815 Outside is a consortium of nonprofit and public agencies dedicated to inspiring people to explore the great outdoors.
Spokesperson Ann Wasser — also the director of Severson Dells Nature Center — said they are offering a bingo-based challenge throughout all of January and February and it’s called the 815 Outside Winter Challenge.
The premise is to explore nature in new ways and they’ve designed a bingo card to help you track your activities. The card isn’t filled with rows of numbers. Each square contains a winter activity like “cook a meal over a fire” or “find a natural icicle.”
Every time you complete an activity, simply mark off the square. You don’t necessarily have to yell “Bingo!” every time you fill up a row — or a whole card — but you can enter yourself in a drawing for a gift card from local stores.
“You can choose to try to complete one row and be entered into a drawing for a $50 gift card to Fleet Feet in Rockford,” Wasser said. “Or you can complete the entire card to be entered into a drawing for a $100 gift card to Rocktown Adventures.”
The challenge is intended to be a fun way to explore local natural areas and compete, even if it’s chilly.
“A lot of people don’t like to go outside because they think it’s cold,” Wasser said. “But there’s so many fun things to do in the winter — and things you can’t necessarily see at any other time of the year.”
The bare landscape makes it easier to view birds. Wasser said there have already been reports of snowy owls in northern Illinois during the late fall.
“We’re really excited to hopefully see some snowy owls this winter,” she said. “There have been evening grosbeaks which haven’t been seen in Winnebago County in 20 years up until a month ago.”
Wasser said before venturing out, remember to dress appropriately for the elements.
“Always make sure you’ve got the right gear,” she said. “That’s what’s comfort level is all about — making sure you are wearing layers and doing what you can to stay warm so your outdoor experience is enjoyable.”
Wasser said that the forest preserves saw signifcant increases in trail attendance in 2020, one of the positive by-products of the pandemic. For 2021, she hopes that people resolve to explore more.
“Really exploring outside is one of those habits that we should all be into,” she said. “It’s so great for mental and physical health, and Winnebago County is so fortunate to have 20,000 acres of protected green space.”
Wherever you are located, Wasser said she hopes you take the time to enjoy the beauty that winter brings.