I once lived in Illinois, the land of pay-to-play politics. I've written much about state and local government, and how in the State of Illinois, business generally has strings attached.

Former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich has spent one of the 14 years he was sentenced. His predecessor ex Gov. George Ryan was recently released from prison after serving his required time. And just this past month, ex-Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr. has been sentenced to 2 1/2 years behind bars. He is expected to report to prison soon.

The following are a sample of stories I've written related to Illinois government:

Two Illinois Governors now serving time

On what a year...Illinois politics

South Suburban Airport Fits Illinois 'Pay-to-play' system

Convicted Jesse Jackson Jr., finally going to jail

The South Suburban or proposed Peotone Airport

The South Suburban Airport is a state proposal to build a new airport near the small farming town of Peotone, about 40 miles south of Chicago. The South Suburban Airport has been stuck in a holding pattern for decades. In a perpetual planning phase since the 1980's, unable to proceed, yet state officials have thrown millions of dollars of taxpayer money at it, in an attempt to try to sell the project. It has not even been deemed "needed" by the federal government. Members of the airline industry have refused to use it.

Links to some of those stories are below:

Does Chicagoland really need another airport

Microsoft vs. Peotone; both started in 1985

Eminent domain for Peotone must be halted

Further reading is available on these and other topics on CHBlog at:

Additional story samples are available at CHStorysamples  

Acclaimed photographer sees beauty in viewfinder 
by Carol Henrichs

ErnstPhoto.jpgDid you ever wish you knew where or how to find some of the most beautiful places in Arkansas? Soon, that question will be as easy to answer as flipping through the pages of the latest book by renowned nature photographer Tim Ernst. 

Ernst has completed all the photographs, maps, and words that will be contained in his latest project, Arkansas Nature Lovers Guidebook – How to Find 101 Scenic Areas in the Natural State. This is no ordinary book and Ernst is no ordinary author. Though he is known as a top-notch photographer, he is also a gifted writer, and publisher, not to mention a perfectionist. This guidebook has been in the works for more than three years, Ernst has recently completed the fieldwork that has taken him thousands of miles on various camping, canoeing, and hiking jaunts around the state in an effort to capture the perfect shot to illustrate the beauty of the Natural State. He has shot tens of thousands of photographs and then pared them down to only the best to depict 101 of the best natural places and scenic spots in Arkansas. 

If anyone can identify such places, it is Tim Ernst. When Ernst finds a particular location to shoot, he will hike, climb, wade and even crawl to get just the right photograph with the right conditions to capture the beauty he sees. He will wait for calm on a breezy day to shoot a beautiful landscape’s smooth-as-glass reflection on the water. He will return to a favorite location when he knows a flower is about to bloom. He wakes up before dawn to shoot a beautiful sunrise or traipse through the woods in darkness to get a shot of a crescent moon silhouetted against a clear, night sky. While Ernst continues to perfect his photography, that is only the beginning of his endeavors. 

Raised in Fayetteville, Ernst has had a love affair with nature for most of his life. “I simply loved being outdoors and spent every moment out in the woods that I could,” he said. He got pretty good at it too, because his photographs have appeared in magazines such as National Geographic, Audubon, Backpacker, Natural History, Country, Arkansas Times, and Sierra Club, to name a few. He lives in a log cabin that he calls Cloudland at the edge of the Buffalo River Wilderness with his wife Pam, daughter Amber, two dogs Lucy and Aspen as well as Fat Cat and Trail Cat. The name Cloudland is inspired by the writings of 1800’s environmental visionary John Muir who has served as an inspiration to Ernst along with the late Ansel Adams, the well-known nature photographer who specialized in black and white prints. 

Ernst is a natural teacher, always eager to share his knowledge with others. He holds photography workshops at his cabin and elsewhere to teach the mechanics and the emotion behind good nature photography. Beyond seeing the beauty of nature, Ernst uses all his other senses as well, to enjoy the outdoors. He is comfortable near a mountain stream where the cadence of the flowing waters sing to him. He loves the feel of a gentle rain, relishing the nourishment it brings to the forest’s flora and fauna. His natural alarm clock is the sweet song of an indigo bunting, a bird named for its inky blue color. He identifies, photographs, and often samples some of nature’s sweet tasty morsels that grow wild in the woods. 

Taking photos has led Ernst toward a desire to help protect the wilderness as well. In 1981 a lack of federal funds halted the construction of the 165-mile Ozark Highlands Trail, in the northwest part of the state. Ernst was inspired to form a volunteer group to complete it. His efforts have kept “the trail from simply fading into the woods,” he quipped. Today he remains president of the Ozark Highlands Trail Association, which now boasts an amazing 900 members in 25 states. “I wrote an article for Backpacker Magazine about the trail and got more than 10,000 letters from interested hikers all over the country,” Ernst said. “They formed the membership base outside of Arkansas. It is these volunteers that maintain the trail,” he said. Not only does Ernst hike and maintain the trails, but he helps build them. Ernst has contributed thousands of hours to the U.S. Forest Service and various local agencies for which he has been honored with numerous awards. And, he holds membership in many other related organizations. 

All of Arkansas is Ernst’s workspace, as well as his playground. Ernst had a hand in helping to build some of the hiking trail that runs from the Lake Norfork Dam along the lakeshore that will eventually become part of the Trans-Ozarks Trail connecting Lake Ft. Smith State Park to St. Louis. And last year he was featured at Arkansas State University Mountain Home, where he narrated slides set to music. Thankfully, Ernst has not kept all of his knowledge to himself. He has written numerous trail guidebooks, such as Arkansas Hiking Trails, which describes short nature walks to long-distance backpacking trips. The forward to this book, now in its third edition, was written by former President Bill Clinton. Ernst has also published several coffee table-sized picture books that showcase his photographs. And just as Ernst’s inspiration John Muir recognized that all things in nature are connected, Ernst has let one thing in his life lead him to the next. He began his own publishing company, Cloudland Publishing where he can create his own books on his computer by combining high-resolution photos, maps, along with the text. The entire package is then sent to a publisher to become a finished book. He has completed that process for his latest book as well as another one he finished at the same time – Buffalo River Dreams – a book of beautiful images related to the place Ernst calls home. Pam is not just Ernst’s wife, life partner, and inspiration; she is also his business partner. She now does most of the in-house work, such as drawing maps and filling orders. She, together with daughter Amber published their own book, Arkansas Dayhikes for Kids & Families, which includes 89 short and easy day hiking trails all across Arkansas. 
Another way that Ernst shares his knowledge and experience with others is on the Internet – through his Cloudland Journal. About 8 years ago, Ernst fulfilled a goal to begin writing in a journal. He began on July 16, 1998 to write about life at Cloudland. He shares his thoughts, experiences, and even some of his best photographs with thousands of people around the country who simply log-on to his website His journal contains entries that are profoundly personal, like the day he and Pam were married or how he felt when he turned 50. Ernst’s journal also contains an historical record of the first plants to bloom in the spring, rain and snowfall amounts, or simply what it is like to spend a day in the woods taking pictures. 

The website is also chock full of information with links to more information related to the enjoyment of the outdoors. The site includes an online store where books, prints, maps, and other items are available for purchase. Potential students can sign up for digital photo workshops. And there is information for hiking and trail enthusiasts. Ernst has devoted his life to the hope that he can produce photos to help folks gain an appreciation of Arkansas’ wild, natural areas that they will want to protect. His desire is that his guidebooks will inspire them to get out into the outdoors to see and experience those same wild, natural areas. Producing those results are his favorite part of his job.

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