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Woodchuck mascot branches out with new website

After beginning his career as a Forest Preserve District newsletter columnist in the 1980s, and then morphing into a full-sized furry 3D mascot, Willy the Woodchuck is branching out with his own Willy’s Wilderness website.

No longer are Willy’s kid-oriented activities being reined in by the parameters of a paper newsletter or a small section on the District’s main website. Starting November 14, the woodchuck now has unlimited space to roam free at willyswilderness.org.

The woodchuck’s website is chock-full of fun craft projects, interesting nature stories and indoor and outdoor activities. Content is tailored to kids ages 3-12, but children of all ages and adults (including parents and grandparents) are invited to spend some time browsing the site.

Willy's Wilderness will be updated regularly and will reflect the seasons, said Lynn Kurczewski, the Forest Preserve’s director of visitor services. The website will include links to upcoming kid-oriented programs at the District's visitor centers and preserves, but it also can expand upon those programs.

“So now the Forest Preserve’s interpretive naturalists can say, ‘Hey parents, if your kids really liked the program topic, there is more information available on Willy’s website,'” Kurczewski said.

For instance, if you want to know how to build a bird feeder out of a plastic bottle or plan fun fall outdoor activities, the website has the information you need. Willy’s Wilderness also hosts "Creature Features" about different species of wildlife as well as nature-themed book recommendations.

Currently, the website features stories on how animals pick their winter homes and how plants prepare for colder temperatures. It also has instructions for creating compost in a cup, mosaics out of seeds and constellations out of marshmallows.

Willy the mascot has a long history with the District. He was born on Groundhog Day in the late 1980s at “Willy’s Birthday Bash,” Kurczewski said. “We hid Willy out in the woods and the kids had to go out and find him on a scavenger hunt. When Willy appears at public events, kids flock to him. He functions like a Disney character for us."

While Willy is fuzzy and cute, he also serves as an environmental educator for the District. And now he can expand his message to a broader audience on the Internet. The tech-savvy mammal even has a new Facebook account. So if you want to keep up with Willy, check him out on Facebook.

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