After a brutally cold and snowy winter where the outside world was off limits for all but the hardiest souls, St. James Farm kicked off the summer season Saturday with picture perfect weather for its annual Family Field Day in Warrenville.
"The idea is to bring you back out in the forest preserve, where you can see hundreds of acres of green space," said Wayne Zaininger, manager of site operations for St. James Farm, part of the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County. Throngs on families with children pushed Saturday's attendance to somewhere between 5,000 and 7,000, Zaininger added.
Opened as a forest preserve in 2006, St. James Farm was purchased in 1920 as a retreat for Chauncey and Marion McCormick, relatives of Cyrus McCormick, who made his fortune manufacturing farm equipment.
"It was a private estate for 90 years," Zaininger says. "The Field Day now actually comes from the Field Days that were held in the 1920s and '30s."
The dairy cows of that day are long gone, but Saturday's crowd found plenty of horses, goats, chickens and dogs.
"Mom, would you help me get this chicken off," a calm 8-year-old Kate Vallaro asks Nichole Vallaro as a chicken flaps away on the child's right shoulder. The girl, from West Chicago, is used to chickens and bunnies because she helps Stacey McGhee, a 4-H leader with the Just Say Nay club that meets in Wheaton.
While many people seemed content watching dressage routines, performances by the Midwest Renegades Equestrian Drill Team, a demonstration by the Friends for Therapeutic Equine Activities or programs featuring sheepdogs, Jack Russell Terriers and the German Shepherd Search & Rescue Dog Association of Illinois, others enjoyed some hands-on activities under a beautiful blue sky.
"We mixed in some archery and fishing and wonderful outdoor recreation for everyone," Zaininger says.
"We aren't dressed for it," says mom Amy Kilner of Naperville as she nods toward the archery range where daughter Emma, 9, wears a sequined skirt. "But we aren't going to let it hold us back."
Hitting the bull's-eye always seems easy for fictional archers such as Princess Merida from the movie "Brave," and the Katniss character from the "Hunger Games." But kids generally are surprised at how much strength archery requires.
"They had to switch the bow because the first one was too heavy," says 7-year-old Tessa Kilner.
St. James Farm features a pond for fishing, trails for walking, bicycles and horses, and a pavilion that groups can rent. For details, visit dupageforest.com or phone (630) 933-7248.