Though some noses got the chilling, it was most certainly a thrilling Saturday afternoon when the New Canaan Nature Center's annual Winter Wonderland became just that.
Heavy snow throughout the day did not prevent a large number of visitors from attending the sixth annual event that featured craft activities, carriage rides and chestnut roasting. Nor did it prevent the arrival of a special guest in a red suit with a big white beard, who shared season greetings and obtained a sense of what some kids were hoping to get on Christmas.
"It's our sixth annual Winter Wonderland," Laura Heckman, executive director, said, "and who would have thought we'd have such a beautiful one.
"It's our first time with real snow, so we're hoping everyone will come. I'm already pleased with how many people are venturing out."
Heckman said the center hoped to create authentic childhood memories for kids in the area, with traditional touches in a natural setting. "And each year we try to have fun," she said.
"Awesome" is how John Aniello, of Norwalk, described the wonderland. "We come to the Fall Fair all the time and the kids have a great time. It's a really nice place here."
Aniello, too, was impressed with the turnout, and had even feared it might be canceled. "We're surprised it's still on with the snow," he said, accompanied by his sons, John, 4, and Christopher, 2.
For the Miller family, this is an especially magical event. Three years ago, A.J. Miller popped the question to his now-wife Melanie.
"I actually used to work here," Melanie, who was director of animal care, said.
"We got engaged on the horse-drawn carriage ride three years ago," A.J. said.
This time the couple was joined by their 16-month-old daughter Emma Jean.
Traveling from Pound Ridge, N.Y., Wendy Gilligan, calling the event "so great," said of the wonderland, "This is probably our third year doing it and it's so cute. This is the best Santa ever and we look forward to it every year."
Amanda Keith, an intern who was helping visitors make ornaments, added, "We're just happy people are showing up, even though it's snowy out.
"Everybody's here to see Santa," she said. "It's great."
"Even with the snowstorm we came out," said Gilligan, "because this is truly a winter wonderland that way."
Van Young, a member of the nature center's board of trustees, was pleased with the turnout.
"It's just one of those great events that New Canaan counts on," he said. "It's jammed right now. It's been very well attended over the years."
"It's amazing," said Tara Coniglio of New Canaan, who brought her three daughters to the event. "We've been coming since we moved here, and the nature center is a very special place to us for sure."
But perhaps 8-year-old Maya Coniglio said it best when she described the Winter Wonderland as "magical."
Jarret Liotta is a freelance writer.