Monday, September 7th, 2009

Guest Post: Recrecational Hinterlands

[ I met John Vranicar when we served together on the board of Court Appointed Special Advocates of Cook County. (It’s a fabulous organization – you should support it or your local CASA chapter). It turned out we were both urbanism aficionados. John is one of the best thinkers I know in this space. Every time I talk to him I come away with ideas for at least half a dozen new blog posts. I asked John to do a guest post for the blog and he thankfully agreed. I’m confident you’ll enjoy it. – Aaron. ]

Many Midwestern cities seem to take for granted a huge contributor to their overall quality of life: the outdoor non-urban recreational hinterland within an hour or so of their downtowns. It’s as if there’s an unwritten rule to render unto urban planners and economic development consultants the things that are man-made, and unto God (or others) the things that smack of nature. Big mistake. For, surely one of the things that makes a city a good place to live is the ability to escape from it into unspoiled nature.

Many have discussed how Midwestern cities can improve their downtowns and cultural/entertainment quotient, to keep and attract residents and businesses. Let’s call that the Yin of urban life. Yet there’s a Yang to urban life – the opportunity to retreat from the madding crowd, the noise, the built environment, and to reconnect with the peace and solitude of nature.

The Yin and Yang of urbanity is not exactly new. Imperial Rome had its villas; 19th century London was a short train ride away from its country estates and their more modest versions. But we don’t have to go back very far in history or cross the ocean. We need to look no farther than Seattle and Portland, OR – two cities famed for their proximity to ocean, mountains, rivers, forests, hiking, biking, kayaking, skiing, camping, sailing and fishing. These opportunities are almost always mentioned in the same paragraph with the cities’ clubs, restaurants, museums, concerts, shops, open-air markets and neighborhoods. The proximity and accessibility of cosmopolitanism and rural/wilderness pursuits are the things that make these two cities so attractive, not just to younger, active folks, but to retirees and families. The demographics of these two cities – am I wrong? Isn’t this the demographic the Midwestern cities are drooling over?

When we think about the Pacific Northwest, it seems natural, somehow, to expect people to be attracted to the region because of the rich mix of city and wilderness. We expect those happy, active, industrious, creative, consuming, civic-minded, tax-paying, likable folks to want to ski, backpack, mountain bike on Sunday, and show up for a power-breakfast downtown the next morning, shoes shined, with tickets for the symphony that night.

But when we shift the focus back to the Midwest, something seems to get lost in translation. Why is it that promoters of some Midwestern cities don’t apply the Seattle-Portland principal more enthusiastically? Is it because there’s no Mt. Rainier? Or do we actually think people are different here?

What got me thinking about this is something purely autobiographical. My partner and I, decades-long residents of Lincoln Park in Chicago, and lovers of the urban good life, have always been equally attracted to the outdoors. And I’m not talking about the parks and lakefront. I’m talking about the real outdoors, with hills and forests and stars at night, deep quiet, no litter, someplace you can actually get lost without a compass. Unless you’ve tried, you have no idea how blooming hard it is to get OUT of Chicago for a real outdoors weekend. Especially on a Friday after 3:00 p.m.

Yes, you can go to the Indiana Dunes or Zion State Park, an hour and a half from the north side, and once you’re there, it’s nature-lite. You can drive to the “harbor counties” along Lake Michigan in Indiana and Michigan (now you’re talking 1-1/2 to two hours in good traffic), and when you get there, you’re in the world of motels, shoppes, resorts and gentrified country houses – the Land of Brunch and Pick-Your-Own-Peaches. You can swing out west to Galena and the Mississippi River (2+ hours) and … golf! … or spa!! … to your heart’s content. The closest you get to wilderness is hooking into the rough or a massage with pine-scented oil. You can take a drive up north or west of Milwaukee (two-plus hours) in Wisconsin to – where? Lake Geneva? House on the Rock? The DELLS?

Am I being unfair? Will people protest that there are great prairie bike trails along the Fox River, along abandoned railroad rights-of-way and at the old Joliet Arsenal? There are. (Exercise: 10; wilderness: 1.5.) Are there pleasant bike and cross-country ski paths in the north shore up to the Botanical Gardens? You bet, and if your idea of wilderness is the Forest Preserves and the Skokie Lagoons, congratulations. There’s the Elroy-Sparta bike trail and the Kettle-Moraine State Park in Wisconsin. Both very popular. You’re bound to run into someone you know, and their kids. Don’t forget the Illinois Starved Rock State Park, too: beautiful, dramatic terrain overlooking the Mississippi; two hours away if you live in the right suburb; dogs must be leashed; trails all pounded hard as concrete; no camping outside of official sites; horseback riding by the hour. Been there, done it all. And, whatever these places are, the “wildest” things about them are the bumper stickers on the cars in the parking lots.

But trust me. If you want anything vaguely on the wilderness scale, even at the very lowest end, you are talking a three- to five-hour drive outside Chicago, a drive that’s going to be flat, industrialized, office-parked or suburbanized for at least half the distance, usually followed by another hour of corn or soybean fields.

We know this, because, after years of searching, we ultimately we found exactly what we were looking for – and could afford: 16 acres in Brown County, Indiana, in the Hoosier National Forest in south central Indiana. We finally had our stars, our quiet and our seclusion, prairie flowers, unlimited hiking and camping in the wooded hills, all-terrain biking, canoeing, rafting, fishing, sailing, orienteering – hoot owls, crickets, fireflies, eagles, endangered species. Not a soul for miles, nor will there ever be. But it’s 4-1/2 hours from Lincoln Park (5-6 hours if you leave on Friday at rush hour or when there’s road work on I-65, which is about 75% of the time). By the way, we could’ve found the equivalent (with two extra months of winter and lots more mosquitoes in the summer) by heading north into Michigan or Wisconsin – again about 4-1/2 hours if the traffic gods smile on you.

So what’s my point? It’s not the obvious one that the 8+ million people in the Chicago metro area are deprived of the Yang of urban life. Everybody who lives in Chicago knows that this city blows when it comes to its recreational hinterland. Chicagoans who want outdoor recreation embrace Lake Michigan, the parks and all the other amenities that provide exercise and fresh air – and it’s great, don’t get me wrong. But it is not “nature.” If it’s nature you want, you fly to Jackson Hole, go on a safari, or, like us, pound out 9-11 hours round-trip on interstates to get to places like Brown County, IN or Washington Island, WI.

My point is that while we Chicagoans conduct our hajj to find the Milky Way, we drive through – guess what? — other Midwestern cities that are in a losing battle competing with Chicago for the Yin of urban life while they effortlessly clock Chicago when it comes to the Yang. My point is that when it comes to “nature,” virtually every Midwestern city has Chicago completely beat.

Returning to my autobiographical example of Brown County, Indiana. Our place is only 75 minutes from downtown Indy, and only 75 minutes from the heart of Louisville. That’s at Friday rush hour. By the time a gal from Indy is flipping burgers at her cottage or campsite in Brown County after work on Friday, we’ll just be paying our second toll on the Chicago Skyway. And Brown County and the Hoosier National Forest are hardly the only outdoor recreational amenities within 90 minutes of these two cities.

For all the talk about Chicago-envy, and all the civic improvements Indy is making — and showcasing in its promotional materials – I haven’t found anything in those materials even close in level of emphasis regarding Indy’s amazing proximity to the Hoosier National Forest. Indy spends a lot of media and money telling people what’s IN Indy. But not so much on what’s OUTSIDE Indy. At least from what I can see.

The crowd that consistently gives Seattle and Portland high marks for quality of life should be very, very impressed with Indy and Louisville, it seems to me. But I rarely see Indy or Louisville mentioned in the same category as Seattle or Portland. In surveys of the great out of doors, places like Denver, San Francisco, Seattle and Portland always rank high. Midwestern cities typically trail in the 25th place or lower. The exception: Minneapolis/St. Paul. The Twin Cities consistently rank high in surveys ranking outdoor recreation, even though many of these surveys subtract points for cold temperatures unless downhill skiing is part of the package. Do the Twin Cities rank high in these surveys “just because,” or is it at least in part because they do such a good job of telling their stories to the surveyors? Check out promotional materials on Minneapolis, and compare them to some other Midwestern cities, when it comes to the Great Outdoors. Anybody want a piece of the Twin Cities’ demographic? The line starts here.

I spent a morning on the Internet, conducting a non-scientific review of tourist/chamber of commerce/ things-to-do/promotional sites for cities like Cleveland, St. Louis, Columbus and Detroit. My impression was that none of these places do a very convincing job of promoting the riches of their recreational hinterlands. Yeah, they do it, kind of, in terms of day-trips. But not the way Seattle or Portland does. Granted, you can get the info about state parks and national forests without digging too hard, by going to state-sponsored tourism sites or sites devoted to hiking, biking, etc. But there’s a disconnect there. You’ve got to connect the dots between these sites and the websites that promote nearby cities. I couldn’t find a single city website that made the case explicitly that, folks, you can get an amazing Seattle-like balance between nature and cosmopolitan experience if you relocate to our fair city, not just weekend get-aways, but vacation homes. “If you lived here, you’d be gazing at the Milky Way by now.”

In reading the promotional materials for most Midwestern cities, I saw plenty that made the appeal to spectator sports fans and discriminating consumers of wine bars, health clubs, restaurants, museums, zoos, plays and concerts. But surely some of these people might like to don a pair of waders and fish?

To sum up: I’m suggesting that the Midwestern cities that are the subject of this blog should devote more effort to inventorying, laying claim to and promoting their recreational hinterlands. If you’re short on Yin and long on Yang, sell Yang. A lot of Yang can make a little Yin go a long way. Much attention has been devoted in this blog – and rightly so – to enhancing the inner-city urban environment, the cultural scene, sports stadiums, transportation systems, education, branding suburbs. All that’s important. But all of this focuses on the city and burbs. Flip the gestalt. Change the emphasis. Don’t always discuss how easy it is to get INTO the city; discuss how easy it is to get OUT. Don’t just make the downtown the destination. Make it the point of departure, too. Don’t only focus on housing prices downtown or in the burbs. Make a point of affordable vacation home prices and rents. What I suspect many cities will find – certainly Indy and St. Louis will – is that there is an existing resource – Cash in the Attic, so to speak — that is a critical component of the overall wealth of the extended metropolitan region. It just needs to be identified for what it is, and duly celebrated.

Two footnotes to the above:

1. When I use the terms “wilderness” and “nature,” I mean them in a relative way. There’s not a heck of a lot of wilderness anywhere in the lower 48. The accessible parts of the Hoosier National Forest are not anything like the Boundary Waters, but then again, there’s an equally big gap between the Hoosier and the Cook County Forest Preserves. So, whether or not there’s quotation marks around “wilderness” and “nature” anywhere in this post, please understand that I’m using these terms in a relative sense.

2. I make no claim that the Midwest has a Mt. Ranier or a Pacific Ocean or venerable old growth rain forests. Let’s stipulate there’s no real downhill skiing here. But only the uninitiated could be unmoved by the four seasoned beauty of the Midwest’s rivers, hardwood forests, bluffs, hills, prairies, wetlands, lakes and ponds. And stars are stars, eagles are eagles and absolute silence is absolute silence, wherever you find it.

John Vranicar has over thirty-two years of experience in the fields of real estate development and planning, more than twenty-five of which have been in the practice of law. John has worked in the private, non-profit and public sectors, including serving as Managing Deputy Commissioner of Planning, Real Estate and Development for the City of Chicago Department of Aviation in the 1990s. More biographical information is available on, where he can be reached.

Topics: Talent Attraction
Cities: Chicago, Indianapolis, Louisville

24 Responses to “Guest Post: Recrecational Hinterlands”

  1. Jeffrey C says:

    I'm totally behind your idea of noting not just how easy it is to get IN to the city, but also how easy it is to get OUT.

    But when you say people from Seattle and Portland would find Indy and the Midwest appealing, trust me, many don't. At least not my friend who relocated from here to there. As beautiful as Brown County can be, it is barely minor league in comparison to the more plentiful and more intense natural beauty and outdoor opportunities of the NW.

    So yes, by all means let's have a broader message about Indy, but let's make it one that plays to who we are and what we have without any comparisons in which we are sure to lose.

  2. The Urbanophile says:

    Thanks, Jeffrey.

    I don't think the intent of the piece was to say Indy can compete with Portland or Seattle, only that there's a legitimate recreational hinterland it should better market, and that it might be one possible point of advantage the city has over Chicago in talent attraction. Clearly, Indy would be foolish to market its recreational amenities as on par with the PNW, but it is hardly the disaster a stereotypical view of the Midwest as "cornfield country" might suggest. In short, I think John's proposing the same thing you advocate.

  3. Anonymous says:

    An excellent, well-thought-out and well-argued point. As a corollary, I would propose that Midwestern cities also take a more regional approach to promoting culture. Indianapolis could tout the nearness of the architectural marvels of Columbus, Ind., for example.
    While the outdoors are a major draw for the Pacific Northwest, many migrants to Portland and Seattle could care less about such recreational opportunities, even if they mostly bike to get around town or are otherwise physically active. Countless young, college-educated creative types flock to those cities for the culture–for the indie rock, for the gallery scene, for the DIY ethos, for the widespread love of literature, etcetera. Authors such as Zadie Smith can pack rock clubs to fire code capacity in Seattle, and T.C. Boyle can fill Benaroya Hall, but that would never happen in Indianapolis.
    That being said, cities such as Indianapolis could better position themselves culturally to the wider world if they more actively marketed from a more regional standpoint, such as by playing up bands or authors that might pass through Bloomington but would skip Indianapolis.

  4. Anonymous says:

    I was trying to make this point in some comments a few months back. When I said people might not want to move from Denver to Chicago because they are giving up an entire way of living, I got replies along the lines of "who cares?"

    During five years in Chicago, I noticed the same thing. The Lake is great, but you have to drive, and drive, and drive to get to anything not developed or farmed.

    We're in Cleveland now. The hills start in the eastern suburbs and get bigger going into Pennsylvania and Western New York. There's real skiing in day-trip distance, river rafting/kayaking down toward WV, and the Allegheny National Forest.

    For stuff even closer, we have a national park, two smaller ski runs, and surfable beaches in the metro area.

  5. Alon Levy says:

    The fact that you mention San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, and Denver as your examples of cities with recreational hinterlands tells a lot. All of those cities have marketed their regions as beautiful nature, even if on objective standards like mountain quality, they're not necessarily better than Los Angeles, or the cities of the East Coast.

    Denver is better than anything on the coasts, but San Francisco isn't – it has nothing that Los Angeles doesn't have, and I'm not sure it's even better than New York, Boston, or Washington. The attractions in NorCal tend to be in the Sierra Nevada, which is much closer to the Central Valley (to which nobody moves for proximity to nature, ever) than to the California coast.

    There's a lot of turnover in the Northeast, with a lot of people moving in and out. But unlike with Denver, you'd never hear someone say, "I moved to New York to be closer to Woodstock/the Poconos." People who want Woodstock or the Poconos would just move to Woodstock or the Poconos, and I'm sure that people who want Brown County are going to move to Brown County.

  6. The Urbanophile says:

    Thanks for the comment.

    Alon, you're onto something with that LA comparison. Greater LA has much better recreational amenities than people give it credit for, depending on where you live. I've got friends who are hard core outdoor activity people (the husband grew up in Idaho, to give one data point). They moved to Rancho Cucamonga, which I thought they would hate vs. Minnesota where they moved from. But as it turned out, they love it and are always touting the hiking and mountain biking, etc.

    As for places like Portland and Seattle, I suspect that only a minority ever take advantage of the wilderness activities those cities have. But two points:

    1. It is part of the "narrative" of the place, part of the story they tell to create the mythos of what they are and market themselves to others. I'm guessing most people who live in NYC or Chicago don't take advantage of what they have to offer either – but I'm sure they talk about it when talking up the cities to others.

    2. The fact that it is there, even if it is not important, is important. I had this conversation with John Clark in Indianapolis. I was touting his site that lists some unbelievably large number of lectures and other intellectually oriented events in Indianapolis. I read it a lot though I never actually attended an event I saw there. But he noted, correctly, that it's important just for me to know they are there, that I could do it if I wanted. It's part of the oxygen in the air we breathe.

  7. Ironwood says:


    You wrote: "People who want Brown County are going to move to Brown County." Actually, that's the exact opposite of my point. I don't think that it's an either/or proposition for a lot of people. They want both Indy AND Brown County. That may be for simple economics — they need an Indy job. Or it may be because they, like I, feel in their bones a need for both nature and culture — that the two enhance each other. If it were as simple as you suggest, why would there be so many second homes?

    I don't mean to pick on this one comment you made, but the comment is illustrative of a mindset that classifies people as fundamentally urban or rural. Sure, some people fit these categories, and it sounds like you may be one of them. If so, live downtown and thrive.

    But there are millions of others who see urban/rural as a false choice — or at least a choice that's forced on them. All else being equal, those folks would be drawn to an urban area where they can easily move back and forth between trout fishing and a symphony orchestra. In fact, they'd consider that to be the height of urbanity.

    That's the market I'm suggesting some of the smaller cities should be courting.

    Cheers, Iron

  8. Anonymous says:

    John's post is why I love this blog and the internet in general. You could never find these kinds of intriguing insights though old media channels.

    My take is the absence of hinterland destinations (and efforts to promote what we have) is based on the legacy of our colonial mentality — natural resources are there to exploited and turned into capital (farms, mines, timber, water transportation). Recreational uses have not been seen until recently as having a similar value, and so many recreational areas we have in the Midwest are those that cannot be exploited for more profitable uses (I'm thinking here of the many conservation areas that can be found in northern Illinois and northern Indiana for hunting and fishing).

    Places with compelling natural features like Starved Rock, of course, were reserved long ago. Others, like the Cook County Forest Preserves, were also consciously reserved based on anticipated recreational needs as our populations grew. There should probably be many more, but even in the parts of our country with our most spectacular natural features — Yellowstone, Grand Tetons — advocates had to fight like hell to keep them from being exploited for their resources. In many cases, they still have to. And the National Park system is broke. That should say something about our country's collective value system when it comes to natural resources as recreational amenities.

    The Great Lakes are the upper Midwest's most compelling natural feature, so it's no surprise that Chicago and other bordering cities are lake-centric. II think there are many areas within a day's drive of Chicago that could exploit their remoteness by promoting peace, quiet and (relatively) dark skies. Especially the areas west, southwest and south of the greater Chicago Metro area. I love the drive from Chicago to DeKalb and points west. It's Big Sky Illinois, a welcome experience from Chicago's claustrophobic suburban sprawl. I much prefer this to fighting traffic around Lake Michigan.

    There are not many places within 4-5 hours of Chicago like Brown County. But, there are options. I like Jo Davies County (Galena), southwest Wisconsin and Rock County, Indiana. There are also river valleys that like the Illinois west of Morris that have a special character and potential despite the legacy of their industrial uses (I also like the character of parts of the Kankakee and Wabash river valleys).

    For the past couple of decades, Missouri tourism folks have done a good job of branding and marketing the "Missouri Rhineland" west of St. Louis, which includes numerous wineries and the Katy Trail. Illinois, too, has stepped up the marketing of non-Chicago parts of the state. But, not the extent that Wisconsin and, especially, Michigan are promoting their hinterlands (I was in the Loop yesterday and saw many buses with graphics that showcased Michigan's autumn beauty).

    This is a long way of saying that I agree that the Midwest's hinterlands have not been fully appreciated for their potential recreational value. A more focused effort would benefit both the major cities and hinterland destinations both spiritually and economically, and the global image and identity of the Midwest as a whole.

  9. Alex B. says:

    The thing is that many of the great outdoor assets in the Twin Cities are not in the hinterlands at all, but within the cities and Metro areas themselves. The lakes, the trails, etc.

    It's also worth noting that the very reasons places like Denver, Portland, and Seattle have such great assets is also directly tied to their wild-ness. Those places have mountains, they're in the west, and much of that land is and always has been under Federal control.

    The Midwest has a bunch of land that was arable and thus it was developed as farmland. Hence, you're not going to find that wilderness element right away. That's just the draw of geography.

    At the same time, I currently live in DC, but was born and raised in Minneapolis. I greatly enjoyed a recent trip back to the Cities because it involved a trip to visit family in Northern Wisconsin. Driving on county roads through dairy farms and other agricultural lands has its own, Midwestern appeal that you can't get anywhere else. There's something to be said for rural tourism and leveraging those cultural assets as well – because the simple fact is that the Midwest will never have the natural assets that you find out west – certainly not in the same quantity.

    Also, there are some great state and local parks in the Midwest. Growing up in Minneapolis, some ones within a short drive included Interstate Park near Taylor's Falls, Devil's Lake in Wisconsin, numerous regional parks in the Twin Cities, etc.

  10. Anonymous says:

    I love living in Chicago, but I weep when I see forests and nature on TV. Nature access was a major draw to living in Madison and Minneapolis (both cities have excellent parkspace in town, and access to great nature nearby). I even envy Milwaukee with it's hills and more natural lakefront.

  11. Boundary Waters Blog Lady says:

    Living on the edge of the Boundary Waters at the end of the Gunflint Trail I do indeed experience nature and the wilderness on a daily basis. However, when traveling it seems no matter what city I visit I can find a piece of wild somewhere. Sometimes it's more difficult to find than other times and some cities are doing a good job at highlighting their recreational opportunities. Hopefully more marketing for these areas will come, but then again, if it is marketed and more people come, then is it still going to be so attractive to people like me?

  12. Anonymous says:

    Minneapolis really is the only Midwest metropolis that has any cachet when it comes to true outdoorsyness. International Falls, along with the North Shore near Duluth provide the best skiing in the Midwest, along with ample forests and lakes. Illinois, Iowa, Indiana are mostly rolling farmlands.

  13. Anonymous says:

    If you include Louisville as "midwest" access to 'nature' is closer than what is cited for MSP. Int'l Falls is 250 miles from MSP.

    Less than 150 miles from Louisville:
    Lake Cumberland, Red River Gorge..less than 200 is Great Smokey Mountains etc.

    Also, there are the Great Lakes for Indiana, Illinois and Ohio

  14. David says:

    "The crowd that consistently gives Seattle and Portland high marks for quality of life should be very, very impressed with Indy and Louisville, it seems to me."

    – totally agree with your statement (particularly Louisville) as it lies nearer to more 'outdoorsie' than does Indy. The Ohio River between Louisville and Cinci has beautiful, lake-like vistas that are literally miutes from downtown; the 'deeper' woods etc are not much further and include: Bernheim Forest and nearby lakes; further out lake Cumberland (probably the biggest and prettiest lake in the East) Red River Gorge (for a true 'Deliverance' setting)etc

    The NW is beautiful with mountains and Ocean…but..the areas cited above are equally beautiful just somehow not a s'cool' to those who have never been.

  15. cdc guy says:

    If by "wilderness" one means "sparsely-settled, hilly/rugged, heavily forested area", then this post is right on. A several-hundred-square-mile area of Indiana just south of Indianapolis (bordered by I-65 and IN-37 E/W and IN252 and IN58 N/S) fits the bill. It's less than 50 miles from downtown Indy, and features a good-sized man-made lake, Monroe, and several smaller ones.

    So far, Indy's marketing has been largely aimed at the hotel-tourist trade show crowd: walkable downtown, mall, museums, etc. John points out that we fail to "countermarket" to the outdoors-oriented who naturally look West based on their perceived lifestyle choices.

  16. Josh says:

    Speaking as someone who was born and raised in Seattle and has since Relocated to the likes of Louisville, KY. I have to say that i am only now – after roughly 6 years – finally discovering the many great outdoors features this city has to offer in its vicinity. So yes, the marketing is horrible.

  17. David says:


    I agree the marketing is awful. I think some of that 'awfull-ness' is attributed to the perceived lack of 'coolness' when comparing the natural beauty within 200 miles of Louisville vs the natural beauty of the NW or West Coast. Face it…its pretty cool to see the mountains from Seattle or Portland…but…they are a good 60+miles to get to them. You can't see the 'forest for the hills' in this part of the country.

    Anyway, anyone in the Louisville area should get on a boat and head upriver toward 18 mile island and beyond. This time of year, the water is actually pretty clear and the scenery is as good as you would find at any lake. The water is safe to swim/ski contrary to general opinion. It is right here.

    Beyond the metro environs, the Bourbon Trail was recently rated a top 25 scenic route by Nat'l Geographic no less; then you have Bernheim and Jefferson forests closeby. Red River Gorge and Lake Cumberland are worth the 2 hour drives and Versailles Road in the Lexington/Midway area is picture perfect horse country that you will not find anywhere else.

  18. CARR says:

    Josh & David,
    You guys are right. Louisville doesn't do enough to advertise its "great outdoors". Which is sad because we are so close to so many natural attractions. You guys already mentioned Jefferson Memorial Forest (which is in Jefferson County and is the largest Urban forest in the country), we are about 100 or so miles from Daniel Boone Natural Forest, then there's Lake Cumberland, and so much more.

    I think the reason why these natural wonders get the pub like the Mountains in Denver and other places do is simple. Louisville's natural resources don't attract the Rich and well-to-do like the Mountains of Denver or Seattle. Louisville's (and most likely the rest of the midwest for that matter) is more of a common man's outdoors. Our outdoors is where people go to fish and hunt, or relax in one of our many pontoon boats.

    Actually if you go to Louisville's website you will see a great deal of stuff on the many outdoor activities that in or around Jefferson Co. Bottom line. Louisville still needs to do more to advertise it's natural assets.

  19. visitgalena says:

    Very glad to see your mentions of Galena and Jo Daviess County in northwest Illinois. For everyone unfamiliar with our destination, we are sure to amaze you. We are totally unlike anywhere else in Illinois and serve as a great place to escape from it all. From your friendly hosts for visitor information, the Galena/Jo Daviess County Convention & Visitors Bureau

  20. Alon Levy says:

    Granted, I've never been to Louisville… but any city that lies right on top of such a wide river ought to market "pretty waterfront" as one of its selling points. The Ohio is actually wider than the Mississippi is north of the confluence, making it wider than any other river in North America except the Lower Mississippi (which Memphis should be selling, if it isn't already).

  21. Marcotte's Family Motel says:

    I noticed your mention that Galena is golf and spas…yes there is that but if you explore the whole JoDaviess County area I'm sure you'll find that you missed some precious commondities that we have to offer. You can choose to stay at a fancy resort or B&B in Galena OR at a little Mom and Pop motel(like ours). We are not located in Galena but between the two small towns of Woodbine and Elizabeth. When you stay out here you have campfires availble and incredible night skies. During the day there is fishing in the nearby Rivers, including the Mississippi, tons of conservation lands that are open to the public, including lands with Indian mounds. Hanover Bluffs is an incredible piece of conservation land with a lake to fish. There are a couple of State Parks for your enjoyment. Hiking, biking, canoeing, kayaking, etc. I think you might have short-changed the area. Not too shabby for a 2-3 hour drive from Chicago. Yes, it's hard to get out of the City and not have to go too far to find nature or the AHHH factor…affordability & drive time is important for most people. If you look beyond the touristy stuff, you will find what you're looking for right here in JoDaviess County. I do appreciate the mention of the Galena/JoDaviess County area, it's well worth exploring.
    Thank you,
    Donna Marcotte

  22. Josh says:

    Yeah the Ohio River is a great natural wonder here in Louisville. Especially River Falls over on the Indiana Side of the River. I also quite enjoy drives to the northern part of the city up near Prospect and Anchorage. It is beautiful over off Rose Island Rd. and River Rd. Louisville does a great job with its park system like Iroquois Park, Cherokee Park, and Shawnee Park. However, with Mammoth Caves only about 2 hours south and several Lakes like Lake Cumberland, Taylorsville Lake, Nolin Lake in the area as well, there are many locations for Water Sports and Recreation, The Hunting and Fishing is good here, not as good as the Pacific Northwest, but good nonetheless. Hunting is great out in Eastern Kentucky especially. You can even Forage for Morel Mushrooms all throughout Kentucky, something that i am very interested in.

  23. David says:


    Yes the Ohio River is wide at Louisville (almost a mile across). It was an asset that was neglected for a very long time and only now is re-appreciated. Waterfront Park and similar developments on the Indiana side have made it once more a focal point.

    Waterfront (river) is a whole other animal than waterfront(lake) or waterfront (ocean). Rivers do cause minor flooding almost every year and major flooding every so often so the land that is on the river needs to be above the flood plain or sheltered by a flood wall.

    Downtown Louisville is mostly in the flood plain and is also mostly sheltered by flood walls/gates.

    Actual residential waterfront property that is above the flood plane has mostly been developed on both sides of the river and provides those owners with 'waterfront property'. Other residential property in the form of hi rises have been built and planned to be built on both sides of the river as well.

    Very few visitors get the chance to go up river beyond 12 mile island…but that is the best scenery you will find…and the only way to see it is on a private boat.

    One of the facts about the river that makes it harder to 'market' is that the water can be very muddy from Jan thru Jun (the result of rain/snow etc from upriver tributaries). When the 'dry season' hits: July thru Oct the water is a much more appealing greenish/blue that can be clear enough to see 8 feet down.

  24. Anonymous says:

    I think this article gets at a major, and perhaps unsurmountable weakness Great Lakes and Midwest cities face. I currently live near Toledo, and the lack of recreational opportunities is a real problem here. A friend visited last weekend, and I was hard pressed to find much to do outdoors. West of Toledo, but in the path of Toledo Express Airport is the Oak Openings Preserve, with excellent trails, oak savannas, and solitude when the cargo planes are taking off….but beyond that, I would have to drive north to I don't know where in Michigan, or at least three hours south to the heavily-used Hocking Hills. This was never a problem when I lived in Bloomington, which I think has been relatively successful in retaining young professionals because of its urban amenities and its proximity to the Hoosier National Forest, many state parks, and so on.

    The problem is, for most midwestern metros, you can't "build" more nature. The feds did it in the 1930s, creating many national forests and nature preserves. For now, that cannot be replicated. I worry that Great Lakes metros will forever be at a distinct disadvantage, even with better marketing. Thanks for an excellent post yet again.

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