Lots of nos in this week's mailbag: no place locally to choose and cut your Christmas tree, no IHSA basketball tournament at the State Farm Center this spring, no Hy-Vee plans to come to Champaign, no street sign at Vine and Florida in Urbana and no requirement that Champaign's restaurant huts have a building permit.
Also, a very cool story about the little notch in the generally straight borderline between Vermilion and Edgar counties, big plans for the Buffalo Trace Prairie near Mahomet, recycling strings of Christmas lights and the true story of the enema bandit.
Farming live Christmas trees
"My husband and I didn't find a live Christmas tree to cut down this year. We used to go to the Christmas tree farm (southeast of) Urbana. I knew that it had been sold but was wondering if the current owners are planning to turn it back into a Christmas tree farm."
Yes, but not for a while, said August Borchers of what is now known as the Pheasant Ridge Farms of Urbana.
"Our farm was started by David Shoemaker and his family (Ridge Road Christmas Tree Farm) and then it was Moore Tree Farm and now it is our family's farm. Pheasant Ridge Farms," Borchers said. "We plan on opening back up in the future for choose and cut and limited pre-cut trees.
"Currently we are letting the trees continue to grow. It takes about 6 to 12 years to grow a desirable Christmas tree. I do not know of any other local choose-and-cut farms that are still in operation."
Borchers, who said operating a Christmas tree farm is "a ton of work all year long," said he doesn't know if the business will reopen for Christmas 2021.
"We will have to see how next summer goes," he said. "We love seeing all of the families coming out and enjoying themselves. We have really missed it these last couple of years."
Hy-Vee on Champagn's radar?
"Is it true that a Hy-Vee grocery store is coming to Champaign?"
"No, while I’ve heard that rumor we have had no contact with any representative of Hy-Vee," said Bruce Knight, Champaign's planning and development director.
And Hy-Vee spokeswoman Dawn Buzynski said the company has no projects upcoming in the Champaign-Urbana area.
Building permits for restaurant huts?
"Do you know if the cities of Champaign and Urbana are issuing building permits for all the temporary eating in structures? Is the Department Construction code division inspecting for fire safety, sprinklers, electrical, and plumbing codes? Are they issuing occupancy permits or even requiring permits? They are actually building on city property or in violation of building setback requirements. I read that one has ductwork for heating, which to me is a building addition."
Champaign does not require permits for the temporary structures, said Bruce Knight, the city's director of planning and economic development, because they are under 120 square feet.
"Emergency Order 20-18 as amended on November 10, 2020 and again on December 18, 2020 provides 'temporary fixtures may be affixed to City-owned right-of-way in Expanded Outdoor Café Premises … in plaza areas.' The plaza areas are specifically defined in the order. Temporary fixtures must be granted a temporary occupancy permit from Public Works and Building Safety Division prior to affixing them and after approval of the seating plan by C-U Public Health District.
"The City can require their removal at any time, and proof of insurance is required in the amount of at least $1,000,000. The Fire Department reviews applications and issues permits for tents that have an area of more than 700 square feet. After the tent is erected, they visit the site to confirm the layout matches the application.
"The Building Safety Division also reviews temporary structures that cover an area greater than 120 square feet. Those that are in the City-owned right-of-way are also reviewed by Public Works and the Fire Marshal. The use of the individual dining domes and greenhouses fall under that size and are not reviewed by Building Safety or the Fire Marshal, however their plans still must be approved by C-U Public Health District and the plan becomes part of their Sidewalk Café permit issued by the Planning and Development Department."
The enema bandit
"During one of our recent Zoom cocktail hours, the subject of the Champaign Enema Bandit came up. Some of us in the group had never heard this bizarre story. We were told there is even a song about the bandit. Is this ridiculousness true or folklore?"
It's all true.
Frank Zappa released the song, "The Illinois Enema Bandit," in 1977 on his album "Zappa in New York." You can Google the lyrics; you're not going to read them here.
The most interesting things to me about the album cut are that there's narration by Don Pardo, the longtime announcer on "Saturday Night Live," and that the great saxophonist Lou Marini, who was among the band members in the movie "The Blues Brothers" and who still tours with James Taylor (I saw him in 2018) was in Zappa's group.
The "enema bandit" was a suburban Chicago man named Michael Kenyon who came to Champaign-Urbana several times in the late 1960s and early 1970s and, wearing a ski mask or some kind of face covering, would break into the home of a young woman, would tie up his victim, administer an enema and steal something from the home. Kenyon was captured in 1975 and was sentenced to six concurrent terms of six to 12 years in prison for armed robbery. He was paroled after serving six years.
"Can the blue plastic bags the Champaign Public Library uses for curbside pickup be recycled, either in standard residential recycling or at grocery store bag collections?"
"The bags can be recycled and, as far as we know, both through standard residential recycling and grocery bag recycling," said Library Director Donna Pittman.
Missing street sign
"Unless I am missing it I do not see a street sign at the corner of Vine and Florida in Urbana. Am I missing it or is it not there, and if not will they be replacing it?"
"Please thank your reader for bringing this to our attention," said Urbana City Administrator Carol Mitten. " We're not sure why or how the sign went missing, but we intend to replace it soon now that we know the sign is gone."
"As a city bus driver I totally agree with the article about delivery drivers parking on Green Street for 20-30 minutes, even longer for hours sometimes, and even turning their vehicles off so they have no lights on either. It is so dangerous. There have been times MTD can’t get through so we have to sit and wait. I agree they never ticket anyone. I called once to the U of I Police and they say it’s Champaign Police jurisdiction. Someone needs to step up and take control of this problem. It is out of hand."
Buffalo Trace changes
"We are curious about the rustic bridges being built at Buffalo Trace Prairie, part of the Lake of the Woods Forest Preserve. They have also recently done a controlled burn in the area. What is the forest preserve district planning for that area?"
"Since the 265-acre site became part of Lake of the Woods Forest Preserve in 1976, forest preserve staff have been working to restore the land to match its pre-settlement conditions as closely as possible," said Mary Ellen Wuellner, executive director of the forest preserve district.
"Historic documents from 1822 show that the south portion of Buffalo Trace contained a mix of hardwood timber — primarily oak and hickory. North of the forested acreage the land transitioned from savanna to prairie.
"A recent grant from the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation will help with restoration work planned for 2021, which will include the ongoing removal of invasive tree and brush species and the purchase and planting of native seed.
"The bridges were built by volunteers with non-native timber that was removed during this year's restoration work."
Mac and cheese capital of the USA
"My question is about Kraft and Mac and Cheese. I’ve heard most of it is made in Champaign. Cool if true."
True, said Kraft Heinz spokeswoman Lynne Galia.
"Our Champaign plant makes a little over half of the country’s Kraft Mac and Cheese," she said. "The rest is made in our Springfield, Mo. facility."
Irregular Vermilion County border
"Southeast of Ridge Farm, for the lack of a better term, there's a 'boot heel' shape drawn in the county line that separates Vermilion and Edgar counties. (It looks much like the 'boot heel' of Missouri.) Is there a known reason why that is there? There doesn't appear to be any sort of geographical oddity that explains it. Possibly a powerful and influential landowner, back when the county lines were being drawn?"
This is a great question with an even greater answer. Thanks to the staffs at the Champaign County Historical Archives at the Urbana Free Library and at the Danville Public Library for their help with the research.
It goes back more than 200 years, involves future President of the United States William Henry Harrison and is explained in the 1911 "History of Vermilion County" by Lottie Jones.
"Any map of Vermilion County shows an odd extension of irregular shape on the south side, very near the eastern border. This extension looks as though a wedge-shaped piece of land had been attempted to have been driven into the county, and did not get entirely in," Jones wrote. "Following the lines marking the east and west boundaries of this edge, they are found to meet at a little east of Ridge Farm. The area included in this boundary is that part of the Harrison Purchase which falls within Vermilion County.
"When William Henry Harrison, who was at that time the Superintendent of Indian Affairs of the Indiana Territory, had arranged the purchase of the land he so much desired for the United States and had conclude the treaty with the Delawares, the Kickapoos, the Pottowatomies, the Miamis and the Eel River Indians of Fort Wayne, September 30, 1809, he came back to locate the new possession.
"He and the selected Indians met at a certain rock in a grove a little to the east of what is now Ridge Farm. Knowing nothing of the use of the compass, the Indians stipulated that the line bounding the east of the tract should run in the direction of the sun at ten o'clock in the morning and that the western boundary should run in the direction of the sun at one o'clock in the afternoon.
"The agreement was that such territory as fell within the boundary of the extent of a man's riding in two days and a half would be included in this purchase. All the requirements were met and, it is said, that on the return trip the grove from which the riders started was their pilot back. It was the only grove of trees in that part of the country and it safely piloted them back and was for that reason called Pilot Grove.
"The west line of this tract of land extends south and west, passing through Marshall, the east line crosses the Wabash at the mouth of Raccoon Creek, below Newport, Indiana, and continues north and east of Terre Haute. he eastern line of this boundary has always been called the "ten o'clock line" and the western boundary the "one o'clock line" by old settlers and early surveyors. Near the north side of the Harrison Purchase lay a very fertile section which early attracted settlement and was known as the North Arm Prairie. This was a source of the early settlement of Vermilion County. On account of the difference in the survey of the Harrison Purchase and the later U.S. survey of three quarters of a mile, the boundary lines of Vermilion and Edgar counties on he south, and Edgar and Clark counties on the north, have always been irregular."
Next stop: Mira
"When did the last train roll through Mira?"
According to the late Stanley Changnon's 2007 book, "The History of Railroads in Champaign County," the old Wabash Railroad short line between Sidney and Champaign-Urbana, which passed by the Mira grain elevator, was closed by the Norfolk Southern Railroad in 1990. The Mira elevator had been razed in 1986.
Christmas lights recycling
"Do you know if anyone in the area takes defunct Christmas lights for recycling?"
The Habitat for Humanity Restore on University Avenue in Champaign accepts working Christmas lights.
You can recycle non-operating lights at Mack's Twin City Recycling, 2802 N. Lincoln Ave., Urbana; Mervis Recycling, 2008 Cunningham Ave., Urbana; or the Champaign Lowe's Store, 1904 N. Prospect Ave.
IHSA state tournament
"On the video board outside the State Farm Center, there's an ad for the IHSA basketball finals taking place at the U of I March 11-13. Does this mean there is hope that it still could take place this year?"
"While we would love to host the IHSA State Boys Basketball Tournament in March 2021, the understanding is that any winter sports played would follow a similar path to fall sports and not include a state series," said Jayne DeLuce, president & CEO of Visit Champaign County, which helped lure the tournament back to Champaign-Urbana. "Therefore, we don't plan to host IHSA State Football, IHSA State Wrestling, and IHSA State Boys Basketball this 2020-21 academic year. We look forward to hosting those tournaments in the future."
"What happened to the Stevick statue that was in front of the former News-Gazette building in downtown Champaign?"
The city of Champaign is holding in storage the statue of young David W. Stevick — later the publisher of The News-Gazette — hawking newspapers. The statue will be uncovered again later this year when The News-Gazette moves it to a permanent location, said VP/News Jim Rossow.