By DEBORAH GERTZ HUSAR
Herald-Whig Staff Writer
AUGUSTA, Ill. — Ginger Denny got in to riding horses as a kid, then got back in to it when her granddaughters came alog.
And they like nothing better than roaming the trails at Weinberg King State Park.
"We ride a lot of other places, but that's the best," Denny said. "The park is wonderful. It's so well-maintained. The people are so good there. They want us there, and that comes through."
Site Superintendent Regan Ramsey said the great trails at the park just east of Augusta draw a following from West-Central Illinois and beyond.
The 772-acre park boasts a four-acre pond, an archery range, camping areas, and most important for Denny, 17 miles of equestrian trails.
"Our trails here are not superaggressive as far as inclines and declines. It's a good park for beginning riders and youngsters to start with," Ramsey said.
The trails always have been part of the park, once known more for its scenery and its fishing, and continue to draw more people each year.
Just about everybody who goes to the park returns again and again, Ramsey said, often drawn by amenities geared to equestrians, including a ramp designed for riders with wheelchairs.
"Some parks have large camping crowds coming in. Siloam Springs has trout fishing. Here the main thing is either equestrians or hunting," he said. "We are the only park in the state that has electricity in the equestrian area and not in the main campground. That tells you how much that rates here."
Denny, who just wrapped up a term as president of the Rushville Saddle Club, helped spearhead a recent improvement at the park.
The club and the Quincy Saddle Club raised about $7,000 for 30 new hitching rails. Volunteers installed the rails, which were welded by students at Quincy Area Vocational Technical Center.
"It was a lot of work, but we had a lot of help," Denny said. "It's not a done project yet. We're going to go in for Phase 2 and put up posts to run tether lines to be able to tie more horses."
Ramsey points out other features in the park, including an archery range, the wooded lower campground ("gorgeous" in the fall), playground equipment and a designated youth camping area.
"We get Cub Scouts, or some of the school districts will bring groups out here for overnight things," he said. "It's kind of out of the way of the rest of the park. Other people aren't coming in and out, and they're not bothering the other campers."
And, Ramsey said, the park offers a good value to visitors.
"Our equestrian day use riding is free. You can park in the day area, get your horse out, ride all day and leave," Ramsey said. "We get a lot of picnicking out there, reunions. If they want to do a reservation for the shelter, it costs $25, but if nobody is using the shelter, it's free."
The park's equestrian area closes Nov. 15 each year to clear the way for hunters.
"When the equestrian area is closed, we allow hunters to camp in the area (with electrical service)," Ramsey said. "During the rest of the season, Feb. 1 through Nov. 15, you have to have a horse to stay in the equestrian campground."
There's no fee to hunt in the park beyond getting the required license, and for deer season only, succeed in a lottery.
Catering to both riders and hunters is a priority for assistant site Superintendent Mark Gerard and technician Ed Hendricks. They keep trails clear by trimming trees and branches, maintain diversions to curb erosion, tend food plots to feed deer in the winter months and do plenty of mowing -- although the summer drought cut down on that.
"This year we had a big break with the weather," Ramsey said. "The drought allowed us to do some projects we haven't gotten to do for a long time -- repairing the picnic tables or roofs on the small shelters. We're getting some of that stuff done because we're not mowing all the time."
More information about Weinberg King State Park is available by calling 392-2345 or visiting dnr.state.il.us/lands/landmgt/parks/r4/weinberg.htm.