Self-guided tours offer a new, fun way to experience Downtown Springfield

Looking for a new way to explore Downtown Springfield? Give one of the free new and relaunched self-guided Downtown tours a try.

The Downtown Design Find is a scavenger hunt that can be fun for friends, families, or individuals to enjoy at their convenience. To get started, just pickup a Downtown Design Find booklet at Winan’s Coffee and Chocolates, COhatch – The Market, or any of many other Downtown locations, including the Clark County Public Library, the Courtyard by Marriott, United Senior Services and The Heritage Center.

“We’re always looking for new ways to engage with Downtown Springfield,” says Kevin Rose, historian with The Turner Foundation. “This is something people can do on their own. It’s great when we can meet and do a guided, in-person tour, but it’s also really limiting, so we wanted to do more to offer fun, engaging ways that people can do these kinds of things on their own time, at their own pace.”

With the Downtown Design Find, you can start anywhere along the scavenger hunt, looking for answers as you go.  

The included map and clues, Rose says, will get people into a general area, but then they have to work to find the answer.

“It was designed with the priority of being non-virtual. There’s no digital version, and the questions can’t be solved using the internet,” Rose added. “It’s designed specifically for people to engage in an urban environment and to move around.”

The tours also are designed to be accessible for anyone, including people with mobility challenges. So scooters and wheelchairs, for example, won’t hinder someone from participating in the scavenger hunt. The Downtown Design Find is also completely within the new BIRD scooter access area and the DORA zone, so you can zip from here to there, or grab drink to take along with you.

The Lenski Walk initially started in 2019 and was recently relaunched. The program uses poetry from Springfield-born author and illustrator Lois Lenski to guide people through eight stops in Downtown Springfield.

Though the Lenski Walk was initially designed with kids in mind, Rose says it has taken off as an enjoyable activity for people of all ages.

During the walk, participants are able to solve the puzzle attached to the Lenski Walk booklet’s back cover. The first 100 kids to finish the puzzle and turn it in at the Clark County Public Library’s Lenski Room will receive a free book by Lois Lenski, courtesy of the library.

Lenski Walk booklets can be found at the library, the Springfield Museum of Art, the Westcott House Museum Store, and outside Un Mundo Café.

Because there’s no virtual component, there’s also no specific way to track the number participants or their experiences, Rose says. But, even without soliciting it, he’s already heard positive feedback.

Whether a church or daycare group, friends in their early 20s, couples in their 80s, or families that include young children, these guides that encourage Downtown exploration have already been a hit.

The tours, Rose says, took some time to plan through The Westcott Center for Architecture and Design, which is a regional resource created to promote creative placemaking strategies through programs about architecture, design, and the history of the built environment. It was established by The Westcott House Foundation and the Springfield Preservation Alliance.

Focus groups of both local and out-of-town participants helped make updates before the programs launched.

Ultimately, Rose says the goal of any programming – including these self-guided tours – is to help people find a connection with place and to find ways to engage broader audiences.

“We want to create programs where you can engage with things briefly, and that promotes your exploration of the physical space more in the future,” Rose says.

Read more articles by Natalie Driscoll.

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