- This column is written by Jeff Long (firstname.lastname@example.org), the public affairs and communications manager at the Fox Valley Park District. Visit www.foxvalleyparkdistrict.org for more information and be sure to “Like” Blackberry Farm on Facebook.
Getting older is inevitable. The trick is handling the aging process gracefully.
On the west edge of Aurora, there’s an iconic landmark where the mythical fountain of youth flows. Blackberry Farm harkens back to pioneer era of the mid-1800s and early American settlers. But these days, it sparkles like a shiny new jewel.
It’s at the crossroads of history and hip.
Blackberry Farm will display its unique charm again beginning Monday (May 1), when the barn gates swing open and welcome the public for the 48th year. Since 1969, the historic pioneer village and the throwback farm have delighted and educated generations of visitors.
Recently modernized, Blackberry Farm hosts all the traditional favorites like the steam-engine replica train, carousel, hay wagon rides and pedal tractors, accentuated by new features and amenities that make each visit all the more special and exciting.
“It’s a combination of yesteryear and tomorrow, with history and new-age attractions all in one place,” said Blackberry Farm Manager Sandie Gilmer.
The ever-popular train is running healthier these days, its engine now fueled by propane rather than gasoline, a tradeoff that will minimize emissions. It’s also wheelchair accessible, opening the door for even more guests to board and enjoy the scenic, 7-minute tour around Lake Gregory.
A must-visit for anybody with kids is the revolutionary “Adventure Playground,” which has drawn rave reviews all around.
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.
“More than a playground, it’s 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,” Gilmer said. “Most children have never experienced a playground like this.”
And the kids won’t want to miss the Lil’ Farmer’s Junction, a sensory-sational play area where the 6-and-under crowd can ride bikes on a paved area, play at learning tables and enjoy interactive activities such as bubble tables and driving through a “bike wash.”
Other highlights include a spacious picnic shelter that doubles as a performance stage for live entertainment, where the “Live and Uncorked” series of outdoor concerts will feature five shows in June and July. Guests bring their own beer, wine and food, creating a Ravinia-like setting.
Nearby, on the shore of Lake Gregory, a nautically themed boathouse shelter/pavilion and dock are home to an expanded fleet of eight paddle boats available to visitors.
Even the historic museums and interpreters (blacksmith, potter, seamstress) have a few new wrinkles with a series of interactive exhibits available this year to help truly experience the “real” pioneer life.
History buffs and curiosity seekers alike will enjoy a visit to the Huntoon House, which is styled in the spirit of a 19th-century pharmacy. “Here, nibble this dragon tail for an hour and your pain will go away.”
Group picnic shelters have been expanded throughout the park — ideal for larger gatherings, whether it’s for business or a group of family and friends hanging out.
Blackberry Farm makes for an enchanting venue for special events — weddings, reunions, fund-raisers, corporate outings and the like. And, birthday parties at Blackberry are all the rage – just ask the kids. Two new birthday party decks are in the offing for 2017.
Every day is a shin-dig at Blackberry Farm; the resident chickens, donkeys, ponies and pigs realize they’re living the good farm life. They’re farm animal celebrities who love to be seen and entertain adoring fans.
Blackberry Farm and neighboring Splash Country Water Park (across the street) also make for a great double-dandy day – one in the morning, the other in the afternoon – you won’t even have to move the car! And, as always, parking is free.
Open every day from May 1 through Labor Day, Blackberry offers three-day weekends in September and Pumpkin Weekends throughout October.
Blackberry Farm traditionally ends each year in style with the Holiday Express during December weekends.
With so much to see and do, a visit to Blackberry Farm will make us all feel a bit younger – and wiser, at that.
- FEATURE PHOTO CAPTION: The famous steam-engine replica train and the Lil’ Farmer’s Junction are just two of the many attractions that bring families to visit historic Blackberry Farm, which opens for the season on May 1.