Brothers Aaron and Asher Gershenzon and friend James Morro grew up in the city, but always possessed a passion for the outdoors. They practiced wilderness kayaking for most of their lives before earning their American Canoe Association certifications on Lake Superior. Each of them brings dual passions for their home city and outdoor sports to the company’s guided group and private kayak trips. Guided paddles change on every outing as guides blend downtown architectural commentary and little-known Al Capone stories with tie-ins to current events. Though each guide tells different stories, often interspersed with humor, all of them focus on environmentally friendliness. Paddling trips utilize a fleet of lime-green Confluence Watersports kayaks, and staffers often wear lime-green shirts—all of which render them easily identifiable from the riverwalk, but well camouflaged in supermarket produce sections.
One guide leads six participants and prepares them with a briefing on paddling techniques, rules of the river, and assurances of the stability of their wide-river kayaks. The guides' watchful eyes and constant advice have instilled confidence in even the most unsure participants, including basketball player Andre Iguodala, who slowly grew accustomed to his kayak by the end of his session. When not guiding trips, staffers provide their single and tandem kayaks to customers who want to explore the river on their own. They extend their easygoing atmosphere to their office—nestled across the river from the Centennial Fountain's Water Arc—where picnic tables stand by the storefront, and the owners' chocolate Labrador frolics inside around a hanging hammock.
Be Active Outdoors organizes physical and recreational activities for adults and children of all fitness levels. Regular events challenge locals to break their sedentary habits with 10-mile bike rides, lessons on revitalizing waterways, and group adventure races. An annual river-basin tournament combines a focus on conservation with thrilling paddleboat and shoreline fishing. The Amped Up Adventure race complicates traditional adventure racing with urban elements including biking, running, paddling, and an obstacle course to get people moving in their home environments.
After traveling to Japan in 1966 and to the Portland Japanese Garden soon thereafter, John Anderson found himself inspired by the country's lush landscape and tranquil gardens. In 1978, after returning to his home in Rockford, he partnered with expert designer Hoichi Kurisu to begin constructing Anderson Japanese Gardens?12 acres of paths, plants, and streams, as soothing as those John visited in Japan.
The gardens still encourage a sense of calm and thoughtful reflection, as guided and self-guided tours stroll past undulating waterfalls, trickling across colorful flowers, beneath arched bridges, and over lily pads. Fruit blossoms on trees and bushes, sculptures stand very still, and koi fish flit about in a pond. On Thursdays, participants read from scripture, listen to music, and meditate during worship services, and a series of classes held onsite, such as origami and tai chi, impart Japanese traditions.
Housing whiz-bang activities sprung to life from the mind of owner and game designer J. Richard Oltmann, Enchanted Castle & Haunted Trails coax thrills from the young and young at heart. As pins are knocked over throughout the 66 mini-bowling lanes and an arcade rings with the peal of 250 games, Enchanted Castle?s 60,000 square-foot space fills with scenes fit for dream-like days of timeless tomfoolery. A laser tag arena hosts light-based combat, bumper cars clunk together around a giant track, and an indoor go-kart course lets driver reenact the time that the Indianapolis 500 was hosted inside a local gymnasium. In addition to rides and games, kids can bounce around in the Inflatable Kingdom, visit the new Softplay area, or search for treasures in the prize redemption center. Platefuls of wings, pizzas, and sandwiches dot tabletops in the dining area, where visitors can feast in front of karaoke, big screen TVs, and an animatronics stage show featuring in-house band the Jammin? Jesters.
Ghastly horrors prowl Massacre Haunted House in search of new victims and fresh screams. Inside, 75 actors in full makeup startle wary explorers navigating more than 60 rooms strewn with gruesome scenes that would strike fear into the heart of any adult, teen, or amnesiac zombie. Unsettling mazes and living nightmares stand between brave souls and the exit, where a second haunt—Fear Factory 3-D—awaits to pull them deeper into the madness. Where the haunted house may have turned hairs white with the help of live actors, the factory coaxes screams with 3D special effects made possible with specialized glasses.
The Winery at Shale Lake sprawls over 212 acres of verdant terrain, with a 10-acre vineyard producing a menu of eight original wines for enjoyment in an array of charming settings. Spin around the 24-acre lake during a 30-minute bike ride aboard any of the Surrey cycles available for rent, or hike the scenic trail to slowly experience nature and the soothing melodies of Bigfoot quartets. Sip on up to five complimentary varieties of wine in the tasting room, built into the barn for a fine equine view through the picture window, and chow on gastronome goodies, including baked brie with raspberry sauce ($6), or white garlic and sausage pizza ($9). Kick back in the winter loft during colder months, playing pool and swirling sippers such as the Fifth Dimension, a sweet red foch wine, and the Beginners Luck, a semisweet chambourcin (all $4.50 by the glass). Live performers burst into song roughly twice a month, so thirst quenchers can enjoy sweet sounds while tickling their taste buds and their friends' bellies on Saturday evenings.