So Many Ways to Play in Peoria

From eco-tourism to sports and cultural tourism and beyond, there’s always more to explore.

by Emily Cahill, Peoria Park District
Rocky Glen Park
Rocky Glen Park features a box canyon with 60-foot sandstone walls, two small waterfalls and hundreds of carvings, some dating back over 130 years. Photo by David Vernon

In addition to providing high-quality parks and recreation for those who live and work in Peoria, the Peoria Park District serves as a tourism destination with unique environmental destinations, attractions, concerts and special events, cultural festivals and tournaments. Tourist visits are supported by various services that benefit the community as a whole, such as hotels/motels, restaurants and retail.

Home to almost 9,000 acres of green space and nearly 50 miles of trails, the Peoria Park District provides multiple destinations for the eco-tourist. This form of tourism involves visiting fragile, pristine and relatively undisturbed natural areas, intended as a low-impact, and often small-scale alternative to mass commercial tourism. 

Visitors to Forest Park Nature Center, nestled in the forested bluffs of the Illinois River, can experience the natural beauty of Illinois at this unique, 540-acre nature center and preserve. Forest Park features seven miles of hiking trails through woodlands and prairie, a natural history museum and bird observation room, a variety of educational programs, and over 500 acres of dedicated Illinois State Nature Preserve. 

The Tawny Oaks Field Station is located next to Singing Woods, a 700-acre Illinois Nature Preserve comprised of a restored prairie, a half-mile of handicap-accessible gravel trail, a picnic area and visitor center. Tawny Oaks is open seasonally and offers various workshops, educational walks and bird-watching events. Camp Wokanda encompasses over 300 acres of woodland, with a lake for fishing and various camping amenities. The grounds are also known for their abundance of sugar maple trees, the prime source for maple syrup. Since maple syrup production began in 2014, the process has grown to over 150 taps, producing up to 70 gallons of pure maple syrup each year. 

Rocky Glen Park, the newest addition to our environmental inventory, is a hidden gem. The 126-acre park features a sandstone canyon and waterfall like you would find at Starved Rock State Park, greeting hikers who venture on the rugged, interpretive trail. With its unique habitats and historical connections to Peoria’s past coal mining era, Rocky Glen is a significant geologic area. All in all, nearly 200,000 visitors take advantage of Peoria Park District’s environmental facilities each year. 

Cultural Tourism
According to a recent National Recreation and Park Association study, 76 percent of leisure travelers participate in cultural and/or heritage activities. Cultural travelers are defined as tourists who participate in at least one cultural activity/event or visit at least one cultural institution/location on their trip. Cultural travelers spend 61 percent more per trip than other leisure travelers, and take one more trip per year on average. Peoria Park District’s RiverFront Events division hosts five cultural festivals annually on the Peoria RiverFront, resulting in more than 200,000 visitors annually. They include Fiesta en el Rio, India Fest, Soul Fest, Irish Fest and Oktoberfest. 

Sports Tourism
If you’ve ever had a child who participates in organized sports, you understand the travel involved in attending games and tournaments. Peoria Park District is a co-host of the annual Illinois High School Association (IHSA) March Madness Experience. Currently hosted over two consecutive weekends, the IHSA basketball tournament brings families from all over Illinois to Peoria. Likewise, Peoria Park District hosts the annual Illinois Elementary School Association (IESA) golf tournament at Kellogg Golf Course, bring golfing youth and their families to Peoria. 

In 2018—for the first time in 20 years—Peoria Park District’s Owens Center, Peoria’s premier indoor ice skating facility, served as a host site for the Illinois Figure Skating Association’s Regional Qualifiers, resulting in more than 4,000 visitors to the area. Owens Center also hosts multiple ice hockey tournaments annually. Peoria Park District’s commitment to providing venues for sports tourism dollars is clear. Detweiller Park has served as the host site for the IHSA Cross Country State Finals since 1970.

Peoria Riverfront concerts
Peoria RiverFront Events, in partnership with Inked Entertainment, brings high-profile talent to the Peoria Riverfront. Photo by Brittany Moldenhauer

Concert Tourism
According to the research firm Ibis World, the U.S. concert and event promotion industry is expected to generate $28 billion in revenue this year. Peoria RiverFront Events, in partnership with Inked Entertainment, is responsible for bringing a share of this revenue to Peoria. The 2018 schedule featured high-profile talent, including the sold-out show of Kane Brown and Nelly. Although the outdoor concert season is limited, more than 70,000 concertgoers enjoyed our offerings during the 2018 season. 

Attraction Tourism
Cumulative attraction, an accepted principle of tourism development, asserts that a cluster of proximate facilities is likely to result in greater visitation, offering a critical mass that is not present when facilities are widely scattered. As this critical mass of destinations becomes greater, people will travel from a wider-ranging geographical area to visit them; they will stay longer and spend more dollars. Glen Oak Park is a perfect example, featuring Peoria Zoo, Peoria PlayHouse Children’s Museum, Glen Oak Amphitheatre, Glen Oak Lagoon and Luthy Botanical Garden. 

Parks with landscape planting and design that are recognized as “living works of art” can also be tourist attractions. The Japanese Bridge and Garden at Laura Bradley Park certainly qualifies for this category. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Grand View Drive is a 2.52-mile, meandering pleasure driveway constructed in 1903. The “world’s most beautiful drive,” as President Theodore Roosevelt called it on a visit to Peoria in 1910, offers visitors breathtaking, panoramic views of the Illinois River Valley. 

With all these ways to play in Peoria, the Peoria Park District’s commitment to the health and vibrancy of our community is clear. For more information, visit #TheresMoreToExplore  PM