In the 1930s, the city of Springfield got busy building a lake. From the time that John Kelly settled in the area in 1818 through the next 115 years or so, it had been a struggle to provide a safe and adequate water supply for the city's growing citizenry. So, the city built a lake, and in July of 1935, a three-day celebration was held to dedicate Lake Springfield, Spaulding Dam and the Vachel Lindsay Bridge.
Then the fun began, and today lake visitors can enjoy a range of activities from chilling to grilling and everything in between.
Lake clubs began to pop up almost before the lake was completed. Around 14 clubs are going strong today, and they play host to the types of events that go hand-in-hand with summer. The clubs' real big deal is the annual Rumble Around the Lake. The clubs take turns hosting this weekly party with good sounds by live bands and good food each Wednesday night from 6-9 p.m. The Springfield Motor Boat Club is hosting the next Rumble on July 5.
In between those fun nights, the clubs keep the party going throughout the summer with festivals, chicken fries and fundraisers. Coming up this month is the Prop Club's Mid-Summer Blast, the Lake Press Club's Summer Fest, Ski & Boat Club's Summer Bash and Sangamo Surf Club's Dawg Days. Check the Council of Springfield Lake Clubs' Facebook page for a schedule of events.
Around the same time that the lake was being built, plans were being made to create a garden to honor Abraham Lincoln. Designed by Jens Jensen, one of the nation's foremost landscape architects, Lincoln Memorial Garden and Nature Center offers a quiet place to explore nature and wander through the native oaks, maples and hickories, prairie grasses and forbs. On Saturday, July 29, join the Forest Therapy event and deepen your sense of connection or relationship with nature with a slow wander through nature. That's about as chill as you can get.
Springfield's outdoor amphitheater, The Muni, welcomed another four-production season this year. Outdoor theater is a wonderful way to spend a summer evening and you can still catch the three remaining productions.
Rock of Ages will be on The Muni's stage June 29-July 1. This Tony Award-nominated Broadway musical is set on the Sunset Strip in the 1980s and features the familiar hits of artists of that era such as Night Ranger, REO Speedwagon, Pat Benatar and Twisted Sister.
On July 14-17 and July 19-22 you can step into the enchanted world of Disney's Beauty and the Beast, an international sensation that has been produced in 37 countries and is based on the Academy Award-winning animated feature.
The Muni will close its season on Aug. 4-6 and Aug. 9-12 with some jammin' fun with School of Rock – The Musical, the award-winning smash hit by Andrew Lloyd Webber that is sure to be a family favorite. Visit themuni.org for ticket information.
Henson Robinson Zoo, next door to Center Park, opened in 1970 and has grown over the years. It houses animals from Australia, Africa, Asia and North and South America. Educational programs and activities are held throughout the season, as are plenty of events to entertain kids of all ages. Be sure to catch the Compass for Kids Safari on July 25 from 6-8 p.m. The evening will include free zoo train rides, door prizes and activities, and free treats for the first 300 people.
Getting close to the water is easy around the lake. Pack a picnic lunch and visit one of the six parks. All of the parks have shelters and picnic tables, and some have views of the lake and playgrounds.
Head down to Lake Springfield Marina and get your boat out onto the water. Spend the day tooling around to the bays or doing some fishing. You can also join in bass fishing tournaments that are held weekly through the summer at the Lindsay Bridge ramp. Contact the Illinois Department of Natural Resources for the schedule.
If you don't own a boat, the Lake Springfield Marina has you covered. It offers every type of watercraft rental imaginable, from the famous party barge to stand-up paddleboats.
On June 30, the marina will again host Rock the Dock, the annual Fourth of July celebration, with food vendors and cold drinks. Gracia Harrison will be bringing live music to El Taco Guapo's beautiful setting by the lake. Remember that you can enjoy live music at El Taco Guapo every Friday night and Sunday afternoon through the season.
Building Lake Springfield brought a lot more to the city than a safe water supply. It brought outdoor theater, festivals with live music and great food, access to the natural world, kids' activities and places for families and friends to gather. Make the most of the beautiful warm weather and make Lake Springfield a summer destination.