Brilliant colors, bouja soup, wild billy goats, creepy crawly things and cello music at a chapel in the woods are just a few of the surprises hikers discover at St. John's Arboretum during Collegeville Colors sponsored by St. John's Prep School the first Sunday in October.
The Arboretum is a 2,700-acre remnant of the Big Woods, a hardwood forest that stretched from Central Minnesota to the Iowa border. The forest was preserved and nurtured by German monks that established the monastery and schools 150 years ago.
Much of the Arboretum is a state wildlife area that circles the campus of St. John's University and Lake Sagatagan with colorful oak and maple trees and a collection of pines.
The collection of well-worn trails is a popular fall destination as well as for cross- country skiing in the winter.
Mike Mullim of the Prep School was among the organizers of the hiking event.
"We wondered if people would really pay to do something they have done for free for so long. But the added food, entertainment and good will make it a good value. We call it our "Friend Raiser" because it gives us a chance to connect with the community. Besides, people have been putting art and nature together for centuries," said Mullin.
Last year the event included a one-act play of Billy Goat Gruff on a stone bridge, chamber music at Stella Maris Chapel, story telling, jugglers and food.
Father Tim Backous, OSB served bouja stew which was popular with early immigrants to the region.
Naturalist Tom Kroll gives a presentation on the Chapel Trail about the work of the early monks to preserve the forest and explains what work is being done today.
"This was one of the first cultivated forests in Minnesota planted outside state land," said Kroll. "This is a rare place in the middle of farm land and housing developments."
There is a short trail for children to participate in a naturalist scavenger hunt to find a broad collection of leaves, seeds and creepy crawly things. The children are also asked to bring in acorns for a replanting project.
Co-chairperson Chris Schillenger believes the event is a good way of bringing the community together around the beauty of the arboretum. He notes this part of Central Minnesota is becoming more aware of its natural beauty.
"The Avon Hills Initiative has been working to preserve our green spaces. Collegeville Township recently allocated $40,000 to preserve our green space. It is good to see the community of staff, students and alumni coming together in these surroundings to celebrate this beauty along with the beauty we have in the arts," added Schillenger.
The event begins at 1 pm and you can get information on Collegeville Colors by calling Mary Ritter at the Prep School at 1-320-363-3317.