Trail of History Finale
The vision to save the kames and protect the core of Glacial Park was a success thanks to the awareness created by the Trail of History.
Twenty-five years ago, the future of McHenry County Conservation District’s (MCCD) Glacial Park in Ringwood was threatened by plans for a highway to be constructed through its core. Kames Rendezvous was born out of an idea to raise awareness to save the property and bring as many visitors as possible face to face with the beauty and scope of Glacial Park – a truly special and unique place.
The hope was that attendees might grow to love and protect it, while gaining an understanding of their cultural history. In 1989, on the third weekend in October, just as the prairie grasses and trees were brilliantly displaying their vibrant colors, 350 people hiked over the glacial kames to witness the living history interpretive event that began with a small, 13-tent encampment.
The original founders, Ed Collins, Chuck Williams and Joel Kaplan, were three dedicated men with big dreams. These visionaries came up with the idea for the living history event and took the steps necessary to put the plan in action. Had it not been for the founders, perhaps the Trail of History would never have come into being; perhaps a highway would carry people quickly past this area, never allowing them to see the magic of Glacial Park and its 3,380 acres of open space that are now protected within the boundaries of the Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge.
History Comes to Life
The Kames Rendezvous was renamed in 1989 to the Trail of History to reflect the increased focus toward living history interpretation. The event attracted highly skilled interpreters to portray and demonstrate life as it was from 1670-1850 in the former Northwest Territory, which encompassed present day Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and portions of eastern Minnesota.
“The event’s focus has always been to show the interrelationship between nature, man and cultural development,” said Kim Compton, Trail of History booshway who coordinates the re-enactors. “As urban development and technology threaten to keep us indoors and plugged in, it is helpful to be reminded of our ancestors and their dependence upon the land. Having a living history event at Glacial Park has done just that while showing us that we too need the natural resources, the open spaces, and a connection to the land.”
“For more than 25 years, on the mile-long walk into the Trail of History, visitors have re-enacted their own personal journey into the world of the men, women and children who settled the wilderness of the Old Northwest Territory,” added Collins, director of MCCDs’s Land Preservation and Natural Resources Division. “They have learned firsthand from some of the best historical interpreters in the country that in this wilderness, the land reinvented what it meant to be an American, generation after generation.”
A Growing Tradition
Through the years, features like food and beverage sales, souvenirs, musical entertainment and jugglers were added. The Trail of History grew to more than 90 encampments, 200 re-enactors, 140 volunteers and 150 tents scattered across the valley floor that attracted upward of 10,000 people.
“It’s been a great opportunity to bring our heritage to life in a way that helps people understand the important connections between people and the land on which they depend,” said Deb Chapman, event coordinator and education services manager. “We’ve also been able to introduce thousands of residents to the unique beauty of Glacial Park and to help them appreciate the special places being preserved by their conservation district.”
But time ticks on, and with its passing, change is inevitable. MCCD’s board of trustees announced its decision to host the 25th Trail of History event as the final one. Operational capacity, economic conditions, restoration of the site and monetary costs were all factors that contributed to making the difficult decision.
“We have enjoyed hosting the event and bringing people out to Glacial Park, but we have reached the point where it’s time to close the chapter on this aspect of the district’s many offerings,” executive director Elizabeth Kessler said. “We hope that by hosting the Trail of History with notification that it is the final year, anyone who ever thought about or wanted to come out and experience the event as a member of the public, or as a valued volunteer, will have the opportunity to do so.”
During the finale, visitors were greeted by re-enactors and vendors selling authentic wares and culinary treats. They learned their lessons in the frontier school house, crafted a corn husk doll or beeswax candle, walked on stilts and played pioneer games, witnessed a re-enactment of military tactics during the French and Indian War, were awed by Dr. Balthazar’s traveling medicine show and marveled at the Amazing Budabi Brothers juggling duo.