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Kids’ Fest offers fun for all ages

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Updated: July 16, 2013 8:45PM

From touching a bullsnake or a yellow bass to climbing an oak to paddling across Wampum Lake, it was hands-on Saturday at Kids’ Fest near Lansing.

That’s the way it should be in getting kids outside. Adults should be mixed in. Having the adults outside is vital to getting kids outside.

Kids’ Fest, co-sponsored by Fishin’ Buddies! and the Forest Preserve District of Cook County, is a top outdoors event for families, drawing more than 1,000 this year.

As veteran fisheries biologist Jim Phillips showed forest-preserve fish — green sunfish, bullhead, crappie, pumpkinseed, bluegills, yellow bass, largemouth bass — kids and adults alike clustered around the tank. When he lifted a hefty largemouth, the crowd oohed and aahed right on cue, only without cue cards. It came naturally.

He explained that its teeth were backward, so prey couldn’t escape. To which Cameron Alleyne accurately noted, ‘‘Don’t it feel like sandpaper?’’

When Phillips lifted up a carp of several pounds, he said, ‘‘It is a minnow.’’

‘‘Get out,’’ an adult in the crowd instantly blurted.

Hook adults, then kids come along.

I took my daughter. Last year, we learned paddling fills quickly. So after registration, we immediately went there. It already was fully booked, two hours before the end.

The other long-line events were fishing/casting, archery and tree-climbing. We almost missed the tree-climbing, a first-time event. That was so jammed that the tree crew stayed over to rope the last of the kids up the strapping oak.

Midday is a terrible time to bird-watch, but we enjoy the bird walk the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Shawn Cirton leads. Cirton, who grew up in Chicago, said to grab a pair of binoculars (a piece of pink ribbon was tied around the strap to keep them from getting lost) and come along.

First was an American robin.

A woman asked, ‘‘Is that the bird we see in the city?’’

A female red-winged blackbird landed in the grass by the water. A young boy walked close to it, glassing all the way. Later in the walk, we saw the males, notable for the red bars on their wings.

A big dragonfly, which Phillips later identified as a widow skimmer, drew as much interest as the birds. A cardinal called, and one walker spotted it briefly. A barn swallow swooped across Wampum. Cirton explained that is what makes the mud nests in the rafters of the pavilions.

Cirton spotted a great blue heron on the other side of the lake. It was camouflaged against the reeds, but most people eventually were able to find it.

‘‘I am sure he will do a better job of fishing than all the people here today,’’ Cirton said.

Fishing was probably the most popular activity at the fest. Mostly small bluegills were caught, but at least one big largemouth was landed.

The Sand Ridge Nature Center booth is a favorite stop for us for skins and bones. This year, the draw was the bullsnake Jake Huffman was holding and allowing visitors to touch.

It was fun to watch Samiya Brown, 6, hesitantly reach out to touch it while her 5-year-old sister, Toyelle, watched. OK, it was fun for me to touch it, too.

That’s what Kids’ Fest is at its best — exploring the natural world for young and old alike.

Stray cast

More and more, the MLB All-Star Game feels like an old-timer remembering catching lake herring at North Avenue as a kid.

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