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It's all downhill from here

HAMPTON -- Yells of excitement and warning tumbled down the bluffs of Illiniwek Park in Hampton.

Dispatch/Argus Photo By John Greenwood

The Quad-Cities offers a wide range of great sledding hills.

Sledders followed, some with sleds, some without, depending on their fortune on the park's slope.

It was the day after Christmas, and the weather -- sunny and crisp -- was perfect for racing down the hill, recently blanketed by snow. Sledders slid on Flexible Flyers, plastic sleds in a myriad of colors, simple inner tubes and the occasional snowboard.

The hill, packed with people swooshing down and climbing back up for another run, was just one of many left by the Mississippi and Rock rivers as they carved their ways through the area for thousands of years.

The gentle and not-so-gentle slopes of the river valleys draw people to sled at Longview and Lincoln parks in Rock Island and Prospect Park in Moline, as well as Illiniwek, to name a few.

However, there is one simple reason Illiniwek Park beats the others. Bald eagles.

``It is great here,'' said Randy Wheeler, who rode down the hill with his 16-year-old dog, Polly. ``You can see the eagles from the top of the hill.''

Polly was not the only dog, but she was one of several amusing sledding sights. One man brought a camcorder to watch and record his sons as he watched from the bottom of the hill with most of the other parents .

He soon found his way to the top and into the sled behind one son, holding the camera up to catch the action.

Jeff Carman pointed out other kinds of action to his three kids. When he was not riding and laughing down the hill with his 3-year-old daughter, Carly, he was pointing out eagles.

Mr. Carman, 37, considers the Illiniwek hill a legacy and tradition for his children. He touts the hill's wideness as one of its attractions, while recalling dips and ramps on the hill during previous visits, much like this day.

``I've been coming here my whole life,'' Mr. Carman said. ``My parents brought me here and I'm sharing it with my kids.''

The Carmans are from Silvis, which points out another key attraction of any sledding hill.

``We're not experimenters,'' he said. ``We live close by, and after you get the kids bundled up, they are only good for three or four runs.''

There are kids of all ages and as many girls as boys. More boys aim for the ramp built along one tree line, with several making spectacular jumps, finishing with more spectacular -- and sometimes painful -- landings.

Phil Davison was watching the action from the bottom of the hill, standing a step away from where the hill has another, shorter drop. He, like the other parents, had to watch not only his charges but everyone else to avoid the occasional stray sledder.

He praised the hill's snow and its width, as well as the weather, calling the conditions ``optimum.''

He knew his son, Skyler, 8, and nephew Derek Frank, 10, were near the end of their runs. He explained they would probably try some hills out by Andalusia the next day.

Before starting up the hill to ride down with Skyler and Derek on the final run, Phil talked of getting inner tubes next year: ``Everyone is a kid out here.''

-- By Kurt Allemeier (January 22, 1998)

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