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A Day Out in Boone County

There’s always something to do in Boone County. Looking to plan your next day trip? Check out this small sample of fun things to see and do.

Poplar Grove Airport and Wings & Wheels Museum

Pilots from all over the world stop at a small airport in Boone County for the chance to step back in time and enjoy grass roots aviation. Visitors come from more than half the states in the country, and from Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Germany, Italy, Norway and the United Kingdom.

The Poplar Grove Airport is a privately owned, public use airport that was started in 1972 by Dick Thomas, a retired dairy farmer. When Dick died in 1994, his son and daughter-in-law, Steve and Tina, bought the airport, which was home to 40 airplanes, flight school, and a maintenance shop.

“Boone was the only county in the state that did not have an open to the public airport,” Steve Thomas says, “so it made sense for him to create one. Recognizing that we could never be a meaningful commercial-corporate airport with Rockford only 14 nautical miles away and no state or federal funding, we chose to develop our airport as a lifestyle airport – friendly, fun, cool airplanes, and the people and pilots who love them.”

This led to the development of Bel-Air Estates Fly-in community in 1997. Four years later, the lots were sold out. There are 100 lots with airport taxiway access, 40 without access, and 39 townhouses. There are 400 airplanes based at the airport.

In 1997, an interest in vintage aviation led to the creation of the Poplar Grove Aviation Education Association and the Poplar Grove Vintage Wings & Wheels Museum. The PGAEA is a nonprofit organization developed to preserve early transportation artifacts and promote education in the transportation fields. It is funded through memberships, corporate sponsorships and donations.

The Pre-WWII Museum focuses on the aviation and automobile industries as they grew together in the early 20th century. Exhibits feature vintage airplanes and automobiles. The floor layout changes up to three times a year to accommodate seasonal exhibits and to keep the layout fresh.

A popular item in the Museum is the 1930 Ford Model A Mail truck, which was donated by Gordie and Nada Geddes of Poplar Grove. In 2013, Jack and Peggy Wolf of Belvidere donated the funds to acquire a bronze statue of early aviation pioneer Elrey B. Jeppesen. The Museum has several other vehicles in the collection, either owned by the Museum or on temporary loan.

The Museum is open Monday through Friday (May through October), and holds a number of fundraising events year round including a Mid-Summer Wheels Festival in July with cars, airplanes, tractors, live music and kids’ activities. There is a Holiday Wine Tasting Event in November and Santa at the Museum in December. The airport hosts a fly-in/drive-in pancake breakfast sponsored by the Poplar Grove Lions club which is the Lions’ biggest fundraiser every year.

By Judi Zangs

McEachran Homestead Winery
As the only winery in Boone County, McEachran Homestead offers a unique wine tasting experience for visitors and local residents alike.

The McEachran Homestead was settled in 1857 by John McEachran, the great-great-grandfather of Herb Greenlee, the current owner. McEachran immigrated to northern Illinois from Scotland and settled in what was known then as the Argyle Scottish Settlement. The McEachran Homestead is officially recognized by the State of Illinois as a Sesquicentennial Farm.

“We planted 500 vines in 2006 to serve us in our farmer’s market for jams and jellies,” says Herb. “They flourished to such an extent that we had to figure out what to do with all the excess grapes. We hired Sue Sohner, our vintner, to create wines under the philosophy of honoring the natural beauty and bounty of the property and the grapes themselves. She became so successful at producing our delicious wines that we simply could not drink them fast enough. Moreover, we felt that it would be a shame not to welcome the public to enjoy the property and wines with us.”

Since the winery opened, the vineyard has doubled to 1,000 vines, which includes 19 different varieties of grapes, over two acres of property. The original farm of 160 acres has been expanded to 285 acres with corn and soybeans as the main crops. Eleven acres are dedicated to 19 varieties of grapes, raspberries, and fruit trees, all of which are meticulously tended, then handcrafted into cold-climate grape and fruit wines. The winery is open year round.

Tours are available for guests to learn about the different types of wine varieties and how viticulture and production aspects influence the flavor of McEachran Homestead’s wines. Tours also offer insight into the pruning, tending, and nurturing of the vineyards and surrounding gardens. Groups can sample a variety of cold-climate grape and seasonal fruit wines made on-site.

The Keen Age Center
The Boone County Council on Aging (BCCA) provides a variety of programs to older adults and their caregivers that help enrich and improve their quality of life. Programs include public transportation, medical car escort, nutrition programs, outreach, in-home care, computer lab, information and assistance, education, recreation, and volunteer opportunities. BCCA’s headquarters is the Keen Age Center, 2141 Henry Luckow Lane, which serves as headquarters for the professional staff and volunteers for all services provided by the organization, as well as a recreational and meeting site for older adults and caregivers.

Edward’s Apple Orchard
For the past 50 years, thousands of guests from across northern Illinois flock to Edward’s Apple Orchard to enjoy a taste of autumn. Visitors can pick apples, pumpkins and raspberries; visit the Apple Barn to shop for a number of fall treats, or enjoy lunch at the Cider Mill. And don’t forget to take home a dozen of tasty cider donuts. The Apple Orchard is open from late August through Thanksgiving.

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