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Byron forest preserve entertains families

January 22, 2009 at 05:40 AM


Whether it’s hunting for mushrooms or frogs, learning about beekeeping or taking out-of-state fishing trips, thousands of area residents turn to the Byron Forest Preserve District.

In addition to its PrairieView Golf Club, the district offers an array of classes and programs for all ages.

“Now, with people having tight budgets, the activities are a viable option for entertainment for the whole family,” said Julia Heglund, a mother of two living in Byron. “And it’s a great way to do fun things together as a family.”

Diversity of activities has been the district’s hallmark, said Richie Wolf, the BFPD superintendent of education.

“One of the things we try to emphasize is programs that appeal to a broad range of ages,” said Wolf, who has been with the district nine years. “So many times we focus on just kids, but often adults and older adults are underserved.”

Morel mushroom hunting trips on district property are among the most popular programs. About 90 hunters sign up each year for the outings in April and May.

“Everyone seems to be interested in wild eatables, something they can actually take home with them,” Wolf said.

Fishing trips to places as far away as Lake Erie or as close as the golf course pond draw heavy interest.

The 80-person hunter safety programs at the district’s Jarrett Center also fill up quickly with students from throughout northern Illinois.

About 80 percent of participants in all district programs are from outside the Byron area.
“The majority of them are from no farther away than a county or two,” Wolf said.

Other popular programs include Boy and Girl Scout badge workshops, archery and trips to places like Wisconsin’s Door County, Indiana’s Amish country, Minnesota’s boundary waters and the St. Louis arch.

The district added frog-hunting trips last summer with good response.

“We try to offer a very diverse menu to get kids active outside,” Wolf said. “It seems the grosser or more different the program the more successful.”

Not all programs have drawn adequate interest and were discontinued.

“Some of the things we tried that didn’t work were nonmature-related, like juggling and magic workshops, ceramics and basket weaving,” Wolf said.

In the near future the district plans to add a portable planetarium to its Weiskopf Observatory that can be taken to schools.

“They really do a lot to enhance the community as a whole,” Heglund said.

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