Thank you so much for taking time out of your busy life to check out these images! To capture these photos, I have put in hours of research, pre-production, field work, and post-production. Each image was carefully taken to try and capture the story and beauty of this park.
Illinois Beach State Park Collection
This is a place to tell you a bit of my personal story that lives behind these images. Many of the thoughts were recorded the day of the shoot with a field journal.
Being an adventure photographer has many experiences attached with it; however this particular trip was pretty incredible and I can't help but reflect on the day's events, both personal and much larger.
It started with getting up at 6am which has not happened much during Quarantine. Before going to the park we drove to Sheboygan to look at a truck camper. On the way there, we stopped at a Walmart for a break. It was here that we were FINALLY able to get some Clorox Wipes... 3 hrs from home.
After stopping to get one of my personal favorites, Culver's, we were on our way to the park. The previous night we made a family decision to bring our 2 year old dog with us. Although she is cute, she gets rather excited on car rides. Naturally, this made for a very interesting day. But overall, she was great.
For days I had been waiting to get out of the house and into nature. Everything began to align perfectly. It was an absolutely beautiful Saturday - high of 68, partly cloudy, a nice breeze off the lake, and the most brilliant blue sky and water. I began taking pictures immediately starting in the North Unit. It was here that I ventured through a slightly flooded trail. Little did I know that a snake would slither practically right across my boots!
After snapping many more images, we moved to the South Unit. It was here where I took my favorite photo from the trip. Again, it appeared like everything aligned perfectly. If you looked behind me, it seemed like a regular summer day with dozens of people on the beach; however, ahead of my lens, not a soul stood. This gave me the perfect opportunity to capture a wonderful long exposure MID-DAY, which almost never happens. After working on the beach, we moved to the Nature Preserve. There was practically no one here and it was incredibly peaceful and calm. I saw the opportunity to take a panorama and I took it. It only required 12 attempts...
On our way home I became aware of the situation in Chicago and across the nation. The protests which started in Minneapolis had made their way close to home. My heart hurt for everyone, but it made me realize something - no matter how crazy the world may seem, nature is always an escape. The beauty, the serenity, it all brings people together, not tear them apart. The images that I captured from this park tell the stories of generations of people and the memories of thousands of families. They are just a moment of time when everything seemed OK.
A Park’s Journey: The Story of Illinois Beach State Park
Along the rocky shores of Lake Michigan, just a few miles from the hustle and bustle of Chicago, Illinois Beach State Park stands as a serene getaway from everyday life. The 4,160-acre park provides many opportunities for nature lovers and families to enjoy the great outdoors. Whether it’s casting a line at Sand Pond, venturing the trails of the nature preserves, or catching some sun on the beautiful beach, Illinois Beach State Park is sure to make you forget about the chaos of everyday life for just a few moments.
Long before day-trippers arrived at the park, the land was originally inhabited by the Miami people. However, in the 1700s the “Three Fires Tribe” of the Algonquin Nation became the leaders of the land. This particular tribe had expansive reach from the eastern banks of Michigan, all the way to modern-day Chicago. Then, in 1836, a treaty was signed pushing the people of the “Three Fires Tribe” into the now Lake County area. Finally, after industrialization began to take hold and new laws put in place, the indigenous peoples of the area headed further west.
While trekking throughout the Northern Unit of the former “Three Fires” land, one will actually be walking the grounds of a former Union Prisoner of War camp. Camp Logan was originally established during the Civil War to house POWs and provide basic training for soldiers. Then, several decades later, the camp was used as a basic training facility during World War 1 and 2. From the years 1892-1970s, Camp Logan served as a state-of-the-art National Guard training facility. In fact, the modern-day model for shooting ranges was created at this very location, thus, during the late 19th and early 20th century, prompting Camp Logan to be a premiere military facility. After years of service, in the 1970s, the camp was shut down and became a part of Illinois Beach State Park. With a careful eye, the old railroad tracks that moved munitions to and from the camp can still be seen.
Camp Logan may have helped fight physical wars, but the park’s conservation efforts were a whole other battle. Although the park was officially established in 1950, there were many conservation efforts from as early as 1888, both from a legislative side, and civilian. A prime example of this was the creation of Illinois’s first nature preserve in 1964, what is now known as the Southern Unit Nature Preserve. The “Openlands Lakeshore Preserve” has also been a major player in this fight, spending the past 50 years protecting the shoreline along Illinois Beach State Park.
Thankfully, because of the tireless efforts of many, Illinois Beach State Park is alive and well. For generations, families, and individuals have been able to come together and enjoy the pristine serenity of nature. Activities at the park include swimming, hiking, biking, fishing, and camping just to name a few. With our lives constantly on the go and full of chaos, Illinois Beach State Park provides the perfect opportunity to get away and focus on what’s important - friends, family, and the good ole’ outdoors.
Photographing Illinois’ First Nature Preserve
After several months of complete isolation, it was finally time to go out and brave the world. This meant strapping on my backpack and heading out for a photoshoot. Having lived my entire life in the suburban cornfields of Chicago, any time I get to venture to the shores of Lake Michigan is a real treat. This particular trip to Illinois Beach State Park was one that I won’t forget any time soon.
Arriving in the early afternoon, the weather was beautiful: low 70s, sunny, and a slight breeze off the lake. However, the lighting for photography was not ideal. But despite the harsh sun, my goal was to capture both the beauty and the history of the park. The journey began in the Northern Unit near what used to be Camp Logan - a former POW camp for the Union, turned basic training camp, turned National Guard Facility, turned State Park.
The unique landscape made for some incredible photos. It almost felt as if I was traveling between different states within the park. A visitor can walk along the shores of mighty Lake Michigan, then just a few hundred feet away, end up in the middle of what seems to be a savannah deep in central Africa. It was in the “savannah” that I was walking along a recently flooded trail and a snake practically slithered across my boots! I would never compare myself to the treasure-hunting professor side of Indiana Jones, but I will compare myself to the snake-fearing side. This was a perfect example of how intertwined with nature one can be just minutes from Chicago.
After heading on down to the southern unit, I took some images around the picnic area and then proceeded to another beachfront location of the park. This was one of those “everything lined up perfect” moments. The kind that you just can’t help but smile about. Looking to my right, there were dozens of people having a fantastic time on the beach. But then, to my left, there was not a single soul. I viewed this as a perfect opportunity to take a long-exposure of Lake Michigan. Long-exposures are the shots that produce those silky smooth water and cloud images. They are usually taken during the dawn or twilight hours. Taking one during the early afternoon can be very difficult and rare without the right equipment. Luckily, I was able to take the shot, capturing the bluest water I have ever seen (imagine the world’s largest pool of Glacier Freeze Gatorade), a bluebird sky, and warm rocks on the shore.
After spending the remainder of the day in the Southern Unit Nature Preserve capturing the wildlife of Illinois’s first Nature preserve, I packed up and headed home. This trip happened on the day of the protests in Chicago. My heart hurt for everyone, but it made me realize something - no matter how crazy the world may seem, nature is always an escape. The beauty, the serenity, it brings people together - not tear them apart. The images that I captured from this park tell the stories of generations of families and the memories of thousands of individuals. They are a snapshot in time. When in the midst of chaos, nature reveals itself to make everything seem OK.