Small-Town Tourism

Thomas O'Neill III, Peoria County Board

The Peoria-area region has countless events, festivals and places that make us a tourism destination. For example, the County hosts the Arts in Education Spring Celebration each year on the courthouse grounds, which brings several thousand students and their families to downtown Peoria to celebrate the visual and performing arts in our schools. It seems that all too often, though, when we talk about tourism, our immediate attention is drawn to the highly visible events and places that have an outwardly noticeable impact on our community, like March Madness, Steamboat Days, Erin Feis, Oktoberfest and all the various ethnic festivals, Blues Fest, the fireworks on July 4th, or the Heart of Illinois Fair.

There is no doubt that these marquee events are critical pieces of our tourism economy. However, what many of us frequently overlook are the great many events and festivals in our smaller towns outside of Peoria. These are events of which we can be proud and enjoy throughout the year.

One such event occurs on the first Saturday in June—and has for the last 23 years. The Elmwood Strawberry Festival celebrates not only strawberries, but the history and heritage of the City of Elmwood. This year's festival will be more special than in years past, because it will mark the first anniversary of the EF-2 tornado, with its 130-mile-per-hour winds, that ripped through Elmwood and many other central Illinois communities.

While we are all thankful that there were no fatalities or serious injuries, the downtown business district was decimated. Since last June, the community, with the assistance from a broad spectrum of supporters, including Peoria County, has worked hard to restore Elmwood and its central business district. Visitors to this year's Strawberry Festival will be able to see firsthand the results of all the hard work accomplished in the last year—as well as all of the work still needed.

Elmwood is the birthplace of the famous American sculptor Lorado Taft (1860-1936), and a tribute to Taft is the theme of this year's Strawberry Festival. Taft created many sculptures in the late 1800s and early 1900s that can be found across the country. From this tribute, organizers expect to see an increase in tourism and hope that it will eventually lead to the creation of an artists' community in Elmwood.

While I've only touched on what Elmwood has to offer, there's a lot to do across all of Peoria County. So, throughout the rest of the year, I encourage you to take a drive to any of our many small towns and experience with your family the likes of Elmwood's Strawberry Festival, Elmwood's Fall Festival, Claud-Elen Days in Chillicothe, Princeville's Heritage Days, Duryea Days or the Mayor's Music Festival in Peoria Heights, the 4th of July Parade in West Peoria, Heritage Days in Hanna City, or Old Settlers Days in Brimfield. iBi

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