If you've never looked out over the crest in McHenry County's Glacial Park into a valley of pioneer-era encampments, the 25th anniversary Trail of History is not the one to miss.
When 200 re-enactors set up the weekend of Oct. 19-20, it'll be the last time the McHenry County Conservation District hosts the beloved event, which traditionally draws up to 10,000 visitors.
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If you goWhat: McHenry County Conservation District's 25th, and final, Trail of History
When: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 19-20
Where: Glacial Park, Route 31 and Harts Road, Ringwood
Admission: $8 adults, $4 children ages 6-12 and seniors ages 60 and older; free for kids ages 5 and younger
Need to know: Gates close at 3 p.m. to allow visitors time to make the one-mile hike over hilly terrain to the encampment. For those unable to make the walk, there is a special needs parking area; a shuttle from the special needs parking area to the event site is available. Pets are not allowed.
Details: (815) 338-6223 or mccdistrict.org
Communications manager Wendy Kummerer said conservation district board members have discussed the possibility of discontinuing the Trail of History for the last few years because of staff time and money constraints. They decided planning a final event would be best to give attendees one last chance to experience it.
Without the annual living history re-enactment, the conservation district will be able to shift its energies to new projects, but organizers have not had any formal discussions about what should come next.
"There's nothing really that is ever going to take the place of the Trail of History," Kummerer said. "It's a really unique event that people have come to enjoy and appreciate."
The Trail of History includes a one-mile hike through oak and hickory woodland and over the glacial kames -- hills formed by a retreating glacier. The hike takes visitors back in time and leaves them face to face with life as it was in the former Northwest Territory from 1670-1850.
A team of oxen will be pulling a wagon; there will be jugglers, candle makers, period musical entertainment, people making corn husk dolls and an active pioneer kitchen.
That's where Nancy Jacoby, of Cary, will be spending most of her time. She and her daughter Jessica, 27, attended the Trail of History as visitors just a few years ago.
"It was amazing," Jacoby said. "It looked like I had stepped back in time and I was just blown away by the authenticity of it all."
Jacoby was hoping to one day be a longtime volunteer and said she and her daughter are "extremely sad" their involvement is being cut short.
The two-day event, which serves as a last hurrah for re-enactors who travel throughout the Midwest all summer for similar living history presentations, will be bittersweet for many.
Re-enactors set up for the weekend and live as their predecessors would have. They don't get into character each morning as the first guest arrives, they stay in character for two full days.
And actually, many will be in character for even longer than that. A group of about 1,300 fifth-graders will get a special tour of the encampments on Friday, Oct. 18. Students who are studying the pioneer era in school will enjoy a mini event designed just for them.
Kummerer said the whole weekend is more than entertainment, it's cultural education.
Special this year will be the opportunity to plant trees in a commemorative reforestation effort. The conservation district is replanting 1,500 trees to connect two wooded areas, thanks to a grant from ComEd. The final group of Trail of History attendees will be able to permanently leave their mark on the landscape, if they choose.
Visitors also will be invited to sign a memory book, cataloging their reactions to the Trail of History and involvement over the years.
Tickets are $8 for adults, and $4 for children ages 6 to 12 and seniors ages 60 and older. Children ages 5 and younger are admitted free. For those who cannot make the one-mile hike, alternate parking options and a shuttle are available.
Visit mccdistrict.org for details.