ROCKFORD (WREX) — Summer is making its way back to the Stateline. Some families will grill out, hang out and for some be together for the first time in more than a year. Rockford has plenty of places for people to enjoy and gather in the 815 once again.
"It was very overwhelming," said Anderson Japanese Gardens Program and Events Manager Katie Weston when looking back at last season during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. "It was a lot of logistics we never thought we had to figure out and we had to do it fast."
This year, Anderson Japanese Gardens knew what to do and knew what to expect and so it opened not just on time for the season but earlier.
"A lot of people seek respite here and find it to be a place of healing and tranquility and calmness for them. People feel destressed in a world that was otherwise kind of tearing them a part day-by-day," said Weston.
"They are going to just flock to the forest preserves and enjoy them, to be out in nature and the open space," said Forest Preserves of Winnebago County Executive Director Mike Holan. "Our educational programs will be open and summer camps; so some of the kids will enjoy summer camps again that they couldn't last year."
"We were able to open on time this year; where we opened a few months late last year," said Lockwood Park Program and Animal Coordinator Nicole Cabe. "Our camp numbers, we are able to have more kids at our camps this year."
"It was literally a place of refuge," said West Rock Wake Park Owner and Operator Daniel Jarrett.
"The amount of people that said to us repeatedly, 'I don't know what I would have done if you guys weren't open,'" said Jarrett. "This a community. We want to see unity and diversity. We want to see all walks of life come here and have fun. Now going into this year, with less measures to always stay on top of, the weight is off our shoulders a little bit to where we can just get on with the season."
"At the forest preserve, people can spend 10 minutes here or they can spend four hours," said Holan when looking around the Forest Preserve Headquarters trails. "We do a month-to-month week-to-week comparison on our campground over the last four years and so the revenue is over all of those years. We expect people to be using it all summer like that."
"I think people are really grateful to have these opportunities," said Cabe.
When asked what is one word to describe the feeling between 2020 and 2021, Weston said balance. Holan said tranquility when thinking about what forest preserves provide visitors during uncertain times. Jarrett said West Rock represents community in good times and in bad. Cabe said she is hopeful for the 2021 season.
"I think hopeful, that we hope that things are getting back to normal," said Cabe.