GENOA – Snow covered the sign for Winterfest at the entrance to Russell Woods Forest Preserve, but that didn't deter the crowds from the long-time annual event.
“There were at least 50 people here first thing in the morning," said Peggy Doty, Energy and Environmental Stewardship Educator for the University of Illinois Extension, which runs the event. "And it’s been a rotation. … I bet we’ve had about 150 people. Some people came and stayed the entire day.”
Winterfest activities included bird-watching, native skills and tracking instruction, wagon rides pulled by two Belgian draft horses, candle making, rope making, and an informative family nature hike to end the day. The Genoa Prairie Gems 4-H club sold hot dogs, hot chocolate and baked goods.
An annual Winterfest event that again took place was the reading of Jan Brett’s book, "The Mitten." Doty explained the reason for the traditional reading.
“Quite frankly, we put a lot of money into the kit, which is puppets," Doty said. "And my mother actually knit the mittens that we use in the story. So, we don’t have a lot of opportunities to use it, so we literally only use it once a year.
“There’s a young man, Cliffton Hansen, who’s a Scout, and he has come since before he was born. And it’s his thing, to help with 'The Mitten.' ”
Kaylee Luetkebuenger, 9, of DeKalb, has attended Winterfest for several years. She particularly liked the “indoor hot chocolate” and candle making. She said that the cold, snowy weather felt good, even though “a lot of snow got in my face.”
Doty explained the appeal of the event.
“It’s really to get people out of their houses, as a family, for a very inexpensive, if not free [day]," she said. “It’s not ‘Snow Fest.’ Winter is a season; it’s not a precipitation.
"It’s celebrating the season.”