The Second Half: Back to the forest

The Second Half

By Kathleen D. Tresemer
Have you ever tried to find the right place for a wedding? Twenty-Something Son and his lovely bride-to-be have been looking for just the right place.

These two are outdoor types—horses, motorcycles, farm and ranch kids—so they wanted a wedding that would reflect that. An outdoor ceremony seemed to be the right thing to do. But how easy is that?

Twenty-Something Son asked: “Mom, can you help? We’re both working long hours and won’t have time to do the legwork.”

I can plan a party. Well, not the kind of party dignitaries might come to, but the kind of parties that are rustic and comfy and leave people feeling glad they came. An outdoor affair is right up my alley…er, acreage.

“I’d love to help!” I gushed. Never having raised a daughter, I thought planning a wedding sounded like fun. (Insert here: collective hilarity and loud guffaws from every parent of a bride!)

I got right to work. A couple of places in the region cater to outdoor weddings with adjacent facilities for an indoor reception. One is affiliated with White Pines State Park, but the bride and groom thought it might be too far for the Second-Half guests.

“I guess they don’t want a bunch of us geezers driving at night,” Hubby said. “We might get confused or lost or something!” Say Hubby’s name and “old” in the same sentence, and he gets all ruffled. We get it; the kids were trying to be considerate of a bunch of geezers…uh, seniors.

Strike one.

Next, a lovely, rustic place nearby offered space for both ceremony and reception, but the outdoor space wasn’t “outdoorsy enough”—the ceremony area was enclosed by a fence. For the average citizen, this is just fine; but for kids used to wide-open spaces, the walls were closing in.

Strike two.

Then, another offered an elaborate country building with a creekside area for the ceremony, but the price tag was too big.

Strike three.

“Now what, Mom?”

That frantic look is the price I pay for raising a kid with a unique outlook, who steps to a different drummer: “If you raised a traditional kid, you’d be done by now,” I thought.
Fresh out of traditional venues, I explored parks, museums and community buildings:

“Too small, no parking, no shelter, no electricity, too noisy, too crowded, too expensive…” PHEW! I was eliminating options faster than I could dig them up.

Then, it dawned on me—our beautiful forest preserves offer some pretty great amenities and a gorgeous setting to boot!

“The Winnebago County Forest Preserve District (WCFPD): since 1922, dedicated to the preservation of our heritage of forests and wildlife for the recreation and education of the people.”

I checked out the WCFPD website at and discovered there are 9,500 acres of land and 40 preserves at my disposal. There are 27 locations with shelterhouses, a few right in our area. I tried not to get too excited: “We need one that has electricity and shelter for 150-200 people, in case of rain. We need ample parking with easy access for the Second-Half folks, running water, and restrooms!”

Browsing their website, I found one that met all those criteria…and it was only a few miles from the home of the bride and groom and all their families! Not only that, but they have a photo of the shelter on the website, and you can load it and get a 360-degree view of the area—absolutely cool!

I tried not to get my hopes up. “Probably too expensive or maybe already booked!” I muttered, as I called the number of the WCFPD office at (815) 877-6100. The loveliest public servant ever answered the phone with an obvious smile on her face—I could feel it through the receiver. Her name is Gwen.

“Let me see,” Gwen shuffled some papers. “Yes, it is available on that date!”

“And how much is the fee?” I asked, holding my breath.

“Well, that shelter does have electricity, so it comes to $40.”

“That’s IT?!?”

“For the whole day,” still smiling, “until a half hour after sunset.”

“I’ll be right there, Gwen; please don’t give it away,” I pleaded.

Then, she explained that it wouldn’t be necessary for me to rush down there; she could sign me up and send the paperwork in the mail. I had a temporary reservation for two weeks—when I paid the 40 bucks, she’d send me the certificate. “Your name is written in the book,” she smiled through the phone again.

So, I got the paperwork in 48 hours, and Hubby took me down to their office, just off the Harlem toll bridge near Highway 2. Beautiful office and lovely grounds, too. Then, we met Gwen, who actually remembered me, and we chatted about the wedding plans. We were out of there with our receipt in short order, the cheery voices of Gwen and the staff following us.

And when Hubby’s car would not start in their parking lot, a man who worked in the office came out to offer assistance, chatted with us after it started, and smiled like we were his favorite guests. In my Second Half, I cherish service like that!

So, all I can say about the WCFPD is: reasonable rates, great service, and the most respectful and caring staff. Oh, and a forest preserve fit for a wedding!
I love it when things work out, don’t you?

Contact Kathleen D. Tresemer by e-mail at

From the March 23-29 issue

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