RINGWOOD – At a canvas tent marked with antlers, a group of kids tested out the straw bed.
“It was way different than our normal beds,” 9-year-old Makena Wesol of Algonquin said. “It was very hard, and it was made of straw. It just had a big bag on it and a pillow sheet, and they called that a bed. I was like, ‘Oh, I would never sleep on that.’ ”
“At least it’s better than sleeping on the ground,” her twin brother, Quinn Wesol, chimed in.
Two stops into the Trail of History at Glacial Park, a living history event showcasing how people lived from 1670 to 1850 in the former Northwest Territory, the kids were already listing off what they learned: Antlers would be placed outside buildings to let passers-by – who in the 1800s were often illiterate – know that the establishment was a business.
Dressed in period clothing, Joy Kattra, a retired principal and teacher who lives in Crystal Lake, explained how pioneers made do, dehydrating their food so it would survive the journey west, converting buckshot into dice and making dolls out of cornhusks.
She has volunteered for the Trail of History for 12 years, starting in the pioneer kitchen back before health department regulations prevented them from serving food to the public.
“It was just really interesting to see how many children did not have a sense of where food came from originally, and so to show them how food was prepared and where it came from was really [great],” Kattra said.
This weekend is the last time the McHenry County Conservation District will put on the 25-year-old event, which has grown to include more than 150 encampments and requires the involvement of more than 60 staff members and 250 volunteers.
The Board of Trustees decided to eliminate the event, in part because of the logistics and cost of putting it on, district spokeswoman Wendy Kummerer said.
Originally from McHenry, Pam Crisanti’s children attended the Trail of History several times growing up, so when Pam Crisanti heard the news, she decided to come up from St. Charles, Mo., to make sure she got to attend one last time.
“The history of McHenry County always fascinated me,” Crisanti said. “We lived here for over 25 years. I just like to see who was here before me.”
To mark the final year of the Trail of History, the Koppien family, who used to live in Johnsburg but have since moved away, joined 1,400 other attendees in planting a tree, which they named Bladd, the initials of the five grandchildren.
“If there’s anything we can do to keep this,” Marsha Koppien said, trailing off.
The conservation district had 1,500 trees available for planting, and the last hundred will be planted on a first-come, first-serve basis Sunday, Kummerer said.