Don't tell the Hanks family that Sunday's yule log hunt at the Morton Arboretum in Lisle was all fun and games.
For the first time in their five years of participating, the family decided to get competitive. They found the first few clues and ran with the leaders before making a mad dash to the finish line.
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Their reward? They were one of two families to find the yule log after a 45-minute clue-driven scavenger hunt through 1,700 acres of trees and trails.
"It was cold and it kept the good competitors home," joked one of the winners, Lombard resident Denise Hanks. She, her husband Martin, and six-year-old daughter Taylor, along with the Frank and Katie Clarke of Willowbrook, won the arboretum's 32nd yule log hunt.
Denise Hanks said she used her tree knowledge to keep up with the leaders of the pack.
As part of the festivities, volunteers set up stations for a cookie-tossing competition just north of the children's garden. Adults and children alike tossed their cookies - that is, circular cross sections of tree bark - in a leadup to the day's main event.
Woodridge resident Stacey Vein, whose 10-year-old daughter Lauren participated in the cookie tosses, said the chance to get outdoors during the winter months stays within her efforts to keep her daughter active.
"It's getting out there, meeting new people, hiking the trails," she said. "It feels so good to be outside with the family."
Vein has been to the last two hunts and said last year's convinced her and her boyfriend, Michael Field, to sign up and become members of the arboretum.
Each year, volunteers come up with rhyming clues for participants to decipher. The clues lead them to further destinations somewhere on the arboretum's property and teach them about the arboretum's message, which special event Manager Marilyn Baysek says is purely environmental.
"They will learn something and we'll involve them in the real reason this place exists," she said. "It's for the planting and protection of trees."
Baysek has been part of the event for 10 years.
"It's well-managed chaos," Baysek said. "It's a wonderful activity that includes fitness and wellness. It gets people out."
For Denise Hanks, however, it was a chance to win and she said the victory was not easy - and a bit physical.
"In the last part, it's a sprint," she said. "You have to be fast and clever and run until you can't move."