Fall fun at Felix Neck

Ethan and Jennifer Knight work on a wreath using natural materials at the 2015 fall festival. — Courtesy Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary

Festivals come and festivals go, and on this Island there’s a new one popping up behind every pumpkin or hay wagon. But the Felix Neck Fall Festival is the granddaddy of them all, dating back to that first Thanksgiving weekend celebration 37 years ago.

Despite being rooted in tradition, there’s nothing stodgy about this event. Activities have expanded and evolved, offering more for youngsters along with plenty of nature education and outdoor enjoyment for all.

The festival spotlights all the best of the 200-acre Mass Audubon sanctuary that has welcomed nature lovers for more than 50 years.

This weekend, the beautiful new barn, built by Kevin Cusack’s Autumn Construction of Oak Bluffs with an assist from traditional Amish builders, will be an eye-catching innovation. Children’s nature crafts will move out from under tents into the cozy post-and-beam building. The admissions station will be located there, drawing visitors in for a first look at the new addition.

The structure was completed last June, in time to accommodate Fern and Feather campers. Last week workers were bustling to get finishing touches completed. The barn will be used for year-round education programs, and eventually will house a nature-based preschool.

According to Felix Neck director Suzan Bellincampi, the project was funded by a successful $550,000 capital campaign and a much-appreciated $350,000 grant from MV Youth.

Newest on the program is a Bird Call Contest, dreamed up by education coordinator and day camp director Josey Kirkland, who oversees most of the day’s activities. The competition is open to all comers brave enough to mimic their favorite feathered friends. Nature-themed prizes will offer motivation.

Felix Neck staff encourages everyone to start practicing their best chickadee song, screech owl screech, or birdcall of their choice.

After a long, lazy Thanksgiving Day filled with family, friends, and food, festivalgoers annually throng to the expansive grounds looking forward to a change of pace, a day in the fresh air, and a chance to work off a few of those extra mashed potatoes or desserts. The kids can cavort in the grass, hop on a hayride, or string cranberries, make bird feeders and nature cards. Grownups can visit with friends and neighbors, or just relax and enjoy traditional music by the Flying Elbows.

“It’s a special community family activity that brings people back, and it’s device-free,” said Ms. Bellincampi. “It’s great to be active and move around, especially after that Thanksgiving feast.”

Friday, Nov. 24 may be Black Friday at mainland malls, but it will be Green Friday at Felix Neck. With this year’s theme, “Speak Up for Nature,” the emphasis will be on creating awareness of environmental issues local and global, and encouraging everyone to take steps to protect the environment. Postcards to send to legislators will be available, as will lists of action suggestions for all ages.

“It’s not all hopeless and helpless,” said Ms. Bellincampi. “There are things that people can do, and speaking up is the first step, voting for things you care about, advocating for wildlife, nature, and conservation.”

Anyone missing the crowds at Walmart, Lowe’s, and Toys ‘R’ Us will find plenty of happy hubbub here. There’s shopping to be had in the gift shop and raffle, and a cup of chowder or sizzling hotdog with warm cider and bake-sale brownie beats a food court burger anytime.

Birds are in the spotlight all day. Early risers can join Soo Whiting, a well-known Island bird expert, writer, and tour leader for a guided bird walk at 9 am.

Marla Isaac of New England Reptile and Raptor in Taunton will introduce birds of prey, including osprey, hawks, and owls, at her captivating shows (11 am, 12:30 pm, 2 pm). The feathered celebrities will greet visitors with Ms. Isaac to answer questions throughout the festival.

Start Christmas shopping, or treat yourself to that field guide you’ve coveted in the redesigned gift shop. Development staffer Barbara Welsh has creatively packed shelves with a colorful selection of nature-related items. Along with books for adults and youngsters, find fun nature games, travel mugs, pampering lotion candles, felted birdhouses and ornaments from Peru, wind chimes, bird feeders, watercolors by Lynn Hoeft, Peggy Zablotny’s cards, Felix Neck’s “Birdwatcher’s Blend” coffee, and gourmet Belgian chocolates. A raffle offers a long list of tempting prizes, all with a nature, wildlife, and conservation connection.

“We couldn’t do the festival without our volunteers, it’s a big pulling together,” said Ms. Bellincampi, counting more than 60 enthusiastic helpers.

Tireless Felix Neck volunteer and sanctuary advisory board member Penny Uhlendorf will be behind the food table, dishing out hot chowder and vegetarian chili. Mark Alan Lovewell, another board member, will man the corn popper. Artist Vasha Brunelle designed the festival sign. Alan Gowell doesn’t miss a year of loading his hay wagon with happy families for rides through the sanctuary’s fields and woods. Susan Silva brings dried hydrangeas and natural adornments for “make your own” wreaths. Others gather shells, dried grasses, and greens, and weave dozens of bittersweet wreath forms. Pam Benjamin and Aaron Teves paint little faces, turning excited children into exotic birds and woodland creatures, and cooks bake their sweetest treats and holiday specialties for the food sale table.

Prices are modest, from admission to food and gifts, and profits benefit Felix Neck programs and conservation education.

Felix Neck Fall Festival, Friday, Nov. 24 (rain date Saturday, Nov. 25), 11 am to 3 pm. Admission $6 for members, $9 for nonmembers; children under 3 enter free. Advance tickets online at bit.ly/2AT3tqW, click on Add to Cart. For info or to volunteer: 508-627-4850 or email felixneck@massaudubon.org.