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Twin Lakes, Wisconsin

Twin Lakes, Wisconsin, where bike-frame maker Dennis Gilfoy lives, takes its name from two bodies of water, Lake Mary and Lake Elizabeth. For years a summer colony for Chicagoans–jeweler C.D. Peacock had a place there, and politicians Ed Burke and Dan Rostenkowski keep houses on nearby Powers Lake–it’s still in summer that it really comes to life.

Wednesdays and Saturdays the Aquanuts, a troupe of local water-skiers, put on a free show at 6 PM on Lake Mary (at Lance Park and the lake, 262-877-8004). This year the show has a Roaring 20s theme, but as always it will feature the Aquanuts’ signature act–two side-by-side four-tier pyramids of skiers. On June 29 through July 1 the Twin Lakes chamber of commerce mounts Libertyfest (at Lance Park, 262-877-2220), a free Independence Day event that includes a Venetian-style regatta of light-festooned boats, a fireworks show, a sand-castle-building competition, and a race of contestant-crafted cardboard boats.

In past years LeAnn Rimes, Reba McEntire, and Kenny Rogers have headlined Country Thunder USA (on Lance Drive south of U.S. 12 in Randall, Wisconsin, 262-279-6960). At this year’s festival July 19 through 22, Wynonna will hold down the main stage on Saturday night. In all, the fair promises more than 30 performances, plus two dozen food booths, a family area, and auto and RV displays. A one-day pass costs $39; parking is $5. Camping runs $80 to $135 for four days.

Lodging in the Twin Lakes area is available, though hard to come by. People who remember Nippersink Golf Club and Resort (1055 N. Tombeau Road, outside of nearby Richmond, Illinois, 262-279-5281) as a Catskills-like Jewish resort will be disappointed to find that the new owners are developing it into a corporate retreat center. The pier on Lake Tombeau and the tennis courts are worn, but the green-and-white cottages can still be rented by individuals ($77 per night in June, $87 in July and August). There’s a swimming pool, and for a fee guests have access to paddleboats and flat-bottomed rowboats, but there’s no food except what’s available at the pro shop for breakfast and lunch. The Pink House Resort, a pastel-colored motel on Lake Mary in Twin Lakes (201 Lance Dr., 262-877-2783), has a deck on the water and ten unadorned rooms at $45 a night, $50 on weekends. Proprietor Peggy Hawes runs a bar that used to offer sandwiches in baskets, but she gave up food service a couple years ago because, she says, “there are too many restaurants in town.”

Overlooking Lake Mary, Manny’s Snack Shop (404 S. Lake Ave., 262-877-4442) is best tried at breakfast, when owner Manny Valerin is on deck rustling up omelettes and biscuits and gravy. Jane Bodi, who runs Bodi’s Bake Shop (306 E. Main, 262-877-8090), is celebrated for her custard-and-buttercream wedding cakes, but her soups and tuna or egg-salad sandwiches are worth a stop for lunch. The Twin Lakes Country Club (1230 Legion Dr., 262-877-2500) offers 18 holes of golf ($19 weekdays, $25 on weekends) as well as a Friday-night fish fry run on a “beat the clock” basis: customers arriving between 4:30 and 6 PM can dine on broiled or deep-fried cod with potato pancakes, rye bread, and cole slaw for $5.55 per person; the price rises to $6.66 between 6 and 7 PM and $7.77 between 7 and 10. Expect a wait. Later in the evening there’s karaoke.

It’s pleasant to wind down Lake Shore Drive as it goes from Lake Mary to Lake Elizabeth, the larger of the two. There you’ll find Mad Dan’s Restaurant (3101 E. Lake Shore Dr., 262-877-2586), an establishment with a North Woods feel (it’s named after its sour-faced original owner). Stuffed bass, pike, and walleye–all caught on the lake–look down from the walls at customers digging into steak, ribs, and broasted chicken. Open weekdays for dinner and for dinner and lunch on weekends, Mad Dan’s also operates a boat launch, renting 14-foot rowboats ($10 a day) and a six-person motorized pontoon boat ($100 for a half day, $200 for the day).

A short way northwest lies River Valley Ranch (on Route 50 and County Highway P in Slades Corners, 262-539-3555). There owner Eric Rose sells several varieties of mushrooms in a shop adjoining the collection of buildings where he cultivates them; mushroom soup, button mushroom salad, and other specialties are available in a small dining area. In addition to his own portobello salsa and pasta sauce, Rose stocks his aisles with Wisconsin-produced stuffed olives, cheeses, and the state fair’s prizewinning jam. He delivers his mushroms twice weekly to Chicago restaurants such as Zinfandel, Scoozi, and Frontera Grill.

“This place is absolutely the wrong size,” says owner Richard Polansky of nearby Hafs Road Orchard (on Hafs Road a quarter mile west of County Highway U in Genoa City, 262-279-3638). “We have only seven acres of trees. It’s too large for a hobby, and it’s too small to make money.” Yet for 20 years Polansky, a former mental-health supervisor, and his wife, Debbie, have given the apple orchard a shot. Visitors are treated to some rare, university-bred varieties: tart pristines, available in late August; crunchy honey crisps, ready in mid-September; and gold rushes, which Polansky especially recommends for pies.

Back across the Illinois border from Twin Lakes you’ll find Richmond, Illinois, a picturesque town incorporated in 1872. It underwent a second bloom 30 years ago, when buildings along Main and Broadway were recycled as antique and collectibles stores. “We’re a nice alternative to the interstate for people heading into Wisconsin,” says potter David Trumbel, who keeps a shop and studio in Richmond. “You can stop here and still have enough time to check into your hotel in the Dells before nightfall.”

The 1905 Emporium (at Main and Broadway, 815-678-4414) is a cooperative that displays the finds of ten antiques dealers. Of particular interest are the Empire mirrors, dozens of old inkwells, a 1780s flintlock pistol (priced at $850), and some Borden’s milk memorabilia, notably an Elsie the cow cookbook. Kathleen’s Lasting Treasures (5614 Broadway, 815-678-4884) traffics in Heritage lace and imported bath oils and soaps, including the Caswell-Massey blends custom-designed for George Washington and John F. Kennedy. B.R. Eilts, the host at Purdy’s Gift Shop (5612 Broadway, 815-678-2528), serves up samples of enchilada soup, black bean salsa, and other specialty items in his late mother’s kitchen, situated at the back of the store. “How about some Mob Barbecue Sauce?” Eilts is likely to suggest. “If you don’t like it, they send somebody out.”

Dennis Kelly and his wife, Cleo, founded Kelly’s Leatherworks (10320 Main, 815-678-4200) as a source for motorcyclists’ apparel. Dennis died in 1988, when he ran into a deer with his bike just over the state line, but Cleo stays true to their vision, featuring custom-made chaps ($275) and promising: “We’ll fringe anything you want fringed.”

Anderson’s Candy Shop (10301 Main, 815-678-6000, www.andersonscandyshop.com) has been a Richmond fixture since 1926, when founder Arthur Anderson moved the store from Chicago because his landlord on Armitage had doubled the monthly rent–to $20. Now purveyed by Arthur’s grandsons Leif and Lars, Anderson’s chocolates are flat-out delicious. Try a hand-dipped raisin, toffee, or caramel chocolate bar sold in a small wax-paper bag ($1.75), or opt for a box of assorted candies ($16.90 and up per pound). Behind Anderson’s is Trumbel Pottery (5602 George, 815-678-3562), where the self-taught David Trumbel presents his “mugs, jugs, and casseroles” along with work by a dozen other local potters. Linda Samorez harvests nectar from 2,000 beehives in Wisconsin to furnish the clover, wildflower, cranberry, and mint honey available at My Honey Co. (10012 Main, 815-678-4129). Two-pound jars run $6.40; it’s $2 per pound if you bring your own container.

Some sadness hangs over the Cubbyhole Cafe (10713 Main, 815-678-4624), a breakfast and lunch joint: owner Dan Nelson was seriously injured in a motorcycle accident last September and has yet to recover (a benefit on his behalf is set for June 23). But the Cubbyhole staff is carrying on, serving up tasty buckwheat pancakes, soups, and sandwiches. Pay attention to the daily specials, especially on Tuesdays, “Mexican day.” Regulars swear by the baby back ribs slathered in sweet sauce at J.W. Platek’s Restaurant and Brewery (8609 U.S. 12, 815-678-4078). Jim Platek, the effervescent chef-owner, also cooks up game in season; garbed in vegetable-patterned pants, he often pops out from the kitchen to say hello. At Mandino’s Chicago Grill (10004 Main, 815-678-3466) the specialties are hot dogs, Italian beef, burgers, and frozen custard, presented with more courtesy than shtick.

Broadway, both east and west of Main Street, is lined with spacious old frame houses that make it worth a walk. The house where you can stay, the Richmond Inn (10314 East at Broadway, 815-678-2505), dates from 1893 and now boasts a long porch and gazebo attached by a previous owner, an architect. Its five guest rooms range from $79 to $159, which includes not only the morning meal but wine and appetizers at cocktail hour.

West of Main and Broadway, bicyclists and hikers can connect to the Prairie Trail, an old railroad right-of-way that extends 26 miles between the Wisconsin border and Algonquin, Illinois. The trail passes a corner of Glacial Park (on Harts Road west of Route 31, 815-338-6223), a 3,000-acre conservation area maintained by the McHenry County Conservation District. Knit with hiking trails, the park contains bogs, marshes, woodlands, and a meandering section of Nippersink Creek, but its most notable characteristic is the kames–hills formed by glacial deposits–that afford dramatic views to the west. A good time to visit is October 20 and 21, when the park stages the Trail of History, a festival during which 250 participants reenact the settlement of the Northwest Territory. It’s $4 for adults and $1 for seniors and children under 12; those 3 and under are admitted free.

East of Richmond proper is Outfitters at the Richmond Hunt Club (on Route 173 just east of U.S. 12, 815-678-3271), a slick attempt to revive an old bird-hunting preserve. For $300, nonmembers can spend the day hunting pheasant, partridge, quail, and chukar with a dog and guide. There’s also a restaurant offering game. A stone’s throw away is Ginger Blossom (on Route 173 farther east of U.S. 12, 815-678-4015), an emporium and barn filled with unusual imports. The real Ginger Blossom (the former Ginger Gauger, wed to Evan Blossom) goes on buying trips all over–Nepal, India, Thailand, and Argentina–bringing back yak bells, camel saddlebags, and dowry chests. “You open up a camel bag and put it on the floor as a rug,” Ginger advises. The menagerie of life-size tin animal sculptures ($68 to $685) exhibited on the lawn comes from Guadalajara.

Since 1982 the Richardsons of Richardson Farm (9407 Richardson Road south of Route 173 in Spring Grove, 815-675-2297), a 450-acre plot that’s been in the family since 1840, have raised and sold Christmas trees. Now, following a trend toward what son George Richardson calls “agri-tainment,” the family is launching a new venture–a corn maze. An Idaho designer is fashioning three puzzles on 18 acres, including a kiddie maze and one that could take up to three hours to get through; George claims it will be Illinois’ largest. The attraction opens July 21 and runs through October 29 on Saturdays and Sundays from 10 AM to dusk. Tickets are $7 for adults, $5 for children; hot dogs, drinks, and (natch) sweet corn will be sold.

This marks the 18th year for the Illinois Storytelling Festival (Village Park, at Main and Bliven in Spring Grove, 815-344-0181, www. storytelling.org), to be held July 28 and 29. Tale spinners will perform continuously under five tents; there’ll also be a liars’ contest and a “swapping ground” where anyone can get up and yammer. Among the name performers expected are Chicagoan Beth Horner, Barbara McBride-Smith, who brings humor to Greek myths, and California’s Angela Lloyd, who employs spoons and a washboard as props. The event begins at noon on Saturday, 10 AM on Sunday; it’s $10 for adults, $8 for seniors, $5 for youngsters 9 to 15, and free for those 8 and under.

–Grant Pick

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustrations/Heather McAdams.