Candlelight Hike Festival
Rachel Pukall


The community Candlelight Hike Festival took place on Nov. 2 at Schmeeckle Reserve and brought in a record turnout of 900 participants, including students from campus and families from the community.

The semiannual festival has been held every fall and spring since the winter of 2005 and is free for the public to attend.

Megan Espe, the graduate assistant at Schmeeckle Reserve, helped organize the event.

“The event takes several weeks to prepare for. We choose the event theme, design posters, market the event, gather supplies and buy food. The students in the practicum course write their program script, make their own costumes and rehearse many times. It all pays off during the main event,” Espe said.

The event is put on by Schmeeckle Reserve staff and volunteers. Schmeeckle Reserve employs 45 to 50 work-study employees every semester.

 Visitors arrived for the festival at  Schmeeckle Reserve. The event featured
trails lit by jack-o’-lanterns and torches. Photo by Jim Buchholz.

The maintenance staff puts out the torches and pumpkins on the trails, keeps the campfire going and directs parking. The office staff greets people in the visitor center, where they offer free snacks such as hot chocolate and popcorn, and tells them about the evening’s activities.

CNR students in the environmental education and interpretation practicum plan out and present the character campfire program and discovery stations.

“The event includes one-mile and half-mile torch-lit trails that weave through the woods and wetlands. For the fall hike, Schmeeckle student employees carved creative designs into dozens of pumpkins, and the lit jack-o’-lanterns were placed along the trails,” Espe said.

Part of Schmeeckle Reserve’s mission is to serve the recreational needs of the campus and community, and the Candlelight Hike Festival is an excellent way to do that. 

Students in the environmental education and interpretation
practicum presented a campfire program at the festival at
Schmeeckle Reserve. Photo by Jim Buchholz.
Another part of Schmeeckle’s mission is to provide education to the community focusing on the natural and cultural history of central Wisconsin. The Candlelight Hike Festivals provide opportunities for visitors to learn about the natural world around them based on a theme.

“It’s a neat opportunity for visitors to walk torch-lit trails at night, and it’s a very popular event for families, with something for everyone to enjoy. It’s also a great opportunity for the students working and volunteering during the event to interact with youngsters and parents and others from the community,” Espe said.

Every Candlelight Hike Festival has a different theme. This fall’s theme was “night skies.”

Twice during the evening, students in the environmental education and interpretation practicum course presented a half-hour character program at the campfire ring. The students dressed up as stars, planets and constellations for the campfire program. They also had star and moon-shaped cookies for kids to decorate, comet and constellation crafts, an astronaut training discovery station, and a telescope for visitors to look through, assisted by UWSP astronomy students.

“The Candlelight Hike Festival is such a fun event because so many students, either employees or volunteers, all pitch in to make it happen. It’s impossible to not have a great time while painting kids’ faces, helping them decorate cookies, playing a character at a campfire program or walking the lit trails,” Espe said.