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Forest Preserves of Cook County presents family fun at Kids’ Fest in Thornton
Daily Southtown

Thursday, June 30, 2022
Chicago Tribune
by Jessi Virtusio

Families looking to find out more about Forest Preserves of Cook County may want to head to a free outdoor event in Thornton.

The 18th annual Kids’ Fest takes place July 9, rain or shine, at the 35-acre Wampum Lake, which features nine bump-outs along nearly one mile of shoreline.

“It’s a showcase of some of the fun recreational activities that can happen in the forest preserves,” said Adam Kessel, program coordinator for the south region for Forest Preserves of Cook County’s Conservation and Experiential Programming Department.


“Wampum Lake itself has so many special ecological phenomena happening. It’s got unique plant species and bird species throughout. If families are really excited about all these recreational activities we have, they can come back for volunteer opportunities.

“They can actually have a hand in maintaining that forest ecosystem. It’s really an exciting location because it’s just so ecologically special. We want to bring some of that nature to the forefront and then have some of these activities and different vendors in this natural space.”

Registration is encouraged but not required for Kids’ Fest, which includes community partners offering activities such as archery, canoeing and fishing.

Slots are limited for canoeing, which is first-come, first-served. Registration for this activity will be taken on the day of the event at the canoe launch.

“It’s a celebration of kids and childhood and just that love of exploration. What better place to celebrate the magic of childhood than nature in the forest preserves?” said Kessel of the Oak Park-River Forest area.

“We’ll have our resource management team out there doing tree climbing. Your kids can actually climb a tree and have a harness on. We’ll also showcase some of the skills of the Resource Management Department as it pertains to forestry.”

Community partners who regularly participate in Kids’ Fest, as well as other Forest Preserves of Cook County events, include University of Illinois Extension, which helps to encourage residents through Conservation@Home Cook County to adopt Forest Preserves Friendly practices in their gardens.

“Another partner that comes out is Friends of the Forest Preserves. They’re a nonprofit that does a lot of work around youth employment,” said Kessel, who started with Forest Preserves of Cook County as a naturalist running the Mighty Acorns environmental education program for third- to fifth-graders.

According to Kessel, who is coming up on his 11th year of working with Forest Preserves of Cook County, approximately 30 vendors to 40 vendors participate in Kids’ Fest every year.

“We’ll have a number of different vendors, some showcasing the things that we do in the forest preserves. The fisheries tent will have some of the species of fish that live in Wampum Lake so kids can get up close and personal,” he said.

“Also, we have folks from different conservation agencies and, of course, Sand Ridge Nature Center out of South Holland and many other partners to showcase all the great things that they provide for young people in their communities.”

Sand Ridge Nature Center, 15891 Paxton Ave., is the centerpiece of Forest Preserves of Cook County’s 585-acre Sand Ridge Campus; which also features Green Lake Family Aquatic Center, 1100 River Oaks Drive, Calumet City; and Camp Shabbona Woods, 15810 S. Torrence Ave., South Holland.

“In that one location you have a nature center, you have a campground and you have an aquatic center so it’s really this hyperlocal, wonderful nature experience,” Kessel said.

“You can walk over to the nature center and pick up a program there. In summer you can stay at the campground and head over to Green Lake and cool down in the pool and splash pad. That’s what makes Sand Ridge a really special location within Cook County forest preserves.”

Other Forest Preserves of Cook County campgrounds that could provide a staycation in the south region include Camp Bullfrog Lake, 9600 Wolf Road, Willow Springs, and Camp Sullivan, 14630 Oak Park Ave., Oak Forest.

“Kids’ Fest is the last big event for the South Side in our region for the summer,” Kessel said.

“If you come out here and love Kids’ Fest, check out some of the other amenities that the Forest Preserves has to offer including nature centers.”

Forest Preserves of Cook County’s south region also includes Little Red Schoolhouse Nature Center, 9600 Wolf Road, Willow Springs; and Sagawau Environmental Learning Center, 12545 W. 111th St., Lemont.

Kids’ Fest

When: 10 a.m.-3 p.m. July 9

Where: Wampum Lake, 598 Thornton Lansing Road, Thornton

Tickets: free

Information: 312-415-2970;

Jessi Virtusio is a freelance reporter for the Daily Southtown.


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