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posted: 4/24/2014 7:01 AM

Blackberry Farm: Growing better with age

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  • Josephine, 2 and Theresa Welsch of Aurora ride the carousel at Blackberry Farm in Aurora. The park opens for the season Thursday, May 1.

       Josephine, 2 and Theresa Welsch of Aurora ride the carousel at Blackberry Farm in Aurora. The park opens for the season Thursday, May 1.
    Mark Black | Staff Photographer, 2011

 
 

In his dotage, Dad's comedic repertoire kept growing. As the birthdays piled up, he never aged. Rather, he proclaimed, "I just get better looking every year."

Funny -- or not. But it makes for a fitting analogy, because there's an iconic landmark that's also basking in that mythical fountain of youth.

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Its roots reach back to the early 1800s, yet somehow, Blackberry Farm is looking fresh as a daisy.

A modern makeover in 2012 contributed to Blackberry's vibrant, new-sparkle look -- think in terms of polishing a nostalgic jewel.

Blackberry Farm and its unique charm will be on display in all its glory starting next Thursday, May 1, when the barn doors swing open to the public for the 45th year. Since 1969, the historic pioneer village and farm has delighted and educated generations of visitors.

The "new" Blackberry Farm is extra special. All the traditional favorites like the steam-engine replica train, carousel, hay wagon rides and pedal tractors remain intact, accentuated by new features and amenities that will make each visit all the more exciting.

"All of Blackberry Farm's historical charm … with a fresh wave of new attractions," said facility supervisor Sandie Gilmer.

At the top of that list is the revolutionary "Adventure Playground," which opened to rave reviews.

It's an extensive network of climbing decks, slides, ropes and catwalk-style bridges connecting an array of playhouses on multiple levels, bringing a 21st century twist to the historic pioneer village. A 70-foot zip line alongside provides added excitement for youth thrill-seekers.

"It is a unique combination of interactive features; a hands-on farm museum where children go from deck-to-deck answering questions and learning about the history of pioneer life," said Gilmer. "Most children have never experienced something like this."

Other highlights include a new, 2,500-square-foot picnic shelter that serves as a performance stage for live entertainment -- featuring the "Live and Uncorked" series of outdoor concerts and adult beverages (beer and wine).

Nearby, on the shore of Lake Gregory, a nautically themed boathouse shelter/pavilion and dock are home to a fleet of paddle boats available to visitors during designated times.

The south end of Lake Gregory and the adjacent land areas bordering Blackberry Creek now feature picnic areas and agricultural displays exhibiting early-day farm practices. Also, group picnic shelters have been expanded throughout the park -- ideal for larger gatherings.

It makes Blackberry Farm an even more attractive venue for special events -- weddings, reunions, fundraisers, corporate outings and the like.

An exciting lineup of events is in store, and we're talking a huge list. Every day is a shindig at Blackberry Farm; the resident chickens, donkey, ponies and pig should realize they're living the good farm life.

Family Fun Nights will include everything Blackberry has to offer -- and an outdoor movie. Civil War Days in August will re-enact an important part of American history as part of the 150th anniversary. And there are minicamps galore to delight the younger children all summer.

Blackberry Farm and Splash Country Water Park (across the street) team up in July for the Farm 'N Float Celebration -- spend all day bouncing between the two places. Ice cream socials and free admission days are held throughout the summer as well.

Another new event -- the Buggy Boogie Stroller 5K -- kicks off September. In fact -- new this year -- Blackberry's hours in September have been expanded to include Fridays (in addition to weekends), setting the stage for Halloween-themed Pumpkin Weekends that run throughout October.

With so much to see and do, a visit to Blackberry Farm will make us all feel a bit younger -- and wiser, at that.

• Jeff Long is the public relations manager at the Fox Valley Park District. Visit foxvalleyparkdistrict.org for more information and be sure to 'Like' Blackberry Farm on Facebook.

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