Destination Illinois: Rockford’s Nicholas Conservatory

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ROCKFORD, Ill. (WTVO) — Along the banks of the Rock River in northern Illinois, no matter what the calendar says, it’s tropical all year ’round at Rockford’s Nicholas Conservatory, one of the largest conservatories in the state.

“Think about it as a museum for plants,” said Lyndi Toohil, the Nicholas Conservatory’s Manager of Education and Programs.

Located at 1354 N 2nd Street, the conservatory opened in 2011. A community effort allowed for the construction of the multi-million dollar facility, built with grant money and private donations.

“One of the really cool things about the conservatory is [that] the space that it’s built upon is actually our very first park for the Rockford Park District, in 1909,” Toohill said. “So…for our 100 year anniversary, built in the same park that started it all and still, to this day, remains one of our most popular parks,”

Forty-to-fifty thousand people visit the conservatory every year.

“We tried to, when we chose the plants for the conservatory, we tried to pick a lot of the things that people would connect with,” Toohill explained. “So, it wasn’t just some really obscure plant that no one’s every heard of and only a realy plant nerd would get.”

There are still plenty of exotic entries.

Guests also enjoy special attractions, such as the rainbow lorikeet birds or the annual butterfly exhibit, the popular koi pond, or the outdoor lagoon, with swans Rosie and Millie.

“We have people that are members here, that just want to come in and just read the newspaper, somewhere where it’s warm and smell a little bit like dirt. It just does so much for the soul,” Toohill said.

The building’s environmental theme isn’t limited to what’s on display: the Nicholas Consevatory is LEED certified, starting at the top down, with solar panels and a ‘green’ roof.

“It’s like an extra layer of insulation for a flat roof, so it keeps us a little warmer in the winter, a little cooler in the summer. It helps mitigate all the storm water runoff when it rains,” Toohill explained.

The Nicholas Conservatory is open Tuesday through Sunday. There’s also an outdoor rose garden on the grounds, which is open to the public 24/7.

The plants aren’t the only thing to check out: guests can board a free trolley on the grounds and get to one of Rockford’s most popular downtown events.

When you’re in Rockford to catch what the Nicholas Conservatory has to offer, be sure to visit the City Market. It happens all summer long, every Friday. 

From the Conservatory, you can hop on a free trolley that takes you along the scenic riverfront and recreational path and right to the outdoor market, at Water Street &, Market Street in downtown Rockford

City Market has vendors of all kinds, from vegetables all the way to food and clothing. 

Every week there’s something different, something unique.

One local food vendor says he likes to be able interact with customers in a different environment.

“It’s refreshing to get out,” said Gerald Madero, head chef at Disco Chicken Food Truck. “A lot of times when you’re working in restaurants, you’re behind the scenes, nobody ever sees you,” 

Isabel Odom, a frequent visitor, explains why she visits every year.

“There’s so much food to try, we always try something different because there’s so much to try and we can’t try it all in one day.”

In addition, families can catch a movie on a giant inflatable screen each Friday, at Friday Night Flix, which is hosted on the North Lawn of Davis Park at Founder’s Landing, at 320 S Wyman Street.

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