Goshen College’s environmental learning center, Merry Lea, hosted a community event titled Enchanted Forest at their Farmstead site from Friday, Oct. 21 to Saturday, Oct. 22.

The initial Enchanted Forest took place in 1990 and has been held annually thereafter, including through COVID-19.  They celebrated their 32nd anniversary last weekend.

“For many families and members of the public, this is an annual event to look forward to. They anticipate it as part of their regular Autumn season,” Marcos Stoltzfus said, director of Environmental Education Outreach at Merry Lea.

The event garnered approximately 200 people in previous years, but Stolzfuz says, “We saw … a huge turnout of 416 visitors.”

Trail guides accompanied parties by lantern light to encounter creatures on the hour-long hikes. The animals talked about their meals, habits and favorite spots. The costumed volunteers and staff were also on hand to answer questions about living as native Indiana animals.

“It invites families of all ages, from toddler to grandparents, to join in suspended disbelief and embrace the unique magic of a night hike to learn about the hidden lives of the animals native to Indiana,” Stoltzfuz said.

Kelsey Moore, a freshman art and ASL (American Sign Language) interpreting major volunteered as a trail guide. Her role was to “light the way and encourage guests to ask appropriate questions of the animals.” She also ensured the children were not scared of the giant creatures. 

“Many of the trail guides were other Goshen students or Merry Lea grad students,” said Moore. “[This shows] the strong relationship between Goshen College students and the community at Merry Lea.”

Stoltzfus expressed a similar sentiment noting that “it is a true testament to the community’s support of Merry Lea, in the form of volunteerism. 

While waiting for their group hikes,  guests listened to live music, drank hot chocolate, colored or gathered around the campfire.

“At its core, Enchanted Forest gives us a glimpse into what it might be like to be a non-human animal in our world,” Stolzfuz said.