friday's announcement that the flights scheduled to start in February would be canceled due to high fuel prices.

The Southern Illinois has more in Friday's article as well as more today in a follow-up.
Friday also marked the final day of air service from Williamson County to Chicago courtesy of Mesa Airlines in Phoenix. Only air service to St. Louis remains. There are two flights a day through Great Lakes Airlines in Cheyenne, Wyo.

"If there is a silver lining, it's that an airline like Allegiant did have interest in us and someone else will again," Kimmel said.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Crab Orchard Refuge Updates

I attended last night's annual meeting of the Friends of Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge. There are were a number of projects I heard updates about, some were new, some I just knew were in the works.

Here's a summary:

  • Bogard Point Fishing Area — While there is already a fishing dock and benches at Bogard Point on the west side of Wolf Creek Road on the north shore of Crab Orchard Lake, the Friends approved a bid last night night to pay for a new 690 feet long walking path to extend from the existing parking lot, as well as five new picnic tables.

  • Bike Trail — The Friends has a committee working on developing bike trails inside the refuge and a surveying class at SIU-Carbondale is helping to do some of the planning work. They are generally looking to develop the first leg from the old northeast entrance of the refuge at Timmons Station Road on Marion's southwest side then following the old railroad grades across the north side of the refuge over to Wolf Creek Road. They are currently working on a grant to help cover the costs of doing this and replacing some of the bridge crossings.

  • Devils Kitchen Campground — The campground at Devil's Kitchen Lake will reopen next year on Memorial Day as a primitive campground. Amenities will include the shower building and plus another 9 or 10 tent camping sites.

  • Turn Lanes on Route 148 — Refuge Manager Dan Frisk told the group that the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Illinois Department of Transportation have worked out a plan to provide turn lanes on Route 148 in front of the Visitors Center. As part of the project the intersection of Pigeon Creek Road and Route 148 will be realigned to match the entrance with the visitors center. Construction on this project should begin next summer.

The Friends of Crab Orchard NWR meets the first Thursday of every month at 6:30 p.m. at the refuge Visitors Center at 8588 Route 148 South.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Court Oversight of Shawnee Forest Continues

The Daily Register is reporting that U.S. District Judge J. Phil Gilbert has decided to continue court oversight of the U.S. Forest Service's operations of trails and public guide and outfitter permits.

The Forest Service wanted out from the scrutiny.
Environmentalists and equestrians, usually at odds over forest use issues, joined together in supporting another year of oversight, which Gilbert saw as a positive step. Everyone seems to be working together at the Lusk Creek area — the flashpoint of debate in the case. Any cooperation between environmentalists and horse riders has to be seen as progress, the judge said Tuesday.

I used to cover the judge and the various lawsuits concerning the Shawnee National Forest in the 90s. Gilbert has been hearing those cases for more than a decade and has little patience for squabbling.

Corps Announces Winter Rules for Rend Lake

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is blaming its budget which they say will limit public access to parts of its Rend Lake complex this winter.

The following is from today's news release:
Benton, IL – The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at Rend Lake is announcing some changes to the operation of two areas at Rend Lake for the upcoming winter months and the 2008 recreation season.

During the period of 1 December, 2007 thru 3 March, 2008 the Rend Lake Dam Road will no longer be open for public travel. The road will be gated and remain closed throughout the winter months. Access to this road will be made available on 3 March 2008. This closure is due to constrained resources for operating recreation areas at Rend Lake.

The popular “short cut” road which crosses over the Rend Lake dam will be gated to the west at the intersection of the Rend Lake Dam Road and the Rend City Road and to the east, slightly north of the intersection of the Licata and Mine 24 roads. The Sugar Creek parking lot will remain open for access throughout the winter season.

In addition, the South Marcum Recreation area will be open during the period of 15 July, 2008 thru 31 October, 2008. Areas that will be affected by this delayed opening will include South Marcum Boat Ramp, Shelter 9, Dale Miller Youth Area, and all campsites in the South Marcum Campground. No reservations will be taken for sites in the campground or the Dale Miller Youth area for the period of 1 April – 14 July, 2008. Any reservations which have been made prior to this announcement will be rescheduled.

For further information feel free to contact the Rend Lake Project Office at 618-724-2493.

The Southern Illinoisan already has an article available on its Afternoon Edition.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Marion Seeks Proposals for Old Hospital

Monday night the Marion City Council voted to seek proposals for redevelopment of the old Marion Memorial Hospital site. A Request for Proposal (RFP) went out yesterday.

Here's the RFP in part:
The City of Marion is seeking proposals from qualified developers to acquire and redevelop the former Marion Memorial Hospital located at 917 W. Main Street in Marion, IL.

Letters of intent must be submitted to Gail West, Director of Economic Development, City of Marion, 1102 Tower Square, Marion, IL 62959 by: 5 p.m., Friday, December 3, 2007.

The City of Marion will require the selected development team to enter into a redevelopment agreement with the City and commit to a timeline for improvements.

Background: The former Marion Memorial Hospitals sits on 7.448 acres, on Main Street and one block off of Route 37. The zoning of the site is C-1, General Commercial. The site is composed of three buildings, with a total square footage of 139,176 square feet. The largest building housed an 84 bed hospital and has 121768 sq ft. Attached to the main building is a 10528 sq ft one story building that served as an OB addition. The third Building also a one story brick building served as an insurance processing center and contains 6880 sq ft. Available utilities upon the site are city water, city sewer, electricity, natural gas and telephone. The topography of the site is generally level, drainage is adequate and landscaping is good. The driveway surface and parking areas are mostly asphalt covered. There are 135 parking spaces.

Redevelopment Objectives:
The City of Marion desires to encourage a development project that is innovative and will utilize either: (1) the existing structures or (2) by demolishing the existing structure(s), development of a project with retail, restaurant, and professional offices and/or mixed-use structures and which could include a combination of the following: street-level retail or restaurant and second level housing (town homes, loft-style apartments) and professional offices.

Available Incentives:
Acquisition: The City of Marion is willing to negotiate the cost of the building depending on the project scope and financial feasibility. A financial commitment will be required as a down payment.

The down payment and end use will both be used to judge the award of the proposal.

Hub TIF: The site is located in the Marion’s Hub Tax Increment Financing District. The City is willing to enter into a TIF agreement with the developer.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Williamson Snags Air Service to Vegas

Beginning Feb. 1, Southern Illinoisans will be able to fly direct to Las Vegas from Williamson County Regional Airport.

Airport Manager Doug Kimmel made the announcement this morning that Alligiant Air would begin service locally in just over three months.

Codell Rodriguez has the story at
Flights will leave Williamson County at 1:25 p.m. Mondays and Fridays and arrive in Las Vegas at 2:55 p.m. with fares as low as $79 one way until May 15, 2008, when it will rise to about $99. Allegiant will use a 150-seat MD-80 jet, the largest plane the airport has ever used. Doug Kimmel, airport manager, said Allegiant expressed interest in expanding to Marion in November of 2006 because of the airports runway extension to 8,000 feet.

Monday, October 22, 2007

New Air Service for Williamson County

Officials with Williamson County Regional Airport will announce new air service tomorrow (Tuesday, Oct. 23) at 10 a.m. in the airline terminal.

It's been "win one, lose one" over the last few months with St. Louis service returning and Chicago service leaving next month.

In August airport manager Doug Kimmel told the Southern Illinoisan that negotiations were underway with Allegiant Air concerning service to vacation spots Orlando and Las Vegas.

No word if this is the announcement tomorrow, if it's Great Lakes Airlines taking over Chicago service, or something else entirely. Whatever, it's a step forward.

The media and public are invited to the announcement. Refreshments will be available.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

WCTB Staff Take Part in ICCVB Conference

I normally wouldn't use the blog to talk about conferences we attend, but since the Macomb Journal has an article on it I couldn't pass up the opportunity.

The Illinois Council on Convention and Visitor Bureaus is the state trade association for tourism bureaus across the state. Macomb hosted this fall's conference.
"We're all doing the same thing, we're just doing it for different areas," said Kimberly Bless, chair of the ICCVB and President and CEO of the Elgin Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Tourism in Illinois is booming, relatively speaking. Back up to pre-Sept. 11 numbers, it's now in the top 10 industries that make up the Illinois economy.

"We've seen double digit growth in tourism money (spent) in Illinois over the last few years," Bless said.

One of the biggest assets ICCVB provides Williamson County is the opportunity to participate in trade shows and promotional events that would normally be too expensive for the bureau to do ourselves.

ICCVB has long had three niche committees - Tour Illinois, Meet in Illinois and Sports Illinois - which focus on the motorcoach/group tour markets, the meetings and conventions market and sports tourism respectively. A new committee, Market Illinois, held its first meeting this week and besides providing professional development opportunities for the bureaus' marketing directors plans to start attending travel writer conferences.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Log Cabins Opening and Under Construction

I spoke with Jim Grissley of Olde Squat Inn this afternoon about some pictures promoting log cabin stays in Southern Illinois.

Grissley's establishment is a virtual village of reconstructed historic log cabins a few miles east and a bit south of Johnston City and northeast of Marion.

The picture is of the inside of the "newest" cabin, the Church Cabin, so-named because much of the lumber used for trim inside came from an old church.

I took the picture last fall and the cabin opened for rentals this spring. That gives him eight rooms in five cabins.

Jim's cabins aren't the only ones in the county. Devil's Kitchen Cabins opened last fall with one cabin on private property between Grassy Road and Devil's Kitchen Lake.

The demand is so great that they started on a second cabin this summer. It should be ready for rent either by late winter or early spring.

Win One, Lose One

Just as we win a victory with air service resuming to St. Louis next month from Williamson County Regional Airport, Mesa Airlines announced this week they will be suspending air service to Chicago.

Airport Manager Doug Kimmel called the decision an "unfortunate situation" in an interview with the Southern Illinoisan.
Mesa came to Williamson County Airport in February as a result of the I-Fly fund that provided more than $100,000 each to the airports in Marion, Quincy and Decatur. Thomas Bacon, vice president of planning for Mesa Air Group said operating costs were too high and the exit is part of a strategy that will affect services throughout the company.

"We're very disappointed we have to leave the market," Bacon said. "The community's been great."

The only silver lining in the deal is that with the Marion-Decatur-Chicago route officially dead the possibility exists for a new Marion-Springfield-Chicago service which should service a greater demand.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

St. Louis Air Service Resumes Next Month

Air service from Williamson County Regional Airport in Marion to Lambert Field in St. Louis will resume November 4.

Initially there will be only two departures and two arrivals at the airport with a morning flight leaving at 6:07 a.m. and arriving in St. Louis at 6:45 a.m. and an afternoon flight leaving Marion at 1:43 p.m. and arriving at Lambert at 2:21 p.m.

Flights from St. Louis at 12:55 p.m. with arrival in Marion at 1:33 p.m. and an evening flight leaving Lambert at 7:30 p.m. and arriving in Marion at 8:08 p.m.

Reservations can be made online at a variety of travel site, or directly from the airline at Fliers can also call the Great Lakes' reservation center at (800) 554-5111 or their local travel agent.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Drought Hits Rend Lake Water Levels

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is announced further temporary restrictions at Rend Lake today due to low water levels.

I ran into Matt Stroebel of SnS Guide Service at a convenience store on the way to work this morning. He knew of a number of fishermen who were getting boats and equipment damaged who were not used to how shallow the lake was getting in parts.

Today's announcement by the Corps deals with the closure of the Turnip Patch boat ramp on the west side of the lake in Jefferson County. Last week it was the temporary closure of the North Marcum boat ramp and restrictions on the use of the Gun Creek boat ramp to boats "which require less than one foot of draft when afloat".

Still, fishermen and boaters still have access to the remaining 15 boat ramps.

The following is from today's announcement.
Below normal rainfall during the summer season has left Rend Lake water levels near record low elevations. The pool elevation at Rend Lake is currently 403.97 NGVD (National Geodetic Vertical Datum), which is approximately 1 foot below October’s average pool elevation of 404.9 NGVD.

The all-time low pool elevation recorded for Rend Lake was reached in November of 1974 with a level of 402.95 NGVD. The lake reached recreation “normal” pool of 405.0 NGVD for the first time following its construction in the fall of 1973.

Low water levels can cause sand bars, stumps and other obstructions to surface in unexpected areas. As always, the Corps strongly encourages boaters to wear their life jacket and exercise extreme caution when on the waters of Rend Lake.

Additional information on current lake levels and low water restrictions by calling the 24-hour Recreation Information Network at 618-625-1828 or by contacting the Rend Lake Project Office at 618-724-2493 or by email at

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Low Water Levels Restrict Rend Lake Ramps

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued the following news release today concerning low water levels at Rend Lake.
Due to the unseasonably low water levels, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at Rend Lake is announcing the temporary closure of the North Marcum boat ramp and restrictions being placed on the use of the Gun Creek boat ramp.

The use of the Gun Creek boat ramp is being limited to boats which require less than 1 foot of draft when afloat. Both of these areas will re-open for unrestricted use when water levels return to levels which allow for the safe use of these facilities. No restrictions are currently in place for the remaining 16 boat ramps at Rend Lake which remain open for public use.

Below normal rainfall during the summer season has left Rend Lake water levels near record low elevations. The pool elevation at Rend Lake is currently 403.97 NVGD (National Vertical Geodetic Datum), which is approximately 1 foot below October’s average pool elevation of 404.9 NGVD.

The all-time low pool elevation recorded for Rend Lake was reached in November of 1974 with a level of 402.95 NGVD. The lake reached recreation “normal” pool of 405.0 NGVD for the first time following its construction in the fall of 1973.

Low water levels can cause sand bars, stumps and other obstructions to surface in unexpected areas. As always, the Corps strongly encourages boaters to wear their life jacket and exercise extreme caution when on the waters of Rend Lake.

For additional information on current lake levels and low water restrictions call the 24-hour Recreation Information Network at 618-625-1828 or by contacting the Rend Lake Project Office at 618-724-2493 or by email at

Friday, September 28, 2007

Chonda Pierce in Concert Oct. 12

Christian Comedian Chonda Pierce will be in concert Friday, Oct. 12, at the Williamson County Pavilion as part of a benefit for the Williamson County Child Advocacy Center.

Tickets can be purchased in the Williamson County Tourism Bureau's office at the Pavilion from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

General admission tickets are $15, Preferred Seating - $20 and Artist Circle Seating - $25. Tickets can also be ordered online ($1 processing fee added to each ticket).

General Admission - $16 each

Preferred Seating - $21 each

Artist Circle Seating - $26 each

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Marion to St. Louis Air Service to Resume Nov. 4

The Southern Illinoisan is reporting that air service between the Williamson County Regional Airport and St. Louis' Lambert Field will resume November 4. This will end eight months of no flights to St. Louis after the Federal Aviation Administration shut down RegionsAir.

Great Lakes Airlines took over the contract in June but was unable to secure the planes necessary to make the flights.

U.S. Senator Dick Durbin made the announcement yesterday.

Besides the service to St. Louis, Williamson County also hosts flights by Mesa Airlines to Chicago Midway.

Monday, September 10, 2007

New Developments Break Ground

Marion's west side continues to develop with nearly $8 million new building projects breaking ground this summer.

JWL Properties broke ground late last week for a new strip shopping center immediately north of the old Barnett Furniture building between Wal-Mart and the Illinois Centre Mall.

This is a $1.3 million construction project that should provide about another 20,000 square feet of retail space and possibly another restaurant. The address will be 2801 Civic Circle Drive on the inside loop around the mall.

Building permit applications show $4 million for the new Marion Toyota dealership on Route 13 across from Heartland Regional Hospital. The dealership will move the Toyota operation to the new site and keep the other automotive lines at the existing location.

On West Main Street the Bank of Herrin's new $1.8 million facility has started on the the steel work above ground. The new bank is beside its current facility (the originally TCBY building) across from Pepsi Mid-America and next to Comfort Suites.

At the corner of Route 13 and Halfway Road, Newcomb Oil Company's new $770,000 convenience store is will on its way as well. They buried the fuel tanks last week and the building will soon be fully enclosed. It's a very impressive design so far.

We're hoping there will be some more announcements soon as well, particularly in the travel side of the business.

Meanwhile what we do know is that Farmers State Bank is still presumably looking at building a new facility in front of Wal-Mart (they bought the land last winter) and Russell Oil Company may be looking at a new station on East DeYoung St. They took out a building permit earlier this year on a $285,000 project at 309 E. DeYoung, but haven't started construction.

Developer Still Eyeing Perry County

Kevin McDermott of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch is reporting today that the proposed Branson-like development targeted for Perry County appears to still be on the way.
Some state lawmakers have expressed concern at the continued lack of hard information from the enigmatic company. But political leaders around Pinckneyville — a rural community of 5,400 about 60 miles southeast of St. Louis — remain optimistic.

"I really believe it's going to happen. They've spent so much time and money already. ... This is really going to go,'' said Perry County Board Chairman Jim Booker. He said company president Anthony Watkins met with him in nearby Du Quoin last week to assure him the company was still pursuing the project.

The company wants to build a $100 million convention resort complex in the vein of Branson, Mo., which would include music venues, golf, a BMX bike-racing facility and other amenities. The project could ultimately involve 5,000 acres of land — roughly 10 times the acreage of Six Flags amusement park in Eureka.

Meanwhile the only official news release on the company's website dates back to Oct. 4, 2005 when the titular Toney Watkins was about to make a presentation to the Illinois State Chamber of Commerce on his MetroEast development project.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Sign's Messages Shine Bright

The new sign for the Williamson County Pavilion is up and working at the intersection of Route 13 and Williamson County Parkway.

This was one of those projects that took a whole lot of effort over a very long period of time. Most of the credit goes to two of the board members of the tourism bureau and the Williamson County Events Commission, the entity that actually owns the Pavilion.

Jeanette Sollami took on the long-delayed project last fall when she served as the bureau's interim director. Bruce Troutman, the treasurer for the commission (as well as the county), stepped in when it came time to secure the land for the sign. Kudos for both.

Of course, none of it would have been possible without the generosity of Steak 'n Shake which donated the few square feet necessary in a lease in order for us to have a place to erect the sign.

We still have a few minor items to complete around the base of the sign before it's finished but most importantly the message board is working.

I did a quick check of the traffic count on IDOT's website Some 21,200 vehicles a day pass along that stretch of Route 13 in front of Steak 'n Shake.

By the way, the website also showed that more than 11,000 vehicles get off Interstate 57 every day at Marion; 8,500 use Exit 54 at Route 13 and 2,650 use Exit 53 at Main Street.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Right Attitude in Murphysboro

Last Thursday's Southern had a good article on state Rep. Mike Bost's recent presentation to the Murphysboro Chamber of Commerce where he talked up tourism and the region's growing wine industry.

Midway through the article Adam Testa inserted a quote by Barbara Dallas, Murphysboro's Tourism Commissioner, who noted that while help from the state was appreciated, "local relationships need to be improved before tourism can reach its full potential."
"We need to get over Friday Night Fever," she said. "We need to realize it's not Murphysboro versus Carbondale versus Marion. The only way we're going to build tourism is regionalization."

She's right on target!

New Owners Serve Up Lick Creek General Store

This week's Carbondale Times has a nice story on the old Lick Creek General Store off of Interstate 57 at Exit 36, 18 miles south of Marion in northeastern Union County.

The store had been transformed into a unique restaurant some years ago, but had closed. Carbondale Councilman Lance Jack and Emily Taylor reopened the restaurant earlier this spring, but have held off on their grand opening until today for their Labor Day Party.

"Up until now we have been relying on word of mouth and calls from the past," Jack said. "We have done no advertising whatsoever until this past week. We have been passing out fliers. We were working on a soft opening to make sure that we had all of our ducks in a row. Emily and I have known each other for years now but we want to make sure we could work together.

"We have come to the conclusion that we can work together without killing each other," he joked. "She likes to call me the best husband she's never had."

The restaurant is known for its unique nine course meals.

For more information contact them at 618-833-6360. They are located 1/8th of a mile east of the interstate on Lick Creek Road.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Whew! Governor Doesn't Cut Tourism

After weeks of delay the state of Illinois apparently has a budget according to The Capitol Fax Blog.

Gov. Rod Blagojevich submitted his veto message to the General Assembly earlier today. It included major revisions, but none on page 252 in the line item that directly impacts certified tourism bureaus across the state.

Therefore, it looks like the 10 percent increase for local convention and tourism bureaus is protected and should result in at least a 10 percent increase in our state funding for the Williamson County Tourism Bureau.

The funding in this program has stayed the same since the 2004 budget. The new money was only added by the General Assembly in this last budget bill passed.

UPDATE 5:34 p.m. August 22
However the veto pen did take a bite out of the Illinois Wine and Grape Council, slashing their line item from $165,000 down to $150,000. Considering the impact the wine industry is having on tourism in the state that won't help.

UPDATE 8:55 p.m. August 22
Looks like state funding for the Illinois Main Street program was wiped out totally - all $204,000 that flowed through the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency.

Food Network to Focus on 17th Street's Ribs

Bon Appètit declares Southern Illinois' 17th Street Bar & Grill the best rib joint in America and you can watch the episode on the Food Network this weekend.

The show will air at 4 p.m. Saturday and repeat at 5 p.m. Sunday (CDT). The show is the Food Network's special, "Top American Restaurants: Bon Appetit Picks the Best".

More on 17th Street can be found on the web at

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Developers Eye Gun Creek at Rend Lake

Today's Southern Illinoisan has an update on Rend Lake Conservancy District's efforts to attract private investors to develop the Gun Creek area northwest of Exit 77 on Interstate 57.
Three of the proposals call for the land to be developed into a resort or resort-type complex that could include such amenities as an indoor/outdoor swimming pool, hotels, shopping, cottages, condominiums, marina and a nature center.

A fourth group has proposed a residential housing complex for the site. [RLCD Manager Keith] Thomason said the group would like to construct 140 villas.

Hopefully the district will take one of the three proposals for tourism development rather than the residential development. I've got a problem with using eminent domain for what would be a luxury subdivision.

A mixed use development would provide additional lodging, sales tax and attractions that would bring in even more tourists.

The latest figures released earlier this summer showed Franklin County with the second worst rate of growth of any county in the state when it comes to tourism expenditures. As home of one of Illinois' Seven Wonders that shouldn't be the case.

To see what you're missing at Rend Lake, check out this video from YouTube.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Burden Falls Flows on YouTube

One of the Shawnee National Forest's hidden gems isn't hidden as much now with this user created video on YouTube taken last New Year's Eve.

Burden Falls is located in northern Pope County near Bell Smith Springs.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

New Visitor Center Operating in Equality

Carolyn Baltimore, one of the volunteers with Gallatin County Tourism and the Ohio River Scenic Byway Visitor Center in Equality dropped by the office yesterday.

I've driven by the new facility which is located in downtown Equality, but not while it was open. It was funded with a transportation enhancement grant matched with another grant.

It's open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and from noon to 3 p.m. on Sundays from April through mid November to catch the deer season.

The address of the facility is 101 W Lane Street (which is the tip end of Route 142), Equality IL 62934.

Gallatin County is working on a brochure now and has a new website at

State Tourism Funding Up in Air

The budget passed by the Illinois General Assembly last week included a 10 percent increase for local tourism and convention bureaus, the first increase in four years.

That amount was up from what the governor proposed this spring and what the House of Representatives passed in their budget earlier this summer.

It's not clear though if the governor will use his line item veto to reduce the amount as he has threatened to do on other items.

The final budget is House Bill 3866. The appropriations are found in Senate Floor Amendment #1.

MMA Cage Fight Set for Saturday at Pavilion

The family that fights together, smites together.

Five sibling fighters, including the big sister will be competing Saturday at the Cage of Fury MMA event Saturday night at the Williamson County Pavilion.

The Marion Daily's Tom Kane took the photo on the left. Clockwise from the front, the five Holmes Family fighters are Detsonie Davis, 28 and 119 pounds; Zach Holmes, 15 and 145 pounds; Derrick Holmes, 23 and 155 pounds; Edward “Bubba” Holmes, 26 and 165 pounds; and Austin Holmes, 18 and 130 pounds.

Other local fighters on the fight card are Kenny Mayhall, Bill Irby and Robert “Bucky” Neal of Harrisburg; Darrell Coleman, Andrew Trammel and Steven Campbell of Marion; Dustin Bloodworth and Damian Jeffro of Herrin; Jason Hobbs of Desoto; Aaron Essary of Johnston City, Brian Sanders of McLeansboro, Jill Fickes of Carbondale and Hayeley Weintz of Christopher.

Saturday night’s fights start at 8 p.m. and doors open at 6:30 p.m. Tickets prices are $125, $75, $55, $45 and $25 and may be purchased at the Williamson County Pavilion, Bookworm in Carbondale or S&M Fitness in Harrisburg.

To place an order for tickets, or for more information, call the Williamson County Tourism Bureau at (618) 997-3690.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

ATA Grand American Heats Up — Literally

The American Trapshooting Associations Grand American event kicked off Monday at the World Shooting and Recreation Complex up near Sparta.

This is one of the largest events to take place annually in Southern Illinois.

The Southern Illinoisan has good coverage so far:

Monday, August 06, 2007

Talent Search Begins for Southern Illinois Opry

It's time for the region's would-be country singers to start warming up.

Rick Johnson's Southern Illinois Opry will be conducting a talent search on Saturday, August 18, at the center court of the Illinois Centre Mall.

The top four or five singers will get to perform with a live band at the inaugural show of the Opry on Saturday, September 29, at the Williamson County Pavilion in Marion.

"We feel there is a lot of talent in this area," [Illinois Centre Marketing Director Penny] Strobel said. "There are a lot of people in this area who have beautiful voices that do not get the opportunity to sing. It's a chance to let our area know we appreciate all the talent here."

Johnson said he would like to showcase and bring forth local talent.

"There is going to be a lot of good times and it's going to be a good show for everyone," he said.

The event will also feature the Jackie Martin Band and the doo-wop group Blend.

Tickets for the shows on the 29th will be $12 for table seats and $10 for general admission.

Johnson said. "People can come out and have a good time without spending a fortune. I'm trying to keep the prices as low as I can for the people of Southern Illinois."

Tickets can be ordered online by credit card through PayPal.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Williamson Shoots for Third Airline

The Southern Illinoisan's new Williamson County reporter Megean Sexton broke the story this morning of a possible third carrier coming to the Williamson County Airport.

Airport Manager Doug Kimmel told her that the airport and Allegiant Air are "very near an agreement" to provide air service from Marion to such vacation destinations as Orlando and Las Vegas.

Allegiant specializes in flights two or three times a week from smaller markets to major vacation destinations. They currently fly out of MidAmerica Airport on I-64 near Mascoutah.

"We do believe there is an opportunity in this market for our brand of non-stop, low-cost jet service to vacation destinations like Las Vegas and Orlando," [Allegiant Air Spokesperson Tyri] Squyres said. "We generally start (flights) at two to four times a week — keep the seats full and that ensures we can keep our fares low."

Unlike the smaller planes used in the flights to Chicago (and soon again St. Louis), Allegiant's planes can carry 150 passengers.

The possible deal with Allegiant puts pressure on the airport now to replace its out-dated and soon to be too small terminal which is around 30 years old.

The Federal Aviation Authority awarded the airport a $1 million grant last month for three projects, one of which would pay for a terminal design study.

As to the grounded St. Louis service, no word yet when flights will resume.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Southern Illinois Opry Set for Sept. 29

Rick Johnson's Southern Illinois Opry is set to debut Saturday, September 29, at the Williamson County Pavilion in Marion with a blend of country music and family-friendly comedy.

Tickets are $12 for table seating and $10 for general admission. Seating is first come, first served, except for parties who purchase a table of eight in advance.

Tickets may be ordered online, in person at the Williamson County Tourism Office in the Pavilion at 1602 Sioux Drive behind the Illinois Centre Mall, or at the door the night of the concert. Please note that a $1 service fee will be added to cost of tickets ordered online.

Buy your tickets now — online with PayPal.

Table Seats ($12 + $1)

General Admission ($10 + $1)

Tickets purchased online may be picked up at the Will Call booth the night of the performance or in advance at the Williamson County Tourism Bureau office.

For more on the Opry check out the Marion Daily Republican's Conversation with Rick Johnson.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Cat Show & Martial Arts Classic Goes Well

The Southern Illinoisan, the Marion Daily Republican, WSIL-TV and KFVS-TV all gave us excellent coverage this weekend of the Southern Illinois Feline Fancier's Cat Show and the International Southern Illinois Open Martial Arts Classic held at the Williamson County Pavilion.

I really like Ashley Wiehle's opening paragraph in today's Southern.
MARION - What do you get when you mix martial arts with fluffy Persian kittens? A packed weekend at the Williamson County Pavilion, for starters.

We weren't completely certain everything would work out when we booked both events for the same weekend but it worked out fine with the cats up front and the martial arts in the back. Next year we'll push for separate weekends.

Here's a wrap-up of some of the press coverage.

It looks like we had about 3,500 people in the building this weekend.

Cat show organizers noted they had 128 cats registered which brought about two people on average per cat, plus 700 to 800 spectators. The martial arts classic saw around 700 competitors and 1,800 spectators.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Nice Article About Rend Lake & The Miners

Chicago-area outdoor writer Don Dziedzina had a nice write-up last week about his trip to Rend Lake that included a nice plug for Williamson County and the Southern Illinois Miners as well.
Franklin County has a lot to keep you busy when you're down south for a summer vacation. With everything being so close, that really helps too. Just about 15 minutes south of the resort, down Interstate 57, is the town of Marion in Williamson County, and this year they have their very own minor league baseball team, the Southern Illinois Minors. Any trip that you may make down south during the summer should include a baseball game at the Minors' new $15 million field. It's great!

Oh, and the fishing was great too.

Don writes for the Sun-Times suburban papers as well as produces outdoor shows for both radio and cable television. He has more on his website,

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Gambit Owners Propose Expansion

The owners of the Gambit golf course in Vienna are looking to the state for help in expanding their property.

Owner Bruce Monzulla wants to build a gated residential community and a 90-room motel on the property to go along with the course and the restaurant already there.

The catch is he would like to acquire a 115-acre tract along I-24 that the Department of Natural Resources owns.

Check out the Southern for the rest of the story.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Major Resort Proposed for Perry Co.

A MetroEast development company is looking at Perry County for a new $100 million Branson-like tourist development.

Details are sketchy, but the proposal would call for using part of Pyramid State Park and involve a land swap between the developers and the Department of Natural Resources.

State Rep. Dan Reitz (D-Steeleville) has introduced legislation allowing DNR to authorize the swap if they found it acceptable.

The Associated Press has the latest.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Disco-era Drag Strip Revving Back Up

Brian DeNeal has a great article on new plans for the old Accelaquarter Raceway north of Harrisburg.
HARRISBURG - Weeds grow through the cracks in the old Accelaquarter Raceway north of Harrisburg, at one time the favorite weekend attraction of the area.

Through the 1960s, the raceway brought in crowds and racers from Kentucky and Indiana, but the spot has been quiet for decades.

Wednesday afternoon, the 1/8 mile strip roared again. Bobby Umsted of Huntington, Tenn., donned his red racing jacket and helmet as another man poured a bucket of water on the track in front of Umsted's car, a sleek, red machine with the motor poking up from the hood. The car roared, and roared louder, until several of those watching covered their ears. The wheels spun on the wet pavement, producing blue smoke -- and the car zoomed down over the cracked pavement.

"This brings back some great memories," former Accelaquarter owner Darrel Mattingly said.

The new owner is the Cars For Kids organization which holds car shows and drag races to raise money for disabled children.

Check out the rest of the story for more.

This will make a nice attraction to the area next year. Motorized sports is a growing in the region with the SI Raceway east of Marion, the I-57 Drag Strip near Benton, the Mount Vernon Raceway and the racing events at the DuQuoin State Fair.

S.I. Music Festival Kicks Off Next Week

From the SIU News Service ... (Also check out our Calendar of Events for the local concerts in Williamson County.)

By Andrea Hahn
CARBONDALE, Ill. — Bach is back – and so are Mozart, Beethoven, Stravinsky, and the sounds of a classical music summer.

The Third Annual Southern Illinois Music Festival, a nearly three-week long, multi-site celebration of classical, jazz and chamber music organized by the School of Music at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, begins June 15, with a preview chamber music performance on June 10.

A special feature of the festival is its mobility. More than 50 performances are set for nearly two-dozen different venues all over Southern Illinois. Music lovers can hear chamber music at a café, quintets at a winery, quartets at community buildings and brown bag concerts in a recital hall. There will be jazz at an art show, concerts just for children at libraries and recreation centers, patriotic music in a city park and orchestras at music auditoriums and halls from Mount Vernon to Cairo, Marion to Murphysboro. An abridged version of Tchaikovsky's "Sleeping Beauty" ballet and an English-language comic opera bring a beautiful visual component to the festival as well.

Edward Benyas, SIUC music professor, conductor of the Chicago Chamber Orchestra and the festival's founder and artistic director, said the heart of the festival is the beautiful, neoclassic Shryock Auditorium on the SIUC campus. The elegance of the setting and the richness of the music are enhanced during the festival by wine tasting from Shawnee Hills Wine Trail wineries before, during intermission, and after each performance.

This year, an All-American program featuring Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" literally takes to the field. The new Rent One Park in Marion will swap out the crack of the bat for an orchestra concert highlighted by a fireworks display. And Marvin Hamlisch, the Broadway and motion picture musical score composer who brought us "The Way We Were," "A Chorus Line" and "The Sting" as well as music for movies such as "Sophie's Choice," "Ordinary People," and "Three Men and a Baby," comes to the Herrin Civic Center as part of the Southern Illinois Music Festival.

Several performances will feature original compositions by Festival Composer-in-Residence James Stephenson, III. Stephenson's music has been performed by dozens of orchestras around the country and his commissions include work with Branford Marsalis and Rodney Mack, the Houston Symphony and the Philadelphia Orchestra. He is known particularly for his work with young musicians.

This year's festival continues the tradition of including an opera selection. This year's offering, sponsored by the Shawnee Hills Wine Trail, is Gaetano Donizetti's "Elixir of Love," a comic Italian opera that will be sung in English. Lighting, scenery and costume combine with the music to tell the light-hearted, romantic and yet inspiring story of how the peasant Nemorino wins the hand of the hand of the wealthy beauty Adina aided by what he believes to be a love potion. Instead, it turns out to be simply a bottle of Southern Illinois wine. Local opera afficiandos should look for a familiar face among the opera performers. Carbondale Mayor Brad Cole will play the part of the Notary during the Carbondale performance; there also will be a performance in Sesser.

Benyas said this year's festival is the biggest yet. He said the variety of venues and the free or low admission price make the festival widely accessible. Most concerts are indoor events, but several events will take place outdoors and casual dress is welcome at all performances.

"The festival coincides with a two-week summer music camp for high school students, a 40-year tradition at SIUC," he said. "Members of the Chicago Chamber Orchestra are in residence during the festival – and that is a huge benefit for the camp participants." Summer Music Camp participants in music theater, concert band, jazz improvisation and high school choir have opportunities to perform during the festival.

In addition to SIUC, major sponsors include the Illinois Arts Council, the City of Carbondale, The Southern Illinoisan, WSIL-TV, WSIU Public Broadcasting, Carbondale Community Arts, Shawnee Hills Wine Trail, Southern Illinois Miners, Mélange, Boundless, Dr. Samuel Goldman, the Julia Harrison Bruce Foundation-Bank of Herrin Trustee, the Garwin Family Foundation, Hastings Foundation, Moore-Corpora Foundation, SISO Patrons Committee and Southern Foundation.

More information is available at or by calling 618-53-MUSIC or 618/453-2776.

Kincaid Mounds Dig Resumes This Summer

From the SIU News Service ...

By Andrea Hahn
CARBONDALE — A team of Southern Illinois University Carbondale archaeology students returns to the Kincaid Mounds on the border of Pope and Massac counties this summer, hoping to come one step closer to understanding the mystery of the mound builders.

The field school begins on June 11 and concludes Aug. 3. Students commit to working at the site five full days a week for the eight-week period. They may receive six credit hours for their efforts as well as skills directly applicable to employment in the field of environmental impact management. A bonus for out-of-state students is that the class is an "off-campus course" with a set tuition fee regardless of residency. Another plus – this year, students have the option of staying as a group in rental housing near the site rather than commuting.

Students participating in the dig are: Nina Fuscaldo, Lockport, Sara E. Murphy, Marion, Wesley Pinks, Chester, and graduate students Jennifer Malpiedi, Carbondale, and Corin Pursell, Webster Groves, Mo.

The focus of this year's dig is a large, circular structure on top of one of the largest mounds on the multi-mound site. What makes the work particularly challenging is the evidence for the structure is not readily visible to the naked eye, though it is easily seen in maps created with magnetometry imaging technology. A gradiometer creates the image by measuring minute variations in the strength of the Earth's magnetic field, which, at any particular spot, is influenced by what is in the ground directly beneath the gradiometer or magnetometer. Buildings typically leave magnetic evidence even after immediately visible physical evidence is gone.

Paul Welch, an associate professor in the Department of Anthropology and the director of the dig, said the circle is 22 meters across, with an area of about 4,000 square feet. The circle has projections at the four cardinal points of north, south, east and west and seems also to have an inner ring. Welch said a similar structure 27 meters across was discovered in Florida. Evidence in the historical record helped archaeologists reconstruct that site. If the two sites are as similar as they initially appear to be, the inner ring may be a row of benches and the building may be a sort of council house.

"We won't know until we dig into it," Welch said. "We are interested to find out something about the layout of the building and the settlement."

Welch hopes the work this summer will uncover not only the building but also its purpose. He wants to see how the building fits in with other structures discovered at the site. Understanding the layout of the settlement at Kincaid Mounds may provide a clue about its inhabitants – namely, their cultural identity.

Welch explained the Kincaid site was inhabited from about 1100 until about 1350 AD, at which point it, and many other sites from the Missouri bootheel to the Tennessee and Ohio River Valleys, was abandoned for unknown reasons. The area was resettled some time after 1500 by Native Americans known now as the Sauk, Fox, Illini and Peoria – native peoples still in residence when the French explorers arrived. However, these tribes do not seem necessarily to be direct descendants of the Southern Illinois mound builders.

Current archaeological study suggests two possible cultural descendants of the mound builders – those in the Siouan language family or those in the Muskogean language family. The Muskogean peoples, Welch said, tended to create settlements around a central square that included a single site for public religious observation. Siouan people, however, tended to have multiple locations for religious ceremonies.

As the site at Kincaid is slowly pieced together, and as archaeological study continues to shed light on what the settlement may have looked like, it may become clearer whether the site tends more toward the Muskogean or the Siouan model. That, in turn, may help archaeologists determine what happened to the mound builders during the widespread abandonment of the river valleys.

Past SIUC field schools confirmed the existence of a wooden palisade surrounding much of the site, discovered a mound outside the palisade area and uncovered burned houses with evidence of thatched roofs that have helped establish the inhabited dates of the site.

"A lot of what people do doesn't leave evidence in the ground," Welch said. "Parts of the human past are exceedingly difficult for the archaeologist to get at. We do our best to leave an archaeological record for the next generation of scholars so that, even if we don't know what we are looking at, we've left a record that is clear."

Volunteers Spruce Up Cambria

This week's Courier has a nice article by Wayne Utterback on efforts to spruce up Cambria as part of the 3rd Annual "Beautify Cambria" event that took place last Wednesday.
Jennifer Sherry, who has been planting flowers in Cambria for more than five years, said the event was something that she saw as necessary.

"It was something that I really felt was needed and important for the village," Sherry said. "I always liked plants and I think it's neat to share the green thumb with the community.

Besides Sherry a number of volunteers helped to plant the flowers in the area of the village hall, post office and bank.

A $250 grant from the village government along with private donations helped pay for the flowers.

A second part of the beautifying effort will take place tomorrow morning. The village's annual Roadside Trash Pick Up starts at 8 a.m. June 9.

Way to go Cambria.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Air Service to St. Louis Remains Grounded

It will be mid summer before air service resumes between the Williamson County Regional Airport and Lambert Field in St. Louis.

After the FAA grounded Regions Air's flights this spring, including the American Connection flights out of Southern Illinois, airport officials selected Great Lakes Airlines as the new carrier.

At one point they hoped to use Regions Air's planes and pilots, but that has fallen through according to airport manager Doug Kimmel.

"Mid July to August," was what he said this morning, and that might still be optimistic.

The next major step will be when Great Lakes is ready to announce a start date and get it into the reservation systems for when flights resume.

Meanwhile, flights continue daily to Chicago's Midway Airport on Mesa Airlines.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Two Elected to Tourism Board

Patricia "Tricia" Hadfield, manager of the Comfort Inn and Comfort Suites will join Judy Attebury, manager of Fairfield Inn, as two of the seven lodging representatives on the Williamson County Tourism Board.

Two of the seven seats were up at this election. Hadfield and Attebury will serve three year terms. Thirteen of the county's lodging operators participated in the election. Ballots were opened at today's board meeting.

Hadfield replaces Katy Lockwood of the Olde Squat Inn.

The new terms begin at the regular June meeting of the tourism board which is set for noon, Wednesday, June 27 at the Williamson County Pavilion in Marion.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Lawmakers Set to Legalize Ultimate Fighting

Illinois lawmakers are considering a proposal to legalize Ultimate Fighting competitions in the state as well as increase regulations on mixed martial arts competitions such as the DragonsCage fights held at the Pavilion in April.

The Chicago Sun-Times has the story.

The bill has already passed the House by a large margin where it is co-sponsored by Southern Illinois Rep. Brandon Phelps, D-Harrisburg. Most of the region's representatives voted for the measure, but state Rep. Mike Bost, R-Murphysboro, did not.

In the Senate the bill has passed committee and been amended. A floor vote is expected soon. If successful the bill will then go back to the House for final approval of the bill as amended.

The legislation is HB 1947.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Carterville Farmers Market to Begin in June

The Farmers Market sponsored by the Carterville Chamber of Commerce begins its summer schedule Friday, June 1, from 3 to 6 p.m. at the First Baptist Church parking lot at 406 S Division St (between Route 13 and downtown Carterville).

The market runs each Friday in June, July and August.

The chamber is looking for vendors of home grown, homemade or hand made items to set up booths. The booth cost is $5 with vendors supplying their own tables, chairs and signs.

For more information contact the chamber at 618-985-6942 or e-mail

Monday, April 23, 2007

Pavilion Enters the Black

After five months on the job it looks like the Williamson County Pavilion is operating in the black after years of red ink.

Forget about fancy accounting, for our board members the bottom line has always been the balance in the operating account of the Williamson County Events Commission which oversees the Pavilion.

Ever since the building opened in August 2004, the amount in that checking account has gone down as operating expenses exceeded operating income every year.

On Nov. 15, 2006, when I started as tourism director, the balance for the Events Commission’s Operating Account stood at $87,056.79. Five months later on April 15, 2007, our balance totaled $94,421.39 and that didn’t include a large deposited following the DragonsCage event on April 14.

A lot of the growth from this year compared with last year’s is due to interim Director Jeanette’s action last fall repealing my predecessor's unilateral decision to block all but one caterer from working the Pavilion.

We’ve also been more aggressive in negotiating rates where we know we have competition. The other major factor is the additional media coverage we’ve been generating with the additional events.

More and more area residents are finally waking up to the idea that the Pavilion actually exists. It's also helping that our lodging operators are providing more referrals to us.

The Southern Illinoisan's story on our accomplishments ran Sunday.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Little Egypt Arts to Host Quilt Display

The volunteers at the Little Egypt Arts Centre are installing a new quilt and fiber arts exhibit today just in time for the big quilt show in Paducah next week.

"The Art of Quilting" is a new exhibit at the Centre runs from April 21 through June 15. Works include heirloom quilts as well as photographs and paintings that celebrate quiltying. Current works by artist Colleen Thompson and other LEAA members will be displayed in the gallery and in the windows.

The arts centre is usually open between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., but will stay open to 7 p.m. next Thursday and Friday.

Here's the information on the 23rd Annual American Quilters Society Quilt show in Paducah which will bring hundreds of guests to the motels in Williamson County:
Paducah, Kentucky, becomes Quilt City USA® each April as thousands of quilters from around the world come to view hundreds of quilts in the AQS Quilt Contest. New for 2007 in the AQS School of Quiltmaking: Classes begin on Tuesday, the day before the show opens! Hands-on longarm classes will be included in the 135 classes offered this year. See page 18 for information on earning college credit from classes taken at AQS Quilt Shows.

And, don't miss these special events: An Evening with Jim Shore on Wednesday; MAQS Quilt Auction on Thursday; AQS/Hobbs Bonded Fibers Fashion Show on Friday (NEW DAY); A Musical Encore by Ricky Tims on Friday evening, sponsored by Ken's Sewing Center; Brunch with Ami Simms on Saturday; and the NEW Show & Tell, sponsored by Handi Quilter, on Saturday. Check out these ongoing special events too: Build Quilts for Love sponsored by Baby Lock USA, and the Paducah Booth Hop sponsored by Windham Fabrics.

Shop the Merchant Malls: Visit over 300 vendor booths featuring the latest quiltmaking supplies, gifts, and antique and new quilts. Vendors are located in six different areas - so be sure to visit all of these areas: Paducah Expo Center, 1st and 2nd floors of the Convention Center, Pool Atrium, and Pool Annex at the Expo Center/Executive Inn complex; and at the AQS Vendors on Kentucky (2nd & Kentucky Ave.), where you'll find the Hurt Books Sale.

For more information check out their website .

Sahara Woods, 'It's Unbelieable'

The Southern's Les Winkler provides an update in today's paper on what's next for Sahara Woods.
The roughly 4,200 acres that comprise Sahara Woods were given to the state by Sahara Coal several years ago. At that time, opening the site to the public was a distant dream - a dream now reaching fruition.

When the state took ownership of the land there were huge gob piles and rusted out hulks of trucks and draglines littering the area. Although the restoration of the park is almost complete, no firm date for opening has been established.

"Everything is up in the air," [Site Supt. Eric] McClusky said. "Right now, we have no running water or electricity anywhere in the place. We are scheduled to start renovations on the office this summer."

Other plans include the rifle range (already built), boat ramps and eventually a campground.

Crossposted also at the Sahara Woods blog.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Trail of Tears Spring Meeting Set for April 14

The Illinois Chapter of the Trail of Tears Association will hold its spring general membership meeting at Camp Ground Cumberland Presbyterian Church near Anna on Saturday, April 14, at 1 p.m.

The gathering will kick off the Illinois Trail of Tears Oral History Project and all persons interested in the trail or that might have family stories or information relative to the trail are encouraged to attend.

The meeting will be an informal gathering where those with stories or information relative to their families and the Trail of Tears are invited to share them. Videotaping and audiotaping services will be available to record those stories. Individuals with stories to share may do so in front of a gathered audience, or privately in a small room if they prefer.

Also, everyone is asked to bring family diaries, newspaper clippings, photos, drawings, maps, documents and any other papers they may have relative to the Trail of Tears. Copying and scanning equipment will be available so that copies of these items may be added to the Illinois Trail of Tears Oral History Project and individuals can then take their original photos and papers safely back home with them.

Also, Harvey Henson of the SIU Geology Department along with some of his students will be demonstrating and explaining remote sensing techniques at the Camp Ground Church Cemetery.

The public is invited to the meeting. For more information e-mail Sandra Boaz at or call her at 618-833-8216, or Cheryl Jett at or by phone at 618-567-6895.

To reach Camp Ground Church take I-57 south to Exit 30. Turn west on Route 146. Almost immediately (200 feet) turn back north on Campground Rd. The church and cemetery is at the intersection of Campground Road and Tunnel Lane.

For more information on the Trail of Tears Association check out their website.