Few events speak to ’s commitment to conservation like Bagpipes and Bonfires, the annual fundraiser hosted by the .
The 24th edition will be held from 4 to 7 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 25, at the Middlefork Farm Nature Preserve.
"Bagpipes and Bonfires is as much a celebration of autumn as a salute to the conservation efforts and educational programming of ," said Nancy Clemens who, with her husband, Peter, is co-chairing this year's event. "Nothing showcases the majesty and beauty of our local environment better than a twilight bonfire at Middlefork Farm."
The Clemens have been actively involved in for years, with Nancy on the board of directors heading education and Peter even pitching in to remove invasive buckthorn at the Dickinson property in Lake Forest. This year, they are assisted by honorary chairs Kristen and Charlie Mills.
Considered ' signature event, Bagpipes and Bonfires is the association's primary annual fundraiser. Proceeds support ’ mission of open space and environmental education.
Part of that educational process involves giving Lake Forest students an opportunity to participate in programs during the school year, in summer camps, after-school and family programs.
"Our students are fortunate to have as a partner in our environmental science curriculum," explained Dr. Andy Henrickson, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction for . "Students in grades K-8 enjoy hands-on experiences in nature that make science come to life and leave a lasting impression."
A Celebration for Generations
Bagpipes and Bonfires began as a small neighborhood event. As early as 1928, Evelyn Shaw McCutcheon would welcome local gardeners to bring the brush and cuttings of summer to her property behind Ragdale (now Shaw Prairie) for an annual bonfire and family picnic.
John Dick, an early board member, grew up near Ragdale, and his fond memories of this Indian summer celebration inspired what today has become a community tradition.
"From a young age, I've always associated bagpipes with bonfires," John said. "When I brought up the idea, the board thought I was crazy but decided to give it a try. We made a good start and it's kept going ever since. I feel obligated to keep it going, knowing that other children, like me, will always remember this event and walk away with a passion for preserving open space wherever they live."
The first official Bagpipes and Bonfires was held in 1988. Now more than 1,500 guests attend each autumn, including many repeaters.
"For our family, it's become a wonderful tradition, not only to mark the beginning of fall, but to bring three generations together," said Tom Hunter IV, who with parents, his brother Bill (a board member), and all their children, has been participating in this event every year. Longtime Lake Forest residents, the Hunter family were early guests at the Shaw Prairie bonfire event before it became official.
An Event Like No Other
This year's event will feature Scottish Highland athletes and dancers, hayrides, music, sheep herding and saber tossing. New this year will be fly fishing demonstrations and the opportunity to learn fly-casting on the savanna, sponsored by Trout & Grouse, a full-service sport shop in Northbrook. Guests will enjoy cocktails and a harvest picnic supper, this year expanded to include barbecue options.
There will be plenty of educational opportunities for children and adults alike. Throughout the preserve, signs are posted to highlight conservation efforts and native plantings. Children will have fun opportunities for hands-on learning at this year's "Taste of Pioneer Life," hosted by Garfield Farm, and the Native American craft area held in an authentic tepee loaned by .
The evening culminates with the spectacular parade of nearly 100 bagpipers on the Middlefork Savanna.
For generations, the lone solo of the bagpiper atop the brush pile has offered a time of reflection and calm before the lighting of the bonfire at dusk. Lighting honors are auctioned off to a local family each year, and they are invited to don traditional Native American garb.
Advanced reservations are required. Tickets are available until midnight, Thursday, Sept. 22, to ' members at a discounted rate. For more information about membership and tickets to the event, visit www.LFOLA.org or contact Holly Meeks at firstname.lastname@example.org.