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NATURE: Visitors enjoy annual event, promoting education and preservation

Winter festival in the forest

By Ray Spiteri, Niagara Falls Review

Niagara - 

Adults roasted hot dogs and marshmallows. Kids played outdoor games, participated in nature-related activities and went on toboggan rides. Others walked along the many trails.

Heartland Forest, which has 96 acres of provincially significant wetland including unique and different species and biodiversity, hosted its second annual Winter Fest Sunday. The free event offers family-fun and educational activities with a focus on preservation.

The property is managed by a charitable organization and run by corporate and private donations.

"We saw the advertisement and never been here before, never knew it existed and we thought we'd give it a try and it's fantastic," said Niagara Falls native Richard Ciszek, who was walking out of a tree house with his wife and two granddaughters.

"Lots of fun. We're having a great time."

St. Catharines resident Lou Stranges said the event is a good learning tool for children and provides an opportunity for families to do something outdoors in the winter.

"My sister told us about the place, we looked it up on the internet and thought it was a great place," said Stranges after roasting some hot dogs with his four-year-old daughter, Anna. "Great day to come out. Beautiful weather and we're just having a lot of fun with the kids."

Indoors, Angela Heppner, of Peterson Community Workshop, helped children make crafts.

"We came up with the idea to do wishing stars that we can put outside and the children can do a wish for Heartland Forest for spring," said Heppner while working on a piece with eight-year-old Madison Rodella.

Heartland Forest manager Amy Brunning said although the event is only two years old, she hears a lot of positive feedback from visitors.

"I guess they go away with having learned something as well as being active, getting outside and learning something about the environment," she said.

Along with Winter Fest, Heartland Forest offers other seasonal events such as Frog Fest in May and Pumpkin Fest in the fall.

Barbara Grumme, a local realtor and Heartland Forest board member, said the Winter Fest idea came up a few years ago when the board looked at having another event, this time in the off season.

"Our idea was to do a little winter party," said Grumme, who was the event's corporate sponsor. "It's not quite as wheelchair accessible as some of the other events, but it's a fun event for people to come out and get some fresh air and exercise."

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