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Sankoty Lakes Resort Personifies Hope For Spring Bay

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Mike Rundle / WCBU
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The entrance to the resort can’t be missed along Route 26, marked by a large archway.";

Upon their first introduction to Sankoty Lakes Resort, residents of Spring Bay may have felt that it was a gift from heaven.“I belong to the Methodist church here in town, so I had the pastor get everybody together and I preached a Sunday sermon,” said Kim Blickenstaff, chairman and founder of KDB Development Group, the enterprise behind the resort. “They generally get 80 to 100 people every Sunday, and they got over 200, so that was how we informed the community because that’s the place people really gather.”

 
That announcement came in late 2019, and now, almost 15 months after breaking ground, Sankoty Lakes Resort is nearing its official opening.

 
Sitting on 220 acres of levee-protected land between Route 26 and the Illinois River in Spring Bay, the resort aims to be an ecotourism destination. For the outdoor enthusiasts, find three lakes featuring everything from Northern Pike to Crappie, guided hunting expeditions, and a mile-long stream with four types of trout. For the kids, find a cabana on the swimming beach complete with a natural kiddie pool. At the end of the day, take your personal golf cart to one of 20 glamping tents complete with two bedrooms, a full bathroom, kitchenette, and firepit with waterfront views.
 

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Credit Mike Rundle / WCBU
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Mike Rundle / WCBU
Multiple two-bedroom cabins are currently under construction at Sankoty

Other accommodations include RV sites and two-bedroom cabins. In the future, you will find a seven-story lodge overlooking the entire resort.

 
Misty Winn-Phelps of Morton was able to stay at Sankoty in October 2020 as part of a soft opening for friends and family, and she says the experience was unlike anything she was anticipating.

 
“I expected something a little more hillbilly,” said a laughing Winn-Phelps. “Honestly, sitting out there at night with that firepit and the lights on your tent, it was so cute, and it just felt like you were in Canada somewhere.”

 
Winn-Phelps is a friend of the Atherton family who was pivotal in bringing Sankoty together. Prior to its current glory, the resort property was a gravel pit owned by the Atherton’s construction company. When a contract with Caterpillar fell through after the company scrapped their plans for a new world headquarters in Peoria, the land fell out of use.
 

Eventually, Dwayne Atherton encouraged Blickenstaff to tour the property in Spring Bay, and one look was all he needed to know that there was potential. After meeting with Herman Brothers Lake and Land Management, the masterminds behind Giant Goose Ranch in Canton, the project was officially underway.

 
“With the Hermans, we put together a site plan, and Dwayne and his family virtually built this thing,” said Blickenstaff. “I got to sit on the sidelines and enjoy it as it went along.”

 
From start to finish, Dwayne Atherton has had his hands on every inch of the blueprints, with his magnum opus being the trout stream. Dwayne was not available for comment, but his wife, Patty Atherton, was by his side watching his ideas come to life.

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Credit Mike Rundle / WCBU
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Some of the Golden Trout in the stream are able to be spotted from the multiple bridges on the property.

 

“The actual reclamation of the property...most of that was a vision of Dwayne,” said Patty Atherton. “It’s something that he saw, and created, and put the crew together to make it happen. It was quite the adventure for him.”
 

Another personal element for the Atherton’s is Camp Dallas, a program set to launch at Sankoty this spring in honor of Dallas Atherton, Dwayne and Patty’s son who died in 2007. The mission of Camp Dallas is to bring at-risk youth to Sankoty to provide support and opportunity for those who need it most.

 
“That’s going to be my baby, so I am exceptionally proud of that,” said Patty Atherton. “Just reaching out to as many people as we can, and making them...forget what their troubles might be for a moment.”

 
From Camp Dallas to Sankoty as a whole, the staff and developers have a clear desire to help the community in any way they can. Financial support is one of the tangible means of assistance Blickenstaff hopes Sankoty will bring to Spring Bay.
 

Guests can expect to pay at least $75 per night for an RV site, $250 per night for a glamping tent, and $395 per night for a cabin; but, at the end of the day, higher prices means a better return for the town.
 

“We’re trying to have something for everybody, but we think we can be a resort that can draw on people that will support with tax revenues,” said Blickenstaff. “Obviously, a higher price point can actually help the village have a revenue base for the first time.”
 

Upon hearing the proposal for Sankoty, Spring Bay Mayor Dave Tilley was happy to see the natural resources in the area finally being recognized for the value they can bring.
 
“When I became mayor two years ago, and the opportunity with Sankoty Lakes came up, I was very excited about it. Not only does it create jobs...it’s like an anchor store,” said Tilley. “Development is good, but uncontrolled growth is just as bad as no growth, so you have to have a plan. I think Kim Blickenstaff’s group has a plan, and I think it’s going to be advantageous for the people that live in Spring Bay. It’s going to be advantageous for the communities that surround our area as well.”

 
Part of Blickenstaff’s plan for the village includes restoring the local marina and rebuilding the famed Bemer’s Village Inn restaurant, but the long-term vision does not stop there for Spring Bay or the rest of the region.

 

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Credit Mike Rundle / WCBU
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Chairman and Founder of KDB Development Group Kim Blickenstaff hopes that the development of Sankoty Lakes Resort will inspire visitors and developers alike to bring their business to Spring Bay.

“Everybody’s looking at gravel pits as being an eyesore left behind by rapacious capitalists, and I make lemonade out of lemons, so give me your lemon and we can do more of this,” said Blickenstaff. “I see it as a solution to the exploitation of these river communities where we left a lot of gravel pits and disuse in the wake.”
 
As long-time residents of Spring Bay, Patty Atherton and her family have hope for the future of the town.

 
“They’re going to bring tons of business, and jobs, and opportunities to this little village,” said Atherton. “It’s going to be years before people recognize just how much of an impact it's made.”

 
For Pastor Binu Peniel of Riversedge United Methodist Church in Spring Bay, it is abundantly clear that big things can come from any little village. He references John 1:46 in which a skeptical Nathanael asks,“Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?”

 

“The greatest gift from God, Jesus Christ, the savior of the world, came from Nazareth—in a little town that’s something similar to Spring Bay,” said Peniel. “If Nazareth had any scope, Spring Bay has hope and possibility.”

The verse ends with Philip’s response to Nathanael, a message the team at Sankoty echoes to potential visitors near and far: “Come and see.”

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Mike Rundle is a correspondent at WCBU. He joined the station in 2020.