Winter might seem like a good time to hibernate indoors, but Camp Wokanda’s annual Chill Billy event is a reminder that outdoor fun doesn’t have to end when the temperature drops.
Started in 2016 by the Peoria Park District, Chill Billy takes place from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 12, at Camp Wokanda, 620 Boy Scout Road in Chillicothe. A $5 admission fee includes a chili lunch and access to activities throughout the day, such as ice fishing, orienteering, cast-iron cooking, a winter tree identification hike and a winter survival class.
The event also features two-hour and eight-hour endurance runs for an additional fee.
“The whole mission of the park district is to get people outside, moving and experiencing a natural environment. In the winter everybody’s typically holed up in their homes, so this is a way for people to get outside and possibly find a new interest,” said Cathy Lane, Camp Wokanda’s program director.
Located 20 minutes from downtown Peoria, the former Boy Scout camp is set on 316 woodland acres with a fishing lake, dining hall, sleeping cabins, program buildings and space for tent camping. Trails are open every day of the year from dawn to dusk, and the camp offers a variety of naturalist tours, environmental education and event rental options.
Classes and demonstrations on a variety of topics will take place throughout the day at the Chill Billy event. Participants can choose to take part in one or all the events.
“All the classes will have experienced instructors guiding the way,” Lane said. “It’s all hands-on, not just sitting and listening. So people should expect to be up and participating.”
A cast-iron cooking class will give instruction on how to make everything from cakes to stews. “It’s a whole different way of cooking that’s fun to learn even if you don’t camp,” Lane said.
Fire-starting, Tai Chi and winter tree identification are other classes that will be offered.
“A lot of people identify trees by their leaves or how they look or their nuts. But in the winter, it’s harder because there often are no identifying things left on the tree,” Lane said. “So participants will go on a hike with a naturalist and learn how to identify trees by their bark, growth characteristics and, in some cases, by the debris that’s around the tree.”
A naturalist from Forest Park Nature Center will teach a winter survival class designed to help people learn how to save themselves if they ever get stranded in the cold. “Half of it is thinking ahead or planning ahead, and the rest is being smart and keeping your head,” Lane said.
Orienteering is another activity people can join. “Orienteering is basically a compass skill,” Lane said. “It’s using a compass or GPS and coordinates to follow a pre-laid course. Once you have that skill down, you can do anything with it. It’s really fun.”
Chill Billy participants will be able to ice fish throughout the day, as long as the weather cooperates. “We take care of cutting out the holes for ice fishing, and we’ll have the poles there to use,” Lane said. “If the weather is too warm—which it has been the last couple of years– you can fish from the dock.”
The two-hour and eight-hour endurance races are fun not only for the runners but also for other Chill Billy participants, Lane said.
“The runners are visible throughout the camp, so that’s kind of fun to watch,” she said.
The endurance races start at 8 a.m. and are organized by the Cry Me a River organization. Advance registration, which included a T-shirt, has ended, but people can still register at the event an hour before the start of the race. The cost is $45 for the two-hour run and $65 for the eight-hour run. For more information on the race, visit www.runrace.net.
“It’s kind of a unique format for what most runners in this area are used to,” said Shawn Brandon, who co-directs the Chill Billy race along with Jenna Bahaj and Jake Lyons. “We’ll have people at this event that do 40 to 50 miles over the eight-hour stretch.”
Some runners use the event as a training run for an upcoming spring race, while others try to set the course record, Brandon added. “The course is a very challenging two-mile loop in Camp Wokanda that offers some tough climbs and some pretty technical downhills. One advantage to the short loop is that during most training runs, the runners get spread out pretty quickly and you may go a few hours without seeing anyone. With 50 or more runners here, you are almost always around someone,” he said.
An aid station will be located at the start/finish line offering a warm fire and food. The race and the entire Chill Billy event will go on in any type of weather.
“Last year it was very muddy. You’d think that would not be fun, but the runners were having the best time and it was hilarious to watch them,” Lane said.
Jill Velpel of Pekin will be attending Chill Billy for the first time this year with a group of friends who frequently hike together and ride the Peoria-area mountain bike trails.
“I enjoy the outdoors even in the winter and love to hike. I’m looking forward to the fire building and winter survival class,” Velpel said. “I’m looking forward to a fun Saturday at Camp Wokanda and maybe next year I’ll rent a cabin and stay for the weekend.”
Pre-registration is requested to ensure the camp will have enough supplies and food. For more information or to register, call 309-579-2157.
“We hope people will come out for the day to get their blood moving and experience something new. It’s definitely a family-friendly event, and it’s really good for people who have scouts or church groups,” Lane said.