GENOA – All the activities at the 15th annual Winterfest at Russell Woods Forest Preserve near Genoa were the right price for Christine Egel: free.
“We had a lot of fun,” Egel, of DeKalb, said. “We took our daughter on the wagon ride – which she loved – made some crafts and learned a lot. It made for a great afternoon, and it was free. You can’t beat that.”
The annual festival Saturday featured lessons from a professional wood carver, a Native American tracking technique expert and University of Illinois Extension educator Peggy Doty. She has organized the event for 13 years.
“We hope it continues to catch on and the word spreads,” Doty said. “It’s a very convenient form of entertainment and education for not only families with children but for anyone looking to learn more about nature while saving money and lengthy trips to the museums in the city. The fact ... that it is free makes it a great option for some weekend fun in the winter.”
A highlight was a wagon ride through the woods, pulled by two Belgian horses provided by Phil and Sara Nielsen of Waterman. The majestic steeds shuffled around the snow-tinged preserve, pulling as many as 20 passengers at a time.
Between crafts and lessons, attendees were able to check out the turtles and snakes that occupy the various aquariums throughout the indoor shelter, as well as pet and feed the main attraction: A 45-pound African spurred tortoise named T.J.
Jason Thompson, a DeKalb County Forest Preserve teacher, taught visitors Native American tracking techniques.
Through studying various aspects of footsteps and animal tracks in soil and snow, Thompson pointed out how one can discover the nature of the subject’s journey, what kind of animal was passing and the speed of their pace.
“It’s a really fascinating practice,” Thompson said. “The techniques can be used in everything from creating fun, outdoor hiking activities, to finding lost people and animals, to documenting who or what has been traveling through and what activity they might have been taking part in.”
Family hikes, candle-making, woodcarving, story time for children and a course on bird-watching techniques also were featured.
“I wasn’t aware this took place in the winter,” Robert Palmer of Genoa said. “My mom told me about it, and it was so close, I decided to take my son. Even though he’s still very young, he enjoyed all the activities, especially seeing the tortoise.”