By Tom Nauman
The Second Annual Illinois State Morel Mushroom Hunting Championship, held on Saturday, May 3, 1997, began cold, wet, and windy. But the weather didn't stop the mushroom hunters of the mushrooms. 613 competed in the event in the Putnam County community of Magnolia. Last year's second place winner, Mike Hanley of Kickapoo, became the 1997 Grand Champion by finding 201 morel mushrooms in the two hour time span. Athens, Illinois resident Bill Hamilton captured Men's First Place honors with 172. And Gerry Miller of LaSalle found 91 mushrooms to become the Women's First Place winner.
The weather did dampen the afternoon activities. Auction prices that started around $30 per half-pound soon fell to $5 after an afternoon shower sent buyers to shelter. The auction was stopped and the balance of the 440 pounds to be sold were returned to the sellers.
The mushroom tours were halted after only three groups because the wet conditions made the road to the tour site treacherous. Festival goers enjoyed the indoor mushroom presentations provided by nature writer Stan Tekiela and Chef Joe Dobzynski, CFE. Next Year's Championship will be held on Saturday, May 2, 1998.
The 1997 mushroom season is similar to last year in that the cooler weather is prolonging the season. John Husar of the Chicago Tribune called to see how the season was going. I told him it was much like any other year - it depends on which tree your looking under. A few highlights - Lynn Laible of Magnolia, Illinois found 12 pounds under one dead red elm on May 1. The first reports of any mushrooms found near our neck of the woods were on April 18. Larry Graham found a monster 13 inch, 1 lb. 4.4 oz. morel near Alton. Leonard Pease of Tower Hill, IL placed third in the non-resident men category at the National Championship in Boyne City Michigan.
I don't have time for a complete wrap up of the season because there are new mushrooms arriving daily and I need to go make their acquaintance!