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Bundle up and enjoy cold comfort outdoors
By Marie Wilson | Daily Herald Correspondent

Three visitors venture back to the visitors' center from a winter walk in the Morton Arboretum.


Scott Sanders | Staff Photographer

Visitors to the Chicago Botanic Garden can try out snowshoes as part of the outdoor activities this winter.


Courtesy of the Chicago Botanic Garden

Bring your ice skates and enjoy the frozen pond at the Chicago Botanic Garden.


Courtesy of the Chicago Botanic Garden

Visitors comes from all over to enjoy the frozen winter landscape at the Chicago Botanic Garden.


Courtesy of the Chicago Botanic Garden

The frozen winter landscape looks quite picturesque at the Chicago Botanic Garden.


Courtesy of the Chicago Botanic Garden

A team of huskies will demonstrate how to pull a sled during the Husky Heroes weekend at the Morton Arboretum.


Courtesy of Morton Arboretum

Evergreens stand as frozen sentinels in the winter quiet of the Morton Arboretum.


Courtesy of Morton Arboretum

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Published: 1/26/2010 12:00 AM

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Enjoying winter's wonders (as long as you don't have to commute) is a necessity for most Midwesterners. So why not trump a winter walk around the neighborhood with some snow, ice and natural-filled fun at one of the suburbs' nature conservatories?

The Chicago Botanic Garden in Glencoe and the Morton Arboretum in Lisle allow children, seniors and everyone in between to enjoy the outdoors with recreation, plenty of natural beauty, children's activities, scientific learning opportunities and special events.


Ice skating and snowshoeing are making their debut this winter at the botanic garden. Visitors must bring their gear to skate on a flat area that has fountains running in warmer months, or snowshoe on an L-shaped path that takes about 45 minutes to complete. Ice skaters pay a fee of up to $5 for access to the rink from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. while snowshoers can walk the trail free from 10 a.m. to sunset.

Snowshoeing is an option at the Morton Arboretum for the second year in a row. Visitors can pay $8 to rent shoes for three hours and explore the grounds of the arboretum at their own pace or bring their own snowshoes to hit the snow for free.

When Kristy Ragona, of Des Plaines, went snowshoeing on a sunny January day just after a snowfall, her pace was slow - or at least slower than she expected.

"Oh my God it was hard," Ragona said. "We thought we were going to slide, but each shoe has hooks on the bottom that grip the snow so you can walk."

Still, Ragona said she stayed out for about an hour before coming inside for a warm drink at the arboretum's cafe.

"It allows visitors to get out into the collections in ways that they might not do in the summer," said Gina Tedesco, the arboretum's manager of public relations, adding that those who own cross-country skis can bring them along to get the same exploring experience for free.

Even without blazing a new trail, these gardens offer plenty of scenic walking paths.

Bonnie and Rick Rowe, of Glen Ellyn, said they walk around the Meadow Lake trail at the arboretum about once a week because they know the path will always be cleared of snow.

Viewing nature up close

When people get close to different barren trees, they can see the bark and structure of the branches better, Tedesco said. While bark and branches are visible in the summer, people usually focus on leaves and blooms.

"At this time of year, just like in growing season, nature seems to really have that restorative effect," Tedesco said. "People like to come here and just de-stress and find that inner balance again that's easily apparent in trees and nature."

Viewing trees up close - even pausing to capture a photo - is also a winter activity visitors can enjoy.

"The garden in general is a little more peaceful and quiet than a weekend in July," said Kristie Webber, the garden's director of interpretive programs. "During the winter any day of the week, it's really nice to be here. You can find special pockets where you have the place to yourself."

Children's activities

The arboretum and the botanic garden both have special children's areas so youngsters can learn about nature.

Karin Schatte, of Maywood, and Rachel Kuehner, of Berkeley, brought their families to Morton Arboretum for a day of snowshoeing and hunting for lawn gnomes covered by snow in the children's garden.

"I went under the tree caves," said Schatte's 4-year-old son William, meaning that he crawled past the branches of evergreen trees that hang to the ground and sat by the base of the trees.

Children can participate in Cool Kids Nature Hikes - 20-minute scenic treks followed by hot chocolate - leaving from the children's garden at 10:30 and 11:30 a.m. on weekdays. The morning times and a 12:30 p.m. hike are available on weekends.

At the botanic garden, storytime is at 10 a.m. each Monday at the garden shop with activities and stories meant for children age 5 and younger. The garden also has a "Children's Books Around the World" exhibit in its library until Tuesday, Feb. 2.

Scientific learning

These natural areas can also be a place for guests to get scientific. The Plant Conservation Science Center, which the botanic garden opened last September, has a visitor's center with interactive exhibits and a view of real laboratories.

Budding botanical scientists can learn more about topics ranging from fruit trees and berries to front and backyard design through more than 45 classes offered by the garden's school. The arboretum offers classes in the categories of botanical art, horticulture, natural history, nature photography and the science of studying birds.

Special winter events

For those willing to plan a visit on a specific day, the arboretum and the botanic garden both offer special events and activities, often on weekends.

At the arboretum, visitors can look forward to Husky Heroes weekend Saturday and Sunday, Jan. 30-31. Since 2002, the arboretum has brought in a team of huskies that run among fields and trees demonstrating how they pull sleds and people on skis.

Other events include an opportunity to see the birds of prey that make the arboretum their home and a groundhog day-themed afternoon of events for kids. During Groundhog Daze from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Jan. 30-31, young ones can crawl through a tunnel, touch real fur and make a groundhog puppet to use in a puppet show in the Children's Garden.

Anyone looking for a special activity at the Chicago Botanic Garden can anticipate the Three Friends of Winter bonsai show with a flower market and lectures taking place from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday to Sunday, Jan. 29-31.

This event revolving around three traditional Japanese plants - bamboo, pine and apricot - includes family activities such as scroll-making and folk tales. And the Japanese garden, where the event will take place, is a beautiful location to visit in the winter, Webber said.

Also on Sunday, Jan. 31, the garden will host a free celebration of Tu B'Shevat, the Jewish festival of trees from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. where families can explore trees in the garden's three greenhouses and take a tree plant home.