Not much going on here...but plenty within reach - 8/19/2010
We moved to Crystal Lake in 1994, to be closer to my aging in-laws They are long gone, but we are still here for various reasons, one of which is that relocating is complicated and expensive.
Crystal Lake is an outlying Chicago suburb that didn't always think of itself as a Chicago suburb. This began to change in the when 1980s, suburban sprawl reached this neck of the woods (southeastern McHenry county) big time, causing the population and economy to explode. Crystal Lake is still on the outer edge of the sprawl, but subdivisions have continued to spring up west and northwest of here. People from closer-in suburbs kept moving farther and farther out because the farther you get from Chicago, the lower the price of housing tends to be. (That’s actually what brought my in-laws out here in the first place.) The recession has slowed the growth down some, at least for the time being. This area is still far from what I would call economically depressed, but as in most of Illinois, the unemployment rate is high (close to 10% as of August 2010).
The city of Chicago is an hour to an hour and a half away by car or commuter train (I wouldn't make that drive if you paid me, personally!), and a lot of people work either in the city or in other suburban area between here and Chicago. Cultural opportunities abound in Chicago, if you don't mind making the trip and expense. Chicago has a number of truly world-class museums, but the admission prices are getting higher all the time. It’s nice having these cultural resources this close but would be a lot nicer if they were more affordable.
One nice thing about this county is that all of it is not completely flat as a pancake, like most of northern and central Illinois. It’s not hilly, by any means, but when you drive out of town north or west of here, you can actually see some little ridges that rise above the horizon line. This is quite rare for northern Illinois, except for the “driftless area” in the far northwest corner of the state. There are also a lot of small lakes. All of this gives McHenry County a slight boost on the scenic scale, compared to some parts of this state--but don’t get me wrong, it’s quite bland by the standards of many other parts of the country. Everything is relative!
Outdoor recreation activities are pretty decent. The excellent McHenry County Conservation District operates an impressive number of facilities (forest preserves, etc.), and there are lots of nice places to hike, some of which also lend themselves to cross-country skiing. With all the waterways around here, fishermen and boaters shouldn’t have any trouble amusing themselves. My biggest pet peeve when it comes to recreation is the lack of a public swimming pool in Crystal Lake. There’s a swimming beach at the lake from which Crystal Lake gets its name, but the water quality is kind of icky, as far as I’m concerned. Every time there’s been an effort to pass a referendum for the Park District to build one, it gets voted down because people don’t want their taxes to go higher, especially long-time residents whose favorite comment on the subject goes something like “The lake was good enough for me when I was growing up, and for my children, so it should be good enough for everybody else!”
I’m told this is a good place to raise kids. I can see where it would be, if you have the income to buy a nice home (we didn’t). The schools around here are rated fairly highly. However, when my daughter was in the CL public schools (from the 4th grade on), we found them to be pretty conservative and unimaginative in their approach and not particularly good at meeting the needs of kid who didn’t fit the mold. My daughter was a square peg (extremely bright, but not a “good” student due to ADHD), and she never did fit into any of the round holes the Crystal Lake schools kept trying to stuff her into. As a result, I can’t personally recommend the schools here very highly, but I do know a lot of people who’ve been quite pleased by them. Your mileage may vary.
Higher education right here in town is available but limited, and if you are willing to do some traveling, the resources become very rich indeed. Locally, there is McHenry County College, which is a fairly decent community college. The range of programs offered there is somewhat rather limited (especially career-training programs), especially compared to those available at Elgin Community College, Harper College in Palatine, or the College of Lake County in Grayslake. But if you want to enroll in a program at one of those schools that MCC doesn’t offer, and you’re willing to make the trip, you can get in-district tuition rates by jumping through a reasonable number of bureaucratic hoops.
You can complete a four-year college degree on the MCC campus by taking classes that are offered there through a college in Missouri (again, if you’re satisfied by the narrow range of available programs--but for locals, the convenience can’t be beat). If that doesn’t work for you, there are also some great four-year colleges and universities in Chicago, and a growing number of them have suburban campuses, cutting the commuting distance for nontraditional students who want to earn a degree while holding down jobs and/or raising families. Another popular option for younger students who want to save money by continuing to live at home is to commute to downtown Chicago by train to attend one of the excellent institutions of higher education there. Also, Northern Illinois University in DeKalb is about an hour’s drive from here.
The public library here is another pet peeve of mine. It’s not terrible, but it’s VERY overcrowded. The book stacks are practically up to the ceilings because of the lack of floor space, and even then there’s not nearly enough seating space available. Also, the location is one that WAS convenient for most of the town before the huge growth of the 80s and 90s, but no longer is, and most of the parking is really inconvenient if you have a problem with stairs but can’t qualify for a handicapped license plate. There’s a lot, but if you park in it, you have to either climb up quite a few stairs or walk all the way around the building to get inside. Very poor planning, in my opinion. There was a referendum to build a nice big new library with plenty of parking a few years ago, but it failed like all the swimming pool ones. With the recession, people are (understandably) even tighter with their pocketbooks these days, so I doubt there will be another effort any time soon.
This is already way to long, so I’ll just sum up by saying this is a great town for some people, but so-so for others. It’s politically, economically, and religiously conservative (which is either a positive or a negative thing depending on one’s point of view). If you’re looking for a safe, quiet, and pleasant place to raise a family that has a low crime rate and schools that at least some people consider to be excellent, and you have the income to support a comfortable lifestyle, you might just love it. Those of a more quirky, liberal, and/or nonconformist bent might feel a bit stifled in CL (in which case, I recommend checking out Woodstock, which is about 10 miles up the road from here).
Bedroom Community, Lots of Families, Long Commutes - 10/14/2006
This is a "bedroom community" in the NW suburbs of Chicago. People drive at least an hour to work or take a metro train. The only nearby jobs seem to be Banks, Retail, Restaurants, and Medical offices. There is a lot of new housing developments and shopping. Mostly large family homes. I would say it is mostly a middle class area and majority white population. Elgin next door has a large Mexican population. There are not many freeways to jump on and off, so mostly street driving with lots of lights. It takes a little while to drive anywhere. People are generally nice and friendly. I've only lived here for just over a year and weather seems different than last year. Summers can be hot and humid, winters are cold, about 3 months of 20 degrees. Taxes seem a little high for housing, gas, and sales. A good place for families, singles and young people are a bit out of place. Schaumburg seems like a better location for young, single people. A more central location to the corporation job market.[read more...]