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Blue Hills festival offers winter fun

The Winter Fest was designed to encourage people to visit the Blue Hills Reservation.

Carole Saia

The Winter Fest was designed to encourage people to visit the Blue Hills Reservation.

A mountain of snow, guided nature walk, Irish music, a microbrewery, and a chili taste-off are all part of the Blue Hills Winter Fest. 

“There are so many options,” said Judy Lehrer Jacobs of next week’s fest at the Blue Hills Ski Area,  sponsored by her organization, the Friends of the Blue Hills, and the ski operation.

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“We don’t even care if it’s not ski-able weather — it will still be fun,” said Jacobs, the Friends’ executive director.

The event was debuted last year as a way to encourage people to visit the Blue Hills Reservation, the state park that extends through Milton, Quincy, Braintree, Canton, Randolph, and Dedham.

“It was such a blast,” said Hilary Blocker, the Friends’ president, of last year’s festival. “Everybody who was there was feeling festive.”

“The first time was such a success,” Jacobs added. “People acted as if it was already an annual event.”

Held at the park’s ski area, the event offers discounts for skiers, nature hikes led by Friends volunteers, and indoor activities in the lodge building with its huge fireplace. The indoors fun will include chili tastings from local restaurants, tasting of select beers from the Blue Hills Brewery in Canton, craft activities for children, and music by the Irish music group Songs for Ceilidh.  

Last year, Blocker said, her teenage son worked the slopes on his snowboard while her husband and daughter went off on one of the guided hikes. “It was a warm night,” she recalled last week. “They stayed out a long time.”

Back at the lodge, the volunteer-led crafts kept younger children busy. And the Irish band “was really rocking,” said Jacobs.

“Folks love coming in from the cold to warm up with a great-tasting beer,” said Jim O’Neil of Blue Hills Brewery.

This year, the children’s activity will be making animals out of recycled materials. The night hike will be led by biology professor Rick Kesseli of Milton, who specializes in invasive plants.

Chili is on the menu again, with participation by Cooking in the Great Outdoors, The Halfway Cafe in Canton, and G.H. Bent Co. of Milton, among others. The fest will also have a panel of judges for the chili taste-off competition, including some local office-holders who promise to bring their taste buds and leave their politics at home.

The judges include state Representative Walter Timilty (a Milton Democrat), West Quincy City Councilor Brian Palmucci, Milton Selectman Robert Sweeney, Randolph Town Council president Paul Meoni, and Canton resident George Comeau.  

But while the evening is not about politics or advocacy, part of the purpose is to draw people out to the Blue Hills.

“It’s a good reason to come out and enjoy the Blue Hills. That’s what we’re all about,” Blocker said, referring to the 1,000-member Friends’ mission to preserve and protect the Blue Hills Reservation. “People won’t want to protect a resource that they don’t know about.”

The Friends’ active membership includes adult walking clubs and volunteers for trail maintenance, guided walks, and a huge “outreach effort” to control invasive plants in the park.

Taking a hike in the Blue Hills is different every time, Blocker said.

“Even if you do the same hike every week, it’s different because of the changes in the environment,” Blocker said. This time of year, you’ll find tracks in the snow, some early-returning birds, and a few budding trees, she said.

Vero Piacentini, manager of the Blue Hills Ski Area, endorsed the event’s goal. “We’re thrilled to collaborate with the Friends of the Blue Hills to encourage people to enjoy this wonderful treasure in our community,” he said. His company is helping the cause by offering discounted rates for lift tickets and equipment rental.

“We have good relations” with the Friends, added Jennifer Heinen, director of customer service at the Blue Hills Ski Area. “We have the same goals they have — enjoying nature, this wonderful resource. We’re right there along with them. It’s a wonderful way to enjoy the Blue Hills in the winter.”

Following the blizzard earlier this month, the Blue Hills had 2 feet of snow as of last week, consisting of packed powder and some loose granular snow.

It’s likely there will be good conditions for skiing at the winter fest, Heinen said.

The discounts encourage those who haven’t skied before,” Heinen said. “We had some people try it for the first time last year, and they had a wonderful time.”

Robert Knox can be reached at rc.knox2@gmail.com.

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