JOHNSTON CITY -- Labor Day weekend, the last hurrah of summer for many, saw the population of Johnston City grow by a couple of hundred who filled the campground at Arrowhead Lake.
"It's the best kept secret in Southern Illinois," said alderman Al Peebels. "It's absolutely beautiful."
The secret, though, is evidently out. Only one campsite remained empty over the Labor Day weekend.
"We have 66 campsites with electrical hookup," said campground host Danny Williams, noting that many of the primitive camping sites were also filled. There's also a cabin available for rent.
About 70 campers joined the barbecue potluck Saturday evening at the campground's General Store that also featured a "jam session" by the Good Ole Boys, playing a mix of country, bluegrass and oldies rock.
"We do the potluck about once a month," said Williams.
Along with the campsites, the park also features five pavilions, two with electricity and ceiling fans that are available for rent. The other three are on a "first-come, first serve" basis.
The General Store, with air conditioning and a potbelly stove, serves as the activity center for the campground, selling bait, ice and firewood. "It's a gathering place," said Williams. "We have games, movies and fishing poles available."
There's also a library with adult and children's books. He said all these items operate "on the honor system. Take one, leave one, or just take one. If we run out, we'll get more."
There's also a microwave and fresh coffee all day. A shower house and Laundromat complete the area.
The campground sits on the 32-acre lake.
"We keep it stocked," said alderman Dwight Hoffard, who oversees the area. "We have a cooperative agreement with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources."
Hoffard said IDNR does a stock survey in the spring and stocks the lake in the fall.
"They just stocked catfish last week," he said.
Canoes, kayaks and boats with trolling motors are welcome on the lake, which is surrounded by a 2.25-mile hiking trail with benches and chin-up bars along the path.
"We're planning to pave the trail to accommodate wheelchairs," said Johnston City Mayor Jim Mitchell.
Jim and Michele Drake have made Arrowhead Lake a regular stop each year on their travels from their home in Ohio to Texas.
"It's friendly, friendly, and friendly," said Michele with a smile, as the couple waited on a bag of fresh kettle corn to be served up by campground host Bob Sturgeon.
Sturgeon, a native of Marion -- who used to deliver the Marion Daily Republican after school each day -- was working hard to fill the demand for his homemade kettle corn during Saturday's potluck.
Williams said the campground stays busy, especially in the summer. "We don't raise our rates on holidays," he said.
The average rate is around $20 and discounts are offered for senior citizens and veterans.
Remote-controlled boat races and 5K and 10K runs have also brought campers to Arrowhead.
Peebels said "people come from all over just to walk the trail."
For the Drakes, who have been hitting the campground twice a year since 2013, it's about the people.
"We love everything about it," said Jim. "The people are very helpful to us."
With a recent acquisition of about 50 acres, Williams said future plans are in the works to add more campsites as well as providing sewer hook ups.
Even though it's been operating for about 30 years, Mitchell said there is always more to do.
"It's always a work in progress," he said.