Top of the Morning: From the archives
MAHOMET — Like most things, change has come over the years to Lake of the Woods.
Just ask Tom Pike. He started working for the Champaign County Forest Preserve District in 1980, mowing the grass and picking up trash, eventually becoming site superintendent for Lake of the Woods. After suffering a stroke in 2002, the 58-year-old lifelong Mahomet resident now is a special projects assistant for the district.
He has seen changes, for sure, at the park, the jewel of the forest preserve district. If the swimming beach and the water slide are gone, so are the forest preserve police — and the entrance fees.
Bacteria took the beach and insurance costs took the water slide. The forest preserve board took care of the latter two.
"We had a gatehouse at every entrance and they would charge people to get in and use the park," he recalls. "I really didn't like that, and most of the public didn't like that. That didn't last too long."
Other changes have been welcomed with open arms.
The 3.3-mile path through the park "is really used on a daily basis by walkers and bikers," he said. And now a path owned by the village of Mahomet joins up with a forest preserve path at the recently reopened Lake of the Woods Road overpass over Interstate 74.
The Museum of the Grand Prairie has a recent addition. "For kids, the education department is just super."
If you're new to the area — and this time of year, that's a lot of people — there's a golf course with a good layout and mature trees; the HI Tower (named for H.I. Gelvin, the primary mover behind the entire park); botanical gardens that are in line for a major renovation; buildings you can rent for wedding receptions, meetings and the like. ("It's not like the iHotel or the Hilton, but they are really nice," Pike says.)
With help from the Mahomet Rotary Club, there's a small open-air shelter as part of the Buffalo Trace prairie, on the west side of Illinois 47, across from the museum and botanical gardens.
And you can still get out on the lake, in a paddle-boat or canoe or kayak.
But you'll have to hurry. Those rental boats run Saturdays and Sundays, through Labor Day weekend.
Pike, by the way, got into the news 24 years ago for getting lucky.
In July 1994, a toddler tossed his own eyeglasses over the side of a paddle boat and into the water.
Pike, who was also a diver, and a friend spent almost an hour in the water, trying to find the glasses.
One problem: "When you're in this lake ... you can't even see your hand in front of your face," he recalled.
OK, two problems: The lake bottom was "silt one to two feet deep."
Fine, three problems: "And they were really small glasses."
The divers were running out of air, Pike told The News-Gazette back then, and they decided to make one more pass.
"I swept my hand across the bottom, and there they were," he said at the time. "I was kind of amazed to find them."
Twenty years later, he remembers the whole thing.
"I was really, really lucky."