Mother Nature fully cooperated with the seasonal celebration of "Winterfest" at Earthplace, providing ample snow cover just days before the annual event Saturday and, for good measure, adding a dusting a few hours later.
The snow blanket and temperatures rising to the comparatively mild 30s from the single digits earlier in the week made for a suitably wintry setting at the nature center for attractions that included snow-shoeing, a camp fire to make S'mores, trail walks in search of animal tracks, sledding, ice sculpture, bird feeder making and horse-and-carriage rides.
More fun awaited families inside, where the Earthplace animal menagerie greeted visitors, while winter-themed crafts were offered in the Ecolab such as making snowflake catchers, coffee filter snowflakes, Inuit goggles and strings of Cheerios to feed birds.
Becky Newman, Earthplace senior naturalist and program director, was impressed with the turnout -- more than 600 people -- and gave some of the credit to the weather. "Every year we worry about the weather, so we were excited when it snowed Tuesday as it would give us a base for Winterfest," she said. "It adds to the ambiance, too, while being warm enough finally for everyone to be outside. By 11:15 a.m. this morning, our parking lot was full."
The unusually cold temperatures over the past few weeks prompted the Earthplace staff running to move heaters and enclose pens to protect resident animals against the frigid air, according to Newman.
The pattern of animal sightings in the Earthplace preserve has also changed. "We are seeing fewer turkeys and squirrels, but more snowy owls, cardinals, wild vultures and ravens."
Winterfest, Newman added, "is a great way to get the entire family out for fun when everyone is fighting cabin fever."
Parents like Westporter Erik Walsh, an Earthplace regular visiting with his 3-year-old daughter Emma, agreed. "It's good to get the kids outdoors rather than sitting indoors all day," he said.
Jenny Joseph, who traveled up from Old Greenwich with her husband and two young children, was of a like mind. "We normally do try to do things outdoors in winter as the kids get crazy indoors," she said. "We hear there were horses and S'mores."