Turtles, beavers, and bears were just a few of the dozen woodland critters to lead educational nature tours for children at Merry Lea’s annual “Enchanted Forest” event last weekend, October 22nd and 23rd. These were not real animals, of course, but Goshen College students who offered their Saturday evening to dress up as forest creatures with other volunteers and teach children about Indiana’s native woodland night life.

Each year the “Enchanted Forest” event is held at Merry Lea Environmental Learning Center as an alternative to Halloween for children. This eco-friendly event provides an interactive, educational hiking experience for kids aged three to ten. The evening consists of a guided tour around Merry Lea in which children meet and learn about nocturnal animals in their natural habitats. Children and their parents are encouraged to ask the “animals” questions about their habitats, diets, lifestyles, and body structures.

The dressed-up Goshen students were given information about their animals in advance so as to be prepared for any questions that might come their way. “Some of the kids asked really informed questions,” said Lydia Yoder, a sophomore dressed as a firefly. “One kid asked me what specific kinds of chemicals were in my firefly light."

The primary goal of the evening was to provide children with a memorable, hands-on opportunity to explore and ask questions about Indiana’s night life. “Children are inherently fascinated by animals. They learn to fear [animals], but if you can show them the beneficial aspects of an animal they can be more appreciative,” said Becca Yoder, a sophomore who dressed as a spider.

Paul Steury, education coordinator at Merry Lea, was very pleased with the outcome of the evening's activities. "The Goshen College [students'] excitement was great.  I almost thought  they were really enchanted animals!" Steury added that the event was a great way to "get kids in the woods at night during the Halloween time, to know being in the woods at night does not have to be scary."

The evening also featured music and entertainment by Mark and Liza and was followed with hot chocolate. The activities took place in and around Merry Lea’s Farmstead, located just outside of Wolf Lake, Ind.

This year's events were especially notable because they included the first annual Spanish-speaking “Enchanted Forest” for kids. Also known as "El  Bosque Encantado," the event was held at the College Cabin on October 16th. Goshen graduate student Kati Regalado helped lead the event along with several other GC students.