A Weekend in Southern Illinois

As written for iluvlocalplaces.com 8/2016

Looking for something fun to do over the weekend?  Why not take a trip over to Kinkaid Lake in Murphysboro, Illinois? There is a surprising array of things to do in the area!  I was actually going to open this story by telling you that the beach is only an hour away.  But truth be told (journalism rule #1) it’s not a real beach.  However, the “beach” at Kinkaid Lake does offer a tranquil spot for a sunny picnic or a quiet fisherman’s stop.

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The 2,750-acre lake was built in the late 60s in an area surrounded by sandstone bluffs and the Shawnee National Forest.  A partnership between the Department of Natural Resources, the US Forest Service, and Kinkaid-Reed’s Conservancy District means the lake is meticulous maintained year-round.

The beautiful shorelines cutting into the bluffs and the surrounding forest remain untouched by residential building.  The lake is perfect for skiing, jet skiing, kayaking, tubing, or my personal favorite – relaxing with a cold beverage.  For the outdoorsy type, the lake system shares a border with the 31.5 mile Kinkaid Lake Trail System.  Buttermilk Hill trail juts into the lake and offers a picnic area accessible by foot or by boat.

For the more lively crowd, the party cove is just the spot.  Named Three Mile by visitors, it offers panoramic views of, well, other boats and party people.  It is a great place to meet up with friends, take a gander at the houseboats, or float along with your kiddos and dog.

Don’t have a boat?  The Marina offers rentals! They also have camp spots to accommodate RVs or tents and a restaurant with the best cheeseburger around.  If you are looking to make a weekend out of it, you can take a jaunt around to Little Grand Canyon in the Shawnee National Forest.  As a bonus, there are several points of interest you can hit along the way.

My trip from the Cape area often includes a stop by the Ware Produce stand at Route 3 and 146. They have a great selection of seasonal fruits, veggies, and specialty cheeses.  The journey from IL-146E to IL-127N will take you past the county Fish and Wildlife area, and on a scenic drive by the Brown Barrens Nature Preserve.

The winding drive along 127 takes you by grapevines, ranches, and scenic overlooks in Alto Pass.  Alto Pass offers several stops including wineries along the Shawnee Hills Wine Trail, the Bald Knob Cross, a brewery, the strangely unique Root Beer Saloon, and a farmers market.

You never know what is going to be around the corner as you drive to the Little Grand Canyon – an area known for year-round wildlife spotting and scenic views.

My stop in the Little Grand Canyon included a 30-minute hike down to the Mississippi Valley, complete with a dog and a camera man.  You can take the trail to the canyon, or complete the entire loop which is about 3.6 miles. The trail we took was not too difficult, and the large beautiful trees provided shade along the way.  The trail is well maintained and offers benches to rest your feet or soak in the quiet nature of the area. The Little Grand Canyon is only about 30 minutes travel time from Lake Kinkaid.

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No trip to Lake Kinkaid is complete without a stop by the Spillway- it is always worth the extra couple of minutes! While you are in the Murphysboro area why not take a peek around downtown?  There are several shops and great options if you are hungry.  Whiffleboy’s pizza is amazing, and in the event your caveman fire-building skills fail, they do deliver to the campground!  If you are in the mood for barbecue, you will not be disappointed with 17th Street Bar and Grill.  The staff is friendly, the beer is cold, and there isn’t a bad thing on the menu.

 

A Different Kind of Library

You’ve all seen her. Cathy Thompson is one hard working lady behind the bar at The Library. It’s no doubt one of the reasons The Library has won People’s Choice for Best Bar in Cape Girardeau County three years in a row. It’s also no doubt she is here to stay.

One of the things that is most striking about The Library is the ambiance. It has a very upscale feel that is warm and inviting, at a price point that won’t break the bank. As such, The Library has the distinct advantage of appeal across all ages, 21 and up. In fact, that was part of the goal that Cathy had in mind for the bar.
When her kids were in college and she would come to visit from St. Louis she would find that there was nowhere for the adults to hang out. She said, “Most of the bars in this town didn’t open until 9p.” She felt that Cape Girardeau was a great town, but it was definitely lacking something in the adult scene. She said, “Don’t get me wrong, I love the college kids. I’m in business with the college kids. But I felt there needed to be a place for adults too. Especially a place the ladies would feel comfortable”.

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When the housing market fell apart in 2008, Cathy who at the time was working in real estate, felt the pinch of changing times. It was a natural progression for her to make the leap to bar ownership. She knew she found an industry that would weather the storm of changes in an uncertain economic landscape. She loves the feel in Cape Girardeau and is very much at home here. She said what really makes this town special is the people. She said, “The people make it feel like home. And just being in a small town, you get to know the people, the people get to know you”.

One thing you may not know is that there is a full menu at The Library. There is the traditional bar fare plus some not so traditional items such as scotch eggs, spring salads, baked fish and gourmet stuffed burgers. The food is absolutely delish and there is something for every taste. It is interesting to note that the menu was actually developed out of the requests of the patrons. Cathy explained that a group of ladies asked if there was anything on the menu that wasn’t fried (or traditional bar food). That conversation triggered some research about popular bar foods, the addition of some healthy fare and the accident that became the very popular Ruben roll. Rest assured, whatever you order for dinner or a late night snack, it comes out of the kitchen delivered with care in preparation and pride.

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In fact, meal time was the inspiration behind the name. When Cathy’s kids were away at college she gave them an emergency credit card and asked them to make sure they were getting at least one good meal a day. She said, “Had I seen the Library on the receipt I would’ve thought, good girl! She is sitting at a library studying and enjoying coffee and a danish”. She delights in meeting the college kids parents and often hears “So THIS is The Library!”
Be looking for some construction crews this summer. The back patio is getting revamped with a fresh new look that will include a pavilion cover over the upper deck and enclosures . This will allow for 80 additional outside seats when the weather is less than perfect. Look for the initial set up to begin mid may with completion in July. Cathy anticipates a celebratory kickoff party mid to late July. Details are guarded but I can tell you for certain she is bringing the “Wow factor” to downtown Cape Girardeau!

Notables:
An interesting fact about the decor: The books on the top shelves of the bar are from the Limbaugh Law Library. It was started in the 1800’s and in its day was the largest library in six states.

Volleyball leagues will continue this summer but there will only be one session due to construction. It will run June 1st-June 30th.

Hours: M-Sat 4p-1:30a, Sun 2p-12a

Friday happy hour includes an amazing spread of food, drink specials and live entertainment! Happy hour is from 4-7p, with live music from 6-9p

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