For families holed up at home on long, dark winter days, Saturday -- with bright skies and relatively balmy temperatures -- proved a festive alternative.
It was, in fact, "Winterfest," the annual celebration of the season at Earthplace, the Nature Discovery Center.
Among the event's many activities, there was a guided trail walk, camp fire, horse-and-wagon rides, animal encounters, snowshoe demonstrations and seasonal crafts. An addition this year was sleigh riding.
In its third year, Winterfest strives to offer broadly appealing activities, said Becky Newman, a senior naturalist and education specialist. "It gets people outside in the winter to alleviate cabin fever and gives families a variety of things to do."
Last year, she noted, the day of the fest was very un-winterlike, with temperatures near 65 degrees. "We couldn't do many of the winter-oriented things you might expect. But today, temperatures are in the 40s, with a wind chill that makes it feel colder and more wintry, with snow on the ground even," she said.
Newman said the Center is a great community resource that families really enjoy all year round. "We have 62 acres of open space, an interactive children's museum, a preschool summer camp, and school & public programs."
Nobu Kimura, with her husband Roy and their 2-year-old son Ken, were visiting the Westport nature center for the first time. "We hadn't been to the center before and wanted to check it out," the Stamford resident said. "With the long weekend, it seemed like a fun time. My son loves live animals and woods walking."
Kaitlin Brophy, from Darien, was another first-time visitor. "Our friends live in Westport and invited us," she said. "Anything we can do outdoors is fun this time of year."
At an outdoor picnic table, Quinn Mullineaux was creating a pinecone bird feeder. The young man is a student volunteer at the center and was showing visitors how to make their own bird feeders. "We do a lot of stuff here," he said. "I love animals and get to feed and interact with them, and I have the opportunity to show visitors how to make things and other features of Earthplace, too."
The trail hike, led by educator Pete Fraboni, was a popular diversion with dozens of people, with Fraboni serving as a Pied Piper-like figure leading them a woodsy, snow-covered path. He told the visitors about wintertime conditions and animal life in the nature sanctuary.
"This is a tough time of year for animals to find food," he told his trail mates. "Many are hibernating, others foraging. You will see many large squirrel nests up in the trees. Hopefully you get to see turkeys, too, which have made a big comeback in Connecticut. We might also see pheasants, though they compete for the same space. Deer would be an obvious sighting -- there's a good stand that moves through the property. In winter, deer become nibblers on shrubs."