The days are longer and it is somehow easier to wake up in the morning. The birds are chirping as the sunlight peaks through the blinds and greets the cheek with a warm kiss. It is time to turn the heat off, open the windows and let in the crisp, fresh air that has been shut and locked away for another long and dreadful Midwest winter. Color and life slowly begin to paint themselves across the campus.

The video-gamer comes out from his cave, the living room couch is moved to the front lawn, everyone is wearing a jersey and the Pub II line is worse than one at a Disney ride. Sweet springtime.

Sitting in class or work feels like pulling teeth because looking out the window at the beaming sun and passersby on bikes is enough to make anyone feel like a kid again. Yet, walking to class becomes somewhat of a joy, motivation is fueled by warm weather and longing for summer, moods seem to increase as the seasonal depression washes away with the April showers that are surely on their way.

Not many people find beauty in the plains and cornfields of Illinois, but Bloomington-Normal has a variety of hidden gems ready to be explored. Whether one is looking for a chill spot to work on homework, a new trail to hike or bike, a new activity to try out or just simply to be one with nature, here are some options to fully take advantage of as the new season brings life back to campus.

Constitution Trail

The Constitution Trail is a 45-plus mile, hard-surfaced trail that runs through the Twin Cities. It can be used for biking, walking, running or hiking. Whether for recreational use or use of transportation to get from one side of town to the next, this trail is full of diverse nature with restroom areas, benches, trash cans and picnic tables along the way to maintain the beauty and also cater to users of the trail. Junior mass media major Nate Doro looks forward to running on the trail as the weather begins to warm up.

“It’s a great way to exercise and clear your head at the same time. You can technically run year-round, but it’s the best at around 45-60 degrees,” Doro said. “I live super close to Constitution Trail which splits off in multiple directions, giving me multiples routes I can use.”

Reggie Ride

If running or walking is not your thing, there is an easy way to rent a bike and see what Constitution Trail and the town has to offer from a different perspective. Campus Recreation and the Student Sustainability Committee have partnered to provide students with an opportunity to rent bikes on campus for free. Students are able to check bikes out from the Student Fitness Center with a valid Illinois State ID. All of the bikes come equipped with a bike lock and solar-powered bike light. Bikers are expected to follow all state and local bike laws.

Once checked out, students are able to ride the bikes wherever they like, Constitution Trail being one of the most popular trails. All bikes must be returned on the same day before the end of the Fitness Center’s business hours. Rental is on a first-come, first-serve basis. Member service associate Alexandra Burns says that she has noticed Reggie Ride being used now more than ever and only expects things to get more busy as the weather continues to heat up.

The Quad

Students walk through the Quad to get around campus on a daily basis, but some may not stop to truly appreciate the beauty and uniqueness that did not come without work. It was originally just simple prairie landscape, but according to the university’s records, in 1867, Jesse Fell obtained $3,000 from the state legislature for campus landscaping, transforming the Quad into the arboretum that it is today.

Fell planted nearly 1,900 trees in two years, making Illinois State the first university to achieve Tree Campus USA status in 1998. It is the perfect spot to work on homework between classes, play frisbee, soccer or whatever sport one chooses, meet up with friends between classes, hammock among the trees or simply appreciate the new life that is beginning to bloom.

Redbird Adventure Center

The Redbird Adventure Center offers a number of different ways to get outside and get active. It offers team-building opportunities, trips, activities and equipment rental. The Adventure Center is considered the base of the program’s operations. The new facility includes a 5,500-square-foot building and High Ropes Course.

The course can be used for team-building experiences, which provide groups and individuals with a non-threatening way to take risks, experience success and failure and time for reflection to help with personal growth through facing fears, practicing communication and decision making. The facility is the main area to rent equipment including kayaks, canoes, tents, paddle boards and hammocks, just to name a few.

Students can plan trips of their own or tag along with the facility’s trips that include Sunset Paddling on Lake Evergreen, Standup Paddleboard Trip on Dawson Lake, Evening Hike and Restorative Yoga at Comlara Park.

Maxwell Park

Maxwell Park is located on Normal’s west side near the Redbird Adventure Center. It offers a variety of different amenities including a dog park for dogs large and small, a scenic hiking and biking trail, tennis courts, basketball courts, softball and baseball facilities, a disc golf course, playground, picnic areas and a horse shoe pit.

The disc golf course is 12 years old with 18 holes and open space among the trees, making it what Assistant Director of Parks and Recreation James Wayne considers a “novice level course,” allowing the inexperienced to give this popular sport a try.

There are local groups including the Bloomington-Normal Disc Golf Association that have competitions and events throughout the year, bringing people in from all over central Illinois. Wayne explained that it is an inexpensive sport. Disks are cheap and with more experience, players can build their set to add putters or drivers similar to a traditional golf set. The sport itself reflects traditional golf as players tee off from a tee pad, but use a disk to aim for a basket rather than a hole in traditional golf.

“It’s a great way to get out there, get active and try a new sport. If you do get involved with our local organizations, they’re really great about working with new or inexperienced disc golfers just in terms of getting that exposure and that experience and hopefully expressing an interest in something long term,” Wayne said. “With the weather warming we have a lot of great opportunities to get out and get involved.”

Wayne encourages students and the community to get out and enjoy one of the 19 parks that Normal has to offer.

Comlara Park

Although it is a bit of a drive, Comlara Park is worth the 15-minute trip to Hudson. This large recreation spot offers a number of options for all types of people. The park itself surrounds the perimeter of Evergreen Lake, providing a variety of different activities.

There are numerous spots along the lake to explore through hiking or biking. Boat rentals, fishing and hunting options are also available. They also have camping sites available through registration. There is an abundance of picnicking spots and each location gives the visitor a completely different perspective of the lake. If it were not for the giant windmills in the background, one would never guess that they were in central Illinois. Whether going to Comlara to catch a beautiful sunset, explore a new trail or to enjoy a peaceful afternoon, this park has plenty of options to escape reality.

GRACE BARBIC is the Features Editor for The Vidette. She can be contacted at Follow her on Twitter at @gracebarbic

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