Contribution by Limitless Ambassador and Decatur Transplant Aryn Peters
Decatur, Illinois: A Great Place to Raise a Family!
When my husband called me one afternoon and asked if I’d be willing to relocate our family to Decatur, IL, I’ll admit, I had to get out a map! I remember thinking things like, ‘where is this “Decatur” you speak of, and why on EARTH, would I uproot my family from our home (and my forever hometown) of beautiful Kansas City, MO?’ Well, when you are part of a family, you have to make decisions, and this time, we decided to jump on a new opportunity and adventure and see where it took us. And now, here we are, almost two years into our Decatur adventure. I can honestly say we are truly happy here and I believe Decatur is a great place to raise a family!
My biggest fear, as I’m sure you can understand, was my children. Moving away from schools, grandparents, cousins and friends is never easy. My children were 8, 6 and almost 2 at the time of our move. Today, they are 10 (5th grade), 8 (2nd grade) and 3 (daycare) and they love living in Decatur!
One thing you must be open to, no matter where you move, is learning about what your community has to offer. I didn’t have to worry about that so much in Kansas City. I was born there, grew up there, and knew A LOT of people and which programs were best, etc. I was starting from scratch, and when it comes to my kids, I have no problem digging in and asking questions! And honestly, I have been MOST impressed with this little-big town.
From the neighborhood we live in, to the shops and restaurants, to the schools my kids go to (yes, we love the schools and the teachers we have had!) to the lake views to the opportunities at Millikin University, we love it here!
For simplicity sake, let me break down the things I’ve found and the reasons that I think Decatur is a great place for a family:
1. Decatur Park District
You cannot overlook the amazing Decatur Park District if you live in Decatur! The opportunities they have for the children in the community are simply amazing. If you are a newcomer, I highly recommend you get involved here and find something your child enjoys. My children participate in the baseball program, which has been great. We also spend lots of time on the soccer fields with the Midstate Soccer Club. This is an amazing organization with amazing coaches and leaders. I am so glad we are a part of it! My daughter also loves theater and has been a part of the community musical the last two years and both of my girls take dance. There is also a great area in Nelson Park complete with a waterfront and entertainment area, a mini golf course, batting cages, and a ropes course that our kids love. Our outings are always followed by Mr Softee ice cream, of course! There is also a water park coming soon that I know we will spend a lot of time at during the summer. From acting and dance lessons, to running cross country and track to birthday parties at the DISC, we love the Decatur Park District. Your kids will too.
2. Parks and Trails
Sort of a tag along to the Decatur Park District, but the parks and trails in the area are so much fun! There is a walking/running/biking trail through the community that is in expansion mode right now. They are both beautiful and safe. We enjoy Fairview Park and you can’t miss the Rock Springs Nature Center! So many trails and beautiful scenery there. It’s great little morning or afternoon trip and it’s right in town. Check out the Decatur Park District trail map here! It’s so fun to get the kids back into nature and to see how truly beautiful the area is.
3. Children’s Museum of Illinois and Scovill Zoo
The Children’s Museum of Illinois and Scovill Zoo are a couple of super fun additions to Decatur. Sitting right on the lake, you get some beautiful views. The zoo is small, but so well-kept and the perfect size for a family outing of a couple hours or so. The price is right at under $5 admission for the kids under 12 (2 and under is free!), and BONUS . . .Thursdays are FREE! There is a fun train ride that is currently undergoing expansion that will connect the zoo to the museum. We love the museum for super cold days or really hot days when we want to get out of the weather! The kids have a blast each time we go.
4. Day Trips
You can take any number of days trips, and I could do a whole separate blog on different places to go (and probably will!), but for starters, Decatur is conveniently located within a triangle of three larger cities: Springfield (state capital) , Bloomington/Normal (Illinois State University) and Champaign/Urbana (University of Illinois) are all within a 30-45 minute drive. Coming from a larger city, it often takes that long to get anywhere in a city, so making that drive has been simple for us. We’ve discovered great eats in these towns, and being large college towns, you can bet there is great food!And all the shopping we need is found in these cities, that is, if we don’t already have it in Decatur. Springfield is great for the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum and Homestead. It’s definitely worth trekking over for. Pair that with lunch at Obed and Isaac’s Microbrewery right by the Lincoln Homestead (totally kid friendly and they have gooey butter cake for dessert!) and you have an awesome family outing. We tend to spend most of our time in the Bloomington/Normal area (we love going to Portillo’s!) but you’ll find your favorites for sure!
5. Longer Trips
Another thing that we enjoy about Decatur is it’s location. I know, it is sort of in the middle of nowhere…so they say. BUT, it is an EASY day trip or weekend trip distance to some GREAT cities! We have gotten to know Chicago really well, and seeing as my husband and son are HUGE Cubbie fans, they love it! St. Louis is also a couple hours drive and is great for a day trip or overnight trip to the St. Louis Zoo or City Museum and tons of other kid-friendly options. We are also only a couple hours drive from Indianapolis, another great city with some fun options for kids including a children’s museum that my kids love. Nashville, TN is about 5.5 hours away, but not a bad distance for a long weekend getaway!
The festivals in town are great and give that “small town” feel that we love. The Decatur Celebration in August is super fun! Food trucks, rides, games, shopping…all in Decatur’s downtown that is an area of revitalization and growth. The Celebration is also known for it’s great live music throughout the weekend. You have to come check it out. This one is our favorite!
7. Millikin University
Having a local university in the community is always a positive thing! It brings culture and additional education opportunities to the community. Millikin University is no different. A beautiful campus on the west side of town, Millikin offers several opportunities for families. One opportunity we took advantage of right away were the music lessons at the Preparatory Department at the School of Music. Our kids took piano lessons from upper-level Millikin music students. I loved bringing the kids to campus and they enjoyed being on campus. Piano certainly isn’t the only option. There are opportunities for lessons with all different instruments, voice lessons, children’s choir opportunities and more. It is a great program and I highly recommend you check it out.
8. Something For Everyone
Moving here from a big city with all the amenities, I was a little worried about what I was going to do. We need to have some time for ourselves too. Am I right, parents?! I will be honest when I say that I am TRULY impressed with the food and drink options in town and we LOVE going out! We have a few favorites. You have to come to downtown Decatur and check them out. A few of the options can be found at the Merchant Street website. Merchant Street is an adorable and quaint street in downtown.
Some other favorites I’ve found are The Winery and Lock Stock and Barrel near Millikin University and El Rodeo at the north end of town. El Rodeo has easily became my all-time favorite Mexican food, and I lived in Phoenix, AZ for a while and have had my fair share of Mexican options. The Beach House is a great restaurant where you can sit out on the deck overlooking Lake Decatur and enjoy a beverage to wind down the day. We also have a brand new amphitheater located near the Beach House with concerts already scheduled through fall!
In closing, I have loved meeting all of the people in this great community. There are just so many options for everyone if you know where to look. And what’s crazy is there is so much MORE that we haven’t had a chance to explore yet!
I hope this helps you take another look at Decatur. Maybe you have thought about moving here, but weren’t sure if it was a good place for YOUR family. I encourage you to come and check out some of these places for yourself. Decatur is growing; it needs people that believe in it and in the opportunities that it holds.
Some people may say that Decatur is a “has been” community. I truly don’t understand that, because honestly, when I look around this town, all I see is OPPORTUNITY. If you are looking for a great place to raise active, happy kids without the crazy hustle and bustle and competitiveness you can find in the big cities, come see us! Maybe YOU will open the next shop, boutique or restaurant in our LIMITLESS DECATUR!
Aryn Peters is first a mom and wife to her busy 3 children and hardworking husband. She is an adjunct professor at Millikin University and runs a lifestyle blog at arynpeters.com. Be sure to follow her on social media! Send her a friend request and check out her new account Live Love Decatur on Facebook and follow her on Instagram @arynpeters, where she shares all the fun she and her family are having living in Decatur, IL!
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