Rock climbers, skydivers, adventure racers and more can all find good spots to do their thing around here, something that was not true in the not-so-distant past.
The emergence in popularity with the non-mainstream sports and activities has exploded across the country and around the world to the point that they actually are mainstream.
Plenty of rock climbers have made a home — and honed their skills — right around Rockford. Though several indoor rock climbing walls have disappeared in the area, there are a couple left. And there are some decent climbing spots in northern Illinois when it’s time to head outdoors.
“Most people don’t realize it, but with the Palisades and Devil’s Lake close by, there are real good climbs right here, climbs that will push you,” said Patti Burke, longtime hiker and climber from Rockford. “Whatever you want to climb, you can find it around here. It all depends on how intense you want it to be.”
The Mississippi Palisades State Park is well-known for its upper-level rock climbing, and just north of Savanna, it’s easily accessible and easy to find.
A little more than two hours north is Devil’s Lake State Park in Baraboo, Wis., another spot that caters to the experienced climbers looking for a challenge.
For beginners and intermediates, or others looking for an easy way to practice, there are plenty of walls to work in northern Illinois, and two right here. The YMCA of Rock River Valley has walls to climb as well as classes to take, and Peak Sports Club in Loves Park offers a 28-foot-high wall, but you have to be with a member.
Two years ago, the Chicagoland Skydiving Center moved its operations to the Rochelle airport. And this offseason they put in a new restaurant with a bar and improved the quality of the overall facility. Now they expect the adrenaline junkies to continue to flow in.
“This never gets old,” said pilot Mike “Woody” Wood, CSC’s chief operating officer and instructor. “And it’s really caught on around here.”
The 20,000-square-foot facility houses training rooms, a skydiving shop, a new bar and grill with a view of the flight deck and hangars for the planes. Not to mention a perfect student safety record.
And the breathtaking feeling of the actual jump is just part of the experience, and CSC has definitely provided the right amount of adventure and fun.
“It’s always been on my bucket list, and I always had a love for aircraft. But really I didn’t think I’d actually do it,” said Rochelle resident Wendy Horn, 51. “I was a little apprehensive going up. I don’t like roller coasters or thrill rides.
But this was more like floating, and I loved it.
“I went back again and am going again. You just have to step out of your comfort zone.”
This area has boasted an adventure race — known as Rock the Race — for over a decade, and this year it will be part of a series. Rock the Race joined forces with Amped Up Adventure Race Series and will be held at three locations on three dates. The series kicks off April 7 in Rockford; the second stop will be in May in Beloit; and the third will be in June in Aurora.
With over $5,000 in cash and prizes going out to the winners, this series gives local adventure-race lovers even more opportunity and more rewards.
“The Amped Up Adventure Race Series brings it all together. It still has the fun Rock the Race flare with exciting mystery events and things you won’t normally see,” said Brad Cripe, a race committee member. “But it’s also part of this well-known, and well-run adventure race series, which will only make it better.”
Like most other adventure races, the local stop will include things like off-road trekking, biking, boating or canoeing, orienteering, swimming and running, and consists of teams of three. Also, like most other adventure races, little can be learned about the elements and whereabouts of the challenge before the race packets are handed out on the morning of.
It is often difficult to find good trails to ride a four-wheel ATV or an off-road motorcycle, but right in Rockford there is an easy, and challenging, trail ride open to the public.
The Rocky Glen OHV Park right off of US 20 and South Main Street opens every spring when the weather breaks, and riders come from all around to enjoy the straightaways, whoops, jumps, berms and tricky sections throughout the 120-acre site.
There are two motocross-style tracks and a kids’ track available during the season, as well as training sections for all levels
What: The Chicagoland
Where: Rochelle Municipal Airport
When: In-season, weather-permitting
Indoor walls: YMCA of Rock River Valley, 200 Y Blvd.; and Peak Sports Club, 4401 Peak Drive in Loves Park
Outdoor spots: Mississippi Palisades near Savanna and Devil’s Lake State Park in Baraboo, Wis., are close and challenging spots to climb
What: Former Rock the Race, now Stop 1 of the Amped Up Adventure Race Series
When: April 7; Stop 2 is in May in Beloit and Stop 3 is in June in Aurora
Where: Start at ID Pennock Family YMCA on 200 Y Blvd.
What: The Rocky Glen
Where: 4012 S. Main St.
When: Opens in spring when weather breaks