Illinois Grass Strip Offers Safari Fly-In Opportunity

Pilots can fly into Herrens Bess Hollow Airfield in Kampsville to see exotic animals.

Mike Herren’s Aeronca, out front of his hangar. [Credit: Mike Herren]

Mike Herren’s grass airstrip by all accounts is a pretty standard affair. From the air, it’s relatively easy for it to go unnoticed, even by those who fly in the area often. In the case of an airline pilot who recently interacted with Herren, they have seen the nearly 2,000-foot-long turf airstrip when overflying it at FL300. 

Even for those who are aware of Herrens Bess Hollow Airfield (LL77) in Kampsville, Illinois, one of the grass strip’s main features is a surprise to them.

“My wife, Tammy, and I’s main focus here on the property is that we raise exotic animals. I’ve always been involved with alternative agriculture and exotic animal breeding throughout my whole life. But we’ve never been open to the public, and it’s just been something that we have done for ourselves. A few years ago, we decided to bring this to the public, where people can come into our venue to take a tour and see the animals. I recently started advertising this on various aviation related Facebook groups, because I knew that pilots would be interested in flying to see Kamaroo Farms,” Herren explained. 

Even with the basic amenities in place at this point on the property, and minimal advertising efforts, Herren has stated a strong demand has already revealed itself form fellow pilots to visit their airstrip.

“We’ve only been advertising to the aviation public for a little while now and have already had several people fly into the airstrip. A few have even camped overnight. The combination of the grass airstrip, the rental cabin that’s being built right now, and the exotic animals (camels, kangaroos, ostriches, swans, emus, and other exotic birds) [attracts] many.” 

Herren anticipates that these varied species on the property will form a mainstay at the fly-in destination, especially as he and his wife—a longtime event professional—outfit the property with more activities. Some of the unique things that will be going on at the airfield are the basic animal husbandry and related classes the Herrens plans to conduct. 

 Mike Herren and one of Kamaroo Farm’s exotic animals. [Credit: Mike Herren]

“We hope this year to build a water-powered grist mill and have already built a big lake to flow water to the wheel. Our immediate goal, though, is to have alternative agriculture seminars. A lot of people are wanting to move to the country and get a few acres. When they get there, how do they make a living off of it or use it? A lot of people don’t know anything at all in this arena, so we are going to offer classes. An example of a class topic would be how to raise quail, for your own consumption or direct marketing to consumers through the internet. Or experience firsthand how to raise honeybees, goats, rabbits, or other basic animals, too.” 

Herren expects that as more amenities come online, more formal fly-in events will be added to the schedule throughout much of the year. These “fly-in food” get togethers root back to the airstrip’s early days, where Herren, an Aeronca owner, hosted crawfish boils for friends and other aviators.

“What we are trying to do is get people who come in with their airplane and camp overnight, see the animals. Then maybe they’ll be interested in coming back for an event like a pig roast, fish fry, a lamb roast, or a crawdad boil. It’s fun to fly somewhere new and this is a great place to land. We’ve had people come in here in Mooneys, even, believe it or not. They don’t have a lot of prop clearance, but they have. I’ve also had Twin Comanches come in here, as well as biplanes, all kinds of Cessnas, and gobs of taildraggers. It’s a taildragger's dream to come true, landing here—with bunches of room to land.” 

Everything mentioned to this point is just a small part of the atmosphere that the Herrens are hoping will define the experience of flying into their airstrip. There is one caveat that pilots should be aware of, the “Flying Dr. Dolittle” noted, however. 

An aerial view of Mike Herren’s property in Kampsville, Illinois. [Credit: Mike Herren]

“It’s just a pretty place to fly, as we’re in the Midwest—right between the Mississippi and the Illinois Rivers. And it’s especially beautiful to fly around here in the fall. Our only caveat is that since October is such a pretty month to fly, and the weather is pretty good, we try to be sensitive to our neighbors here, who own half the airstrip. Since deer hunting is big here in Southern Illinois, October, November, and December are kind of touchy months for that reason,” he said.

“No sooner that I started spreading the word about our airstrip, did people start flying over here and buzzing the area. And we can’t have that. So, I had to get back on there and ask that everyone stay at pattern altitude and if you want to land, please give us a call. The reason that is, is two-fold. First, I don’t want people flying low and scaring the animals, especially the kangaroos—who will run into the fence and hurt themselves. The second reason is the deer hunters, because we don’t want to mess up their hunting, as they may feel that the airplanes could scare the deer in the early mornings or evenings when they’re doing their primary activity.”

Grant Boyd is a private pilot with eight years of experience in aviation business, including marketing, writing, customer service, and sales. Boyd holds a Bachelor's and a Master's of Business Administration degree, both from Wichita State University, and a Doctor of Education degree from Oklahoma State University. He was chosen as a NBAA Business Aviation "Top 40 Under 40" award recipient in 2020.

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