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How the Morton Arboretum Stays Alive In Winter

Just because the trees are bare doesn't mean activities are. Today kicks off a slew of Christmas and winter-themed events.

While the final leaves drop—along with the temperature—the  is gearing up for an active winter season. Boasted as the fourth most visited garden in the entire nation, the "tree zoo" rakes in over 800,000 visitors each year. (Public relations manager Gina Tedesco said 40,000 people came to watch the leaves change in October alone.)

Karin Jaros, assistant director of membership, said some people don't realize there are winter events and classes.

"Many people are looking for something for their kids," she said. "The Arboretum meets many needs for different people. People play in the snow, attend activities, shop in the store... however they want to use it is great."

Winter festivities officially start today. They're also teaming up with several other organizations including Amazon and American Red Cross in turning Cyber Monday into Green Gift Monday, promoting environmentally-conscious online gift buying this holiday season (and every other day, too).

The Arboretum planned several family-friendly activities for the weeks surrounding Christmas. Tickets are on sale now for the annual Breakfast with Santa, which offers an opportunity for children to enjoy a meal with Santa and receive an early Christmas treat. Elementary school students can attend four-day winter day camps during Christmas Break.

The 33rd Annual Yule Log Hunt will be held on Dec. 26, where teams work together to solve clues and find the decorated log somewhere on the grounds.           

"Neighborhoods have competitions against one another. This is a good family activity, too. Participants say it is a great way to create family memories," said Jaros.

The Husky Heroes event works double duty. Visitors can watch speed and sledding demonstrations by Siberian huskies, and find out information on how to adopt or foster these animals.

But other events stretch out the whole season, so a maximum number of visitors can enjoy the festivities. Each year the Enchanted Railroad kicks off the winter festivities with multiple levels of workable model trains (check out the video of this year's display). The chocolate festival caps off the season with a sweet finish. Art lovers can partake in winter photography and painting classes, or enjoy Steve Tobin's Steelroots sculptures before they disappear in January.

But the biggest draw to the Arboretum in winter—because you'll never get the chance during the "nice" months—are skiing and snow shoeing activities. There are over 1,700 acres on the grounds with 16 miles of groomed trails and nine miles of roads.

"People make their own paths, can rent snow shoes or bring their own and bring their own skis from home," Jaros explained.

Morton Arboretum's grounds are popular with runners and hikers, too.

"There is much effort in maintaining roads. People can drive on the roads or hike the paths," Jaros added.

She said that many visitors love to roam the grounds during the winter because of its beauty. Winter can force people to stay inside, but the Arboretum offers an opportunity to get some fresh air and enjoy the outdoors. They also offer plenty of incentives.

All visitors can take advantage of free Christmas day admission, and discounted rates on Wednesdays. Starting today, admission is free after 4 p.m. for those who wish to take advantage of the gift shop. Members can stock up on discounts for the Ginko Café and enjoy bring-a-buddy-for-free days all February.

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