Family-Friendly Event Teaches Children About Wildlife
by Molly Schecklman – Schmeeckle Reserve is a 280-acre conservancy area located on the campus of the University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point in Stevens Point, Wisconsin. The area consists of five miles of trails and boardwalks, a variety of wildlife species in a diverse group of habitats, and a 24-acre lake.
During the fall, this outdoor classroom offers a unique experience for its visitors. “The Candlelight Hike Festival is a family-friendly, outdoor event Schmeeckle Reserve hosts each fall and spring,” said Megan Espe, Outreach Coordinator at Schmeeckle Reserve. “The event includes several loops of torch-lit trails. In the fall, the trails are also lit up with 300 or more carved jack-o’-lanterns, which is a real highlight for visitors.”
Every festival has a different theme. The theme this fall is “A Schmeeckle Mystery,” about the “clues” that wildlife leave behind.
The Candlelight Hike Festival originally started as a winter event in 2005. In 2007, the event switched to a fall and spring event with the fall event continuing to set a new attendance record each year. The first event saw only 200 people attend, compared to the record-breaking attendance of 3,000 it expects to see this year.
The festival also offers a campfire character skit which is put on with costumes by UW-Stevens Point students of the Environmental Interpretation program. “Other activities throughout the evening are related to the “mystery” theme and include crafts for children, free snacks, and hands-on Discovery Stations where all ages can explore more about wildlife clues,” said Espe.
All festival activities are made possible by the UW-Stevens Point student employees and community volunteers. “At Schmeeckle Reserve, we have about 45 UW-Stevens Point student employees, and the Candlelight Hike is an all-hands-on-deck opportunity for them. The students carve the pumpkins all week ahead of time,” said Espe. “All day Friday we’ll have volunteers and staff out putting up the torches and pumpkins, preparing the campfire ring, and setting up the activity stations. We have 30-40 employees and 75 to 100 volunteers who make this event happen.”
The Candlelight Hike Festival will be held from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Friday, Oct. 27. The event is free to attend but donations are always welcome. Donation stations are set up throughout the event with a suggested donation of $2 per person or $5 per family.
The Candlelight Hike is sponsored by the Friends of Schmeeckle Reserve, a nonprofit community group that helps support our programming. The donations go to the Friends to fund future programs.