Enjoy Autumn at the Arboretum Oct. 11 to 18

Klehm Arboretum & Botanic Garden invites the public to celebrate the changing seasons at its annual Autumn at the Arboretum, this year expanded to a week-long event.

The free community celebration, in the past held for one day only, will be observed for an entire week, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 11-18. It will include smartphone guided tours of fall colors and points of interest on the paths, trails and gardens throughout the 155-acre arboretum at 2715 S. Main St. in Rockford.

Children’s activities will include a straw maze and a self-guided scavenger hunt. In addition, videos about the arboretum and nature education will be available each day on Klehm’s website, Facebook page, YouTube and other social media.

It’s the first on-site event since the COVID-19 restrictions began last March and has been carefully planned with safety in mind, says Executive Director Alex Mills.

“We’re so excited to be able to hold this event in such a way that we can promote social distancing and avoid large crowds, while still having small groups of families and visitors viewing, learning about and engaging with the autumn season’s different displays of beauty,” says Mills. “With activities that can be done at the arboretum or at home, this event has something to offer everyone.”

Mills says the arboretum staff has been hard at work all summer devising a plan to get people safely engaged in learning and exploring. Activity stations will be spaced far apart, people will take turns, and there will be enough options to keep people moving around, allowing for social distancing.

Klehm staff members hope the self-guided phone tours and virtual learning sessions will be so well received that they’ll continue as part of regular Klehm programming, even when all pandemic restrictions are lifted. People can walk around and scan codes to learn more about something they see, going at their own pace.

The tours take between 45 and 60 minutes on the paved paths and will draw people’s attention to new plantings and interesting features at the arboretum.

The virtual lectures on the website and through other forms of social media are meant to inform, but also to encourage people to get outside and explore the outdoors, he says.

“The arboretum is beautiful year-round, but especially in the fall. We just want people to see what we have, while learning a lot and making memories with family and friends,” Mills says.

Since traditional summer programs and other events were cancelled because of the pandemic, people have been forced to find new ways to be inspired, entertained, and to interact with the world.

For most people, that means getting outdoors. Like other nature centers, Klehm has seen an increase in visitors and memberships this summer, even without the regular programming.

“We’re fortunate in that, when people can’t do other things, they come here. It’s been great. A lot of people have come for the first time and from a wider area. They just really appreciate being able to get out and do something interesting. Because things have slowed down for all of us, people have had the time to explore what’s in their own backyard and community.”

Visitors to Autumn at the Arboretum will take in the sights, sounds and fragrances of fall.

Changing shapes and colors of autumn include grass garden plumes, Red Flame grass, crabapple fruit, winterberry, asters and mums, in addition to more than 500 species of trees, shrubs and vines on the property.

Restrictions caused by the pandemic have altered operations at Klehm, with seasonal employees and volunteers now working individually or in small groups. The Visitor’s Center recently reopened.

This free event is made possible by the Dean Alan Olson Foundation, Midland Wealth Management and Hinshaw & Culbertson LLP.

Klehm is Rockford’s “living museum,” and operates as a private, not-for-profit membership-based organization supported through dues, donations, sponsorships, grants, fundraisers and subsidies, in partnership with the Forest Preserves of Winnebago County.