By Kate Knight
On a dark and chilly October night, the streets bordering Schmeeckle Reserve in Stevens Point were packed. Bike lanes had turned into parking spaces; dark sidewalks illuminated with torches.
It’s Schmeeckle’s 10th annual Fall Candlelight Hike Festival, and hundreds of community members attended throughout the night. Megan Espe, outreach coordinator at Schmeeckle Reserve, said the fall event began in 2005.
“It’s our biggest event of the year,” Espe said. Last fall’s candlelight hike counted 2,200 attendees.
Highlights of the festival included torch- and jack-o-lantern-lit trails for attendees to walk, as well as craft stations, snacks and campfire programs.
“We probably have close to 100 people here tonight helping us,” Espe said. “It’s an all-hands-on-deck event.” This fall’s ‘city critters’ theme aims to educate attendees on urban wildlife in the area and explain how humans can co-exist with nature in their own backyard.
“We are interpreting the wildlife you have in an urban-natural area like this, and also just in your own backyard or the city of Stevens Point,” Espe said. “It’s really fun to see families out here together walking the trails, partaking in a craft station, trying some different snacks that are related to that theme, gathering around the campfire program – they’re just so thrilled – and come out and have a good time.”
Community members attending the Fall Candlelight Hike Festival flooded the reserve’s well-lit trails, gathered for some educational entertainment, and filled the visitor center’s rooms.
“We want to invite the community out to Schmeeckle Reserve to explore it and to get to experience it after dark,” Espe said. “It’s a fun, different way to experience the natural area.” She hopes the event will show community members what the reserve has to offer and that they will come back another time with their families to walk the trails.
Donations of $2 to $5 dollars were encouraged at the free event. “We try to keep it really economical,” Espe said.
Contributions from the Fall Candlelight Hike Festival will go to Friends of the Schmeeckle Reserve, a community-based nonprofit organization. The group is currently in its second year and supports land management projects, educational programs, research and additional initiatives of the reserve.
For more information on the Fall Candlelight Hike Festival or the Schmeeckle Reserve, visit www.uwsp.edu/cnr-ap/schmeeckle/Pages/home.aspx.