Janée Matteson is a little wary of technology. The more ubiquitous it becomes, she finds, it has more potential to keep kids indoors (a trend she has dubbed “acute nature deficit disorder”). Janée, whose family’s roots have been growing in Morris for nearly 200 years, basically spent her entire childhood outside, learning fur trapping and duck hunting with her father on the banks of the Illinois River. So in addition to her deep passion for the outdoors, founding Kayak Morris was largely inspired by doing whatever she could to help kids, their families, and domesticated teddy bears spend more time in nature.
Kayak Morris offers kayak and canoe lessons, and in addition, patrons can borrow their largely new fleet for leisurely trips along the Illinois River, Mazon River, or Illinois and Michigan Canal, which are home to wildlife such as great-blue herons, bald eagles, coyotes and red-tailed hawks. The staff also lead guided ecotours, which teach kids and adults about natural resources and what they can do to preserve and protect them for future generations. Family-focused private campgrounds is adjacent to the State Park along the rivers’ sandy shores invite groups to stay for monthly Glampouts (glamorous campouts) and spend their days taking advantage of potluck dinners, hiking, fishing, bike rentals, or guided kayak tours and to spend their nights watching a movie on Morris’ outdoor projection screen as campfires crackle nearby.
Joe Montalto was riding high after his first-place finish in the Illinois state wakeboarding championship. It was one step away from national recognition and sponsorship, and he hit the water hard to prepare. Joe was mastering a front flip 180 when he missed the wake and landed in the flat water, tearing his ACL and ending any chance he had at competing professionally. After such a career-altering accident, no one would have blamed him for leaving the sport, but he defied expectation. After years of rehabilitation with his wakeboard, Joe still rides the water regularly and spends each summer inducting new riders into the sport he loves with his company, Ride Lab Wakeboard School. He and his cousin, Cody Jarosch, lead groups onto the water to catch their first jump inside the wake. He also coaches competitive boarders for more serious competition, hosts summer camps, coaches collegiate clubs in between private lessons, and demos Ronix gear for anyone. In addition to his wakeboard lessons, Joe designs clothing bearing Ride Lab's insignia and shoots and edits film for his riders.
Not far from the hustle and bustle of the city lies a forest, where a different kind of commotion takes place. This is Paint Pursuit Games, a sprawling paintball field. Here, players duck around thick trees and dig their feet into rolling terrain for a truly immersive battle experience. Manmade bunkers offer shelter, bridges and towers loom overhead, and abandoned huts give players a place to catch their breath or keep lookout. Teams can choose from a variety of different paintball missions, including one in which they try to escort one member, their general, to safety.
Costumed actors hide inside Heaps Haunted Corn Maze, ready to scare all those who dare enter. Alternatively, the flashlight maze is completely unhaunted and challenges visitors instead with a series of dead ends, switchbacks, and branching paths that they must navigate armed only with a flashlight. After walking through the maze of their choice, guests can unwind during a half-hour moonlight tractor ride, staying in the mood by singing the Scooby-Doo theme song under their breath.
Chicago Premier Boat Rental & Leasing's team helps their customers experience the joys of water sports without having to purchase their own vessel. With hourly rentals and leasing options, the team of boating enthusiasts hands groups the controls of 21-foot Regal 2100 LSRs, which boast 250-horsepower gas engines, open bows, and satellite radios tuned to the area's best carp DJs.
As the vessels speed along the Des Plaines River, water-sport equipment such as skis and tubes lets trailing passengers skim across the water's surface. Captains can navigate past the McKinley Woods County Forest Preserve or venture toward Lake Michigan. Additionally, Chicago Premier Boat Rental & Leasing's fleet of Cessna planes can help a new pilot sail through the sky with the ease of the fish who invented the jetpack.
Rick Todd, the founder of Chicago Premier Flight Training, leads a squad of six FAA-certified flight instructors, who together have accumulated more than 20,000 hours of flight time. From their home base at Lewis University Airport, the team imparts students with every level of flight instruction, from learning the basic instruments and safety procedures to executing advanced in-air maneuvers to dodge lost balloons. Practical lessons take place in one of two 1979 Cessna aircrafts—each equipped with modern avionics such as GPS and satellite weather. Additionally, students can earn pilot hours from the safety of solid ground within the Redbird TD2 simulator, which recreates realistic flying conditions without real-life annoyances such as rookie copilots pointing out all the clouds shaped like potatoes.