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Snow Day Festival Offers Sledding, Huskies, S’mores For Winter Fun

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Photo Caption: Kenna, the husky, took an immediate liking to little Sarah DiGiovanni when they met at Snow Day Festival, leaning in to give her kisses. Sarah and her dad, John, had a nice visit with Kenna’s owner, Tanya Partenski.–photo by Karen Haave

Rosalie Jones of Peotone found a friend in Denali, one of the many beautiful huskies participating in the FPDWC festival on Saturday. The day was warmer than expected, so the dogs didn’t do any sledding, but Denali’s owner, Theresa Przybylski said the January thaw was “perfect for the dogs” anyway.–photo by Karen Haave

Molly Swift shared her sunglasses with one of the snowmen at the Beavers Lodge play area at Plum Creek Nature Center. Molly was the outstanding reporter for the Prairie 4-H Club last year, and she and her family are avid supporters of the FPD, too. The Swifts are the animal caretakers at Plum Creek, looking after the resident critters there, feeding, cleaning and handling all of them every week.–photo by Karen Haave

Maeve Anderson, Blake Koche, Alex Martins and Joey Marek were armed and ready to free the trees of unwanted non-native brush that Forest Preserve District volunteers heaped on a fire. The activity was an offshoot of the FPD’s Forest Invaders program, which teaches kids how native plants help the environment.–photo by Karen Haave

Sledders gonna sled, even if there’s not much snow on the 40-foot hill at Plum Creek Nature Center in Beecher. Even without a heavy snow cover, the hill was slippery enough for fun. Monee brothers Ryne and Logan came ready to slide at the Snow Day Festival.–photo by Karen Haave

Gianna DeSanto (right) and her family have been enjoying the Forest Preserve District’s Musher Mania at the Monee Reservoir for years, and were enthusiastic about the event’s transition to Snow Day Festival at Plum Creek Nature Center. Theresa Przybylski is a return participant with her husky, Denali.–photo by Karen Haave

by Karen Haave

It was officially known as Snow Day Festival, but the snow was a bit limited in a January thaw at Plum Creek Nature Center. So one of the young guests at the event on Saturday dubbed it “Fun Day Festival” instead.

And a fun day, outdoors, enjoying nature, was exactly what organizers at the Forest Preserve District of Will County had in mind for the 1,700 people who attended and participated in the wide range of free family activities.

The event was held for the first time at the Nature Center, incorporating some of the features of the popular Musher Mania that had been held at Monee Reservoir for many years. The sled dogs were there, along with a 40-foot sledding hill, a new Forest Invaders program, arts, and crafts, snowshoeing, ice sculpting demonstrations, the Disney film “Snow Buddies,” and a campfire with s’mores. There also were giveaways, food and more.

The friendly and beautiful Huskies were, as always, a popular draw, but the Nature Center building had a steady stream of visitors – 1,056, to be exact – viewing the exhibits.

Commissioner Laurie Summers of Crete, who attended Snow Day Festival, was delighted with the event. “How fantastic to see so many people enjoying the nature preserve,” she said.

Diane Carson, the facility supervisor for Plum Creek Nature Center, was happy with the attendance and the setting.

“The perfect weather conditions of sunshine and snow,” she said, “allowed us to exceed all expectations on this first annual Snow Day Festival.”

Carson also said she really loved seeing children who attended the event get so creative with the marshmallow sculpting contest and also the snowman creations at the Beavers Lodge play area.

“The snowmen were an unplanned activity, and the children just had fun with snow and their imaginations,” Carson added.

One of the new activities at the fest was the Forest Invaders-related activity that allowed kids to remove non-native undergrowth from the natural areas for burning in a small brush fire. The idea behind the activity, noted Angie Opiola, FPDWC interpretive naturalist, is to encourage people “to do something positive for the environment.”

Like a controlled burn, removing invasive foreign growth allows the return of indigenous plants that actually are helpful to wildlife and the ecosystem.

“The goal is to get rid of invasive and dying invasive plants,” Opiola emphasized, adding that growing native plants in place of the nonindigenous ones will mean wildlife will leave your decorative landscape alone.

“Plant a few native plans and just watch what happens,” she said. “The squirrels and birds will go to those plants for food. They will start using that. It adds value to the environment. So it makes sense to plant things that used to be here.”

Opiola said that the activity kids participate in at the Snow Day Festival was an offshoot of the Forest Invaders program that is available to high schools, youth groups, and scout troops in Will County. FPDWC specialists visit the classroom or meeting room and explain the importance of native plants and how they benefit the ecosystem. More information is available by calling the Sugar Creek Administrative Center at 815.727.8700.

Snow Day Festival, meanwhile, also featured an informative booth on using the proper amount of de-icer salt on sidewalks and steps.

Boy Scouts from Steger manned the booth to demonstrate that only a cup of salt is needed for a 20-foot area, which means that most of us are over-salting.

Too much salt, Opiola noted, is not a good thing.

“The goal is to draw awareness to how much salt is adequate to put down for safety,” she said.

“That salt doesn’t just magically go away. Whatever you put on your property ends up in our waterways. We just want to increase awareness of the effect salt has on the environment. We’re saying ‘Use it, but use it responsibly.’”

As for the Snow Day Festival, Opiola said the event was exactly what organizers had hoped it would be.

“It’s a festival that has something for everyone,” she said.”What the whole festival was trying to do was to give you a feeling of a snow day, enjoying everything you do when you have a snow day.”

The event took place at Plum Creek Nature Center, in the 891-acre Goodenow Grove Nature Preserve in Crete Township near Beecher. It includes an oak-hickory forest, open fields, a four-acre pond, cattail marsh and a 40-foot hill. Recreational opportunities include picnicking, camping, six miles of hiking/cross-country ski trails, ice skating and sledding on giant inner tubes. The site also offers a variety of educational and recreational opportunities for schools, youth groups, and the public.

Plum Creek Nature Center was first renovated in 1980 when it was converted from the Boy Scout Administration building to a nature center for the Forest Preserve District. The second renovation in 2001 included a major update to the building and expansion to allow for more indoor exhibits and programming space. The renovation included a “more welcoming” entrance into the building with a new front desk, as well as the creation of the bird feeding and native plant garden area.

The most recent renovation was completed in 2012 and it included a new roadway into the preserve, development of the Plum Creek Greenway Trail, a new access route to the building’s entrance, a redesigned and expanded campground and the development of the nature playscape area around the nature center. The bird viewing and pollinator garden areas also were improved.

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