As seasons go, fall is always a fan favorite. With foliage afire in crimson colors and the smell of wood smoke and fresh-cut hay in the air, autumn is a feast for the senses. Whether it's a leisurely walk through golden fields or a brisk bike ride down riverside trails, fall at the St. Charles Park District is a time of inviting colors and invigorating changes.

"Fall is just such a great time for all ages to get outdoors and enjoy nature," said Erika Young, Public Relations and Marketing Manager for the park district. "We're lucky to have so many places to enjoy the change of seasons and ways to explore our natural areas."

Nestle under a cozy blanket and marvel at the harvest moon during evening hayrides at Primrose Farm. Look for delicate asters that shimmer like purple amethysts and goldenrod the color of liquid honey as they pop up throughout the Native Plant Demonstration Garden behind Pottawatomie Community Center. Keep track of maple and oak leaves as they morph from green to orange and red while walking along the paths through Delnor Woods Park. Feel the downy softness of native grass seed heads in the prairies at Hickory Knolls Discovery Center.

From spur-of-the-moment nature hikes to mark-your-calendar educational classes, fall fanatics can find plenty of opportunities for both learning and leisure in this season of change. With the holidays just around the corner, a DIY candle-making class with Primrose Farm staff is perfect for anyone who waxes nostalgic about home-crafted gifts. Or maybe enjoying fall is as basic as bundling up for an afternoon stroll. The boardwalk and cleared trails at Ferson Creek Fen Nature Preserve meander through floodplain forest and restored prairie, while the preserve's wetland fen abounds with rare plants that are a feast for the eyes.

And while Mother Nature may be at her best in this season of delights, she doesn't pull it off without a helping hand or two. From school groups and Scout troops to business team-building exercises and families who enjoy doing things together, many volunteer hands help lighten the workload for park district staff.

"Fall is such a beautiful time of year that we want to do everything we can to help make things look their best," said Lara Piner, Volunteer Coordinator. Piner appreciates the assistance of church groups, Girl Scout and Boy Scout troops, individuals and families who want to pitch in to keep things looking picture perfect.

"We always can use seasonal help," said Piner. "It may be something as simple as working along an area of shoreline to pick up trash or tidy up garden beds around buildings and parking lots. We're grateful for the generous help we get and it all goes to making our parks welcoming and beautiful."

"Volunteers in Action" is a rallying cry for fall at the park district, through local participation in nationwide public service efforts such as "Make a Difference Day" to weekly Saturday morning ongoing restoration projects at the natural areas at Hickory Knolls, Norris Woods, Ferson Creek Fen and Persimmon Woods.

"We have great volunteers who come out on their own to help on these weekend work days as well as large groups who help with more involved projects at specific times," said Denis Kania, Manager of Natural Areas. Corporations such as OMRON Automotive Electronics and Clarke, a St. Charles-based environmental products and services company, often host an "employee day of service" that can involve brush-cutting at Norris Woods or planting plugs of native plants at Mt. St. Mary Park.

And sometimes it is the smallest activity that can reap the biggest rewards. Seed collecting is the most common volunteer project, an outing that Kania likens to a treasure hunt.

"That's what makes it the most fun for people," said Kania. Concentrating on native plants such as Joe-Pye weed, zig-zag goldenrod, monarda, cup plant and wild quinine, seed collecting is an ideal family activity. With their small and nimble hands, children are especially adept at gathering seeds, which will be used to restore areas that have been disturbed by erosion or heavy traffic. Older family members can take part in the equally-important task of clearing away invasive plants such as buckthorn.

This year's Seed Harvesting Day takes place on Saturday, October 7 from 10am to 12pm at Otter Creek Bend Wetland Park and Make a Difference Day is scheduled from 9am to 12pm on Saturday, October 28 at Hickory Knolls Natural Area.

Whether it's helping keep the community beautiful through volunteer activities or just getting out and enjoying the beauty of the season, there's sure to be a time and place to enjoy fall to its fullest at the St. Charles Park District.

For more information on volunteer activities, contact Lara Piner at 630-513-4330 or Denis Kania at 630-513-4367.