Grass runway, rural setting attract pilots to open house

Dave and Cathy Shipley are expecting a lot of company in early September.

They’re the owners of Tri County Airport (2C6), and will host an open house at their grass strip from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2019, for participants in the 48th National Fly-In.

Tri County Airport is located a short flight – 19 nautical miles – southeast of Galesburg Municipal Airport. As an added incentive for visitors, Cathy Shipley will serve up refreshments, sandwiches and snacks during the day.

Tri County Airport takes its name from the three Illinois counties – Knox, Fulton and Peoria – which it serves. The airport was carved out of strip-mined coal company land and has been in operation since 1953.

Here’s more of Tri County’s history:

The Tri County Flying Club was incorporated in 1952 by 14 area aviation enthusiasts led by J.R. and Robert McKeighan.

Other charter members of the club were Don Bride, Verne Kennelly, Edson McMullen, Art Trowbridge, Gene Strickland, J.O. Baird, Russell Davis, Guy Davis, George Breckenridge and Jim Howell.

An area southeast of Douglas, IL, was leased from Midland Coal Co. after it was determined suitable to become an airport.

As the land had been strip-mined, a considerable amount of leveling and smoothing, as well as picking up rocks, was required to make the site suitable for aviation operations. Fences had to be built to contain adjacent cattle. Hangars were constructed to house aircraft.

In 1953, the airport was certified by the Illinois Department of Aeronautics as an airport with one runway — NNE X SSW, 2,200 feet long – and with one hangar building holding six aircraft, and an office. The runway was lengthened by 800 feet in 1959. Runway lights were installed in 1964. Five new hangars were built in 1964 and 1967, and extra fuel tanks were installed.

In 1986, after coal mining ended in the area, the coal company put the leased land up for sale. Flying club members Chuck Bradley, Don Bride, Charles Sauerwein and David Shipley bought the airstrip and hangars.

The new owners, known as the Tri County Development Corp., made many improvements including a meeting room and office, running water, and better drainage tile.

The state Department of Aeronautics reclassified the airport in 1987 as a privately owned public airport, allowing use by all general aviators for aerial access to surrounding communities and for student instruction.

In 2005, Shipley became the sole proprietor of Tri County Development Corp.