It's that time of year - fall is just around the corner and the days are getting shorter. Autumn weekends can be a madhouse scramble of soccer matches and running errands - too many things to do in one 48-hour time period. Why not get a jump on the weekend and chill out a day ahead of time with "Tree-mendous Thursdays" programs at Hickory Knolls Discovery Center?

With extended hours from 4 to 8 PM on Thursday evenings through October 26, the Discovery Center helps nature buffs maximize those outdoor hours through programs that showcase the best of the season - everything from hands-on projects to scavenger hunts, campfire fun to critter visits.

"Everyone gets so busy and over-committed with things. We want to make it easy for people to fit some more fun into their lives," said Laura McCoy, Nature Programs Supervisor.

"Tree-mendous Thursday" programs offer something for all age groups - families that include everyone from grandparents to toddlers, to busy 9-to-5-ers looking for a way to unwind at the end of a hectic day. Anyone who wants to get outside and enjoy a few more hours with Mother Nature will find it easy to do since most programs are free and drop-in based - perfect for those looking for something a little out of the ordinary - with some excitement and maybe even a bit of education thrown in, too.

With most programs starting at either 6 or 6:30, the decision about what, where and when to have an evening meal is also easily solved on "Tree-mendous Thursday" nights. Participants are encouraged to bring a picnic supper to enjoy on the grounds before program activities start. "I know how hard it is to try to fit in a meal and go to an event that starts right around dinner time," said McCoy. "We want to make it simple for someone to get to do it all."

The "Tree-mendous Thursday" programs help participants connect all five senses as they explore the facilities and grounds at Hickory Knolls Discovery Center. Some are story times - such as "PJ Party with the Critters" and "Fall Fireside Fun" when gifted narrators from the HKDC staff and the St. Charles Public Library, respectively, encourage children to listen closely to stories about animals and nature.

Other programs, such as "A Treemendous Recharge, "Treemendous Leaves" and "Things That Make You Go Ewww" are scavenger hunt-based programs that encourage participants to get out and explore the Discovery Center using lists that might ask them to look for an animal track, smell a fragrant blossom, or touch the bark of a tree. The challenge, said McCoy, is to go out into nature and forget about phones, TVs, homework, and deadlines for awhile.

Of course, fall in the Midwest is a glorious time of year - colors are both muted and vibrant, the air is crisper, and the temperatures in that just-right range. And just as families are transitioning from summertime freedom to back-to-school responsibilities, so, too, is Mother Nature transitioning from the lush growth explosions of summer to winter's restful dormancy.

Many of these seasonal changes are being effected by changes in climate and for those who are curious about how climate change impacts life right here in St. Charles, educator Allison Briddell will discuss the local effect of this global problem during the "Climate Change: A Hot Topic" program on September 14. Briddell will offer tips about environmental changes that can be implemented in our own homes and gardens that can help make a difference.

Making a difference in another way takes place during the "Bat House Helpers" program on October 26 when participants will work together to paint a bat house that will be hung on the Discover Center grounds. Painters are then invited to come back to the Center later in the summer to discover who might have decided to make this artistic team effort their home.

Painting bat houses is not the only artistic program offered during "Tree-mendous Thursday" programming. Join a "Pumpkin Painting Party" on October 5. Hickory Knolls will supply the pumpkins and paint - you supply the artistic inspiration to create your own make-and-take seasonal centerpiece.

From ghosts and campfires to foliage and pumpkins, autumn abounds with things to do, see, explore and experience.

"I think fall is the best of all seasons," said McCoy. "The Tree-mendous Thursday programs let people enjoy it to the max."

For more information about all the fall "Tree-mendous Thursday" programs, contact Laura McCoy at 630-513-4393 or visit www.stcnature.org.