Charlie Brown may have gotten it right when he purchased a live Christmas tree in the much-loved Peanuts classic. Despite the droop, his tree was environmentally friendly, recyclable and still spread holiday cheer. Wilcox Farms in LaGrange offers precut and cut-your-own trees, wreaths, roping, tree bags, shaking and baling. It also features a gift shop, wagon rides, free coffee and hot chocolate to anyone who wants to be like Charlie and have an authentic Christmas experience.

The farm offers a wide range of trees from short needle to long needle. Take your pick between White Pine, Blue Spruce, Scotch Pine, Norway Spruce or this year’s popular Canaan Fir. “Everyone has their own taste to what makes a perfect tree — from shape, size, to the way the branches fall,” says Avery Wilcox, one of the family-owned farm’s four owners. “I see beauty in all the trees.”

Wilcox Farms started growing trees in the early ’60s, selling only one to two trees per season. It has since grown to 160 acres, 75 of which are dedicated to tree growing. It sells anywhere from 2,000 to 3,000 trees a year. But it doesn’t just focus on Christmas trees — the farm also grows balled and burlap trees, which are perfect for landscaping. It operates all year round purchasing new trees and nurturing them until they’re ready to be sold.

Wilcox knows how to make the most of trees, including finding productive uses for them once the season has passed. Some of his suggestions for using your tree after the holiday include saving the leftover branches to protect your landscape during the harsh months of winter, donating the tree for game protection and aquatic life preservation, or chipping the tree and using the nutrient-rich chips as mulch. Visit the National Christmas Tree Association at for more environment friendly ideas.

Wilcox Farms, 17620 Diagonal Road, LaGrange, 440-355-4027

Life of Service

After 43 years in elected office, Lorain County Commissioner Betty Blair says she’s ready to hang up her hat. After her husband Chuck Blair died in 2009, she says she couldn’t imagine running for reelection without him. “He was my chief supporter,” she says.

Blair’s political career began after she graduated high school when she was asked to take minutes at the Elyria city planning commission meetings. Shortly after, then-mayor J. Grant Keys asked her to be his secretary.

“I fell in love with the political process and the people involved,” Blair recalls.

She later went on to run for Carlisle Township clerk, her first elected position, which she held for 23 years. She has also served on the Ohio Township Association board of directors. In 1988, Blair first ran for Lorain County commissioner against seven other candidates, but lost in the primaries. The next election Blair ran again and won.

During her time spent in office, Blair says she’s most proud of the purchase of the Cook building on North Ridge Road, which the county renovated for its relocated Job and Family Services employees. While there was a lot of opposition to the purchase, the building’s renovations won an award. “It was complete vindication,” she says.

Through the Woods

The allure of Findley State Park doesn’t fade as the snow begins to fall. Park manager Brian Andrews says the 1,000 wooded acres, located just south of Wellington, reveal a different facet of their beauty at this time of year. He describes how the 93-acre Findley Lake shimmers in the sunlight after it freezes and how incredibly quiet the place is when it’s shrouded in snow.

“Some of the most awe-inspiring moments of my career are in the dead of winter,” he declares. “It’s a different experience.”

Legions of outdoor enthusiasts have discovered one of the best ways to enjoy the park is by participating in its Winter Hike, this year scheduled to step off from the nature center at 10 a.m. on Feb. 5. Andrews explains the 31st-annual event, hosted in conjunction with the Buckeye Trail Association, actually consists of 10- and 5-kilometer guided hikes. There’s also an interpretive hike led by a park naturalist who explains how to identify trees by looking at their bark and branching patterns and points out wildlife such as deer, fox, beaver and muskrat. While the interpretative hike proceeds at a more leisurely pace, Andrews insists the 5-kilometer counterpart is also suitable for first-timers, families, even healthy seniors.

“We don’t go running through the woods,” he says. “If the pace is too fast, you can slow down.”

All hikes conclude at the nature center with a lunch of bean soup and cornbread provided by the Friends of Findley State Park. The lunch, like the hikes, is free; no registration is necessary. For more information, call 440-647-5749 or log on to

City of Lights

There’s more to Lights on the Lake than the name implies. Sure, there are 10,000 lights in dozens of seasonal displays on 10 acres of Lakeview Park in Lorain. According to Lorain County Metro Parks naturalist supervisor Gary Gerrone, the presentation boasts an old-fashioned Christmas theme, complete with a town hall, carolers under a lamplight, skaters on a pond and horse-drawn carriage — a real contrast to last year’s zoo-animal displays.

“We’re changing it up,” park manager Bryan Goldthorpe declares.

But Goldthorpe adds that Lights on the Lake also includes elves workshops, the last two of which are offered from 5 to 8 p.m. Dec. 12 and 13. Metro Parks recreation specialist Traci Grandel says the workshops teach kids what it takes to become an “honorary elf,” including mastering the secret elf handshake, assembling a take-home honorary elf necklace and making a felt stocking that’s stuffed with candy and donated to a nonprofit organization assisting less-fortunate children. There’s also a Dec. 18 breakfast with Santa that includes a photo-op with the big man in red, horse-drawn carriage rides, face-painting and a take-home craft as well as a buffet in the Rose Cafe.

The lighting displays will be available for viewing on foot or by car through December. Admission, which includes the elves’ workshops when offered, are free. Tickets to the breakfast are $15 per person ($10 for children under 5); reservations are required. Call 440-233-7272 for more information.

Light a Candle

Ask Clarence “Jerry” Warfield about the meaning of Kwanzaa, and he describes the lighting of seven candles. The chairman of the board at Lorain’s Harrison Cultural Community Center explains that each symbolizes one of seven principles celebrated during the Pan-African and African-American holiday honoring family, community and culture: unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith.

But for Joanne Eldridge, who serves as the center’s Kwanzaa celebration mistress of ceremonies, the annual seven-day observation, which begins Dec. 26, is about going back to one’s roots. Whatever she wears to celebrate, it usually includes a length of fabric purchased in Africa wrapped around her neck and/or waist. “Kwanzaa is about creativity,” she says.

Both the candles and creative costuming will be on display at the community center’s Kwanzaa celebration from 7 to 9 p.m. Dec. 28. Warfield says the festivities will include dancing, singing and instrumental performances. Similarly, the buffet is a potpourri of flavors. Warfield makes his succotash, which Eldridge describes as a tomato-based soup of okra, corn and onions, while Jean Rice, president of the NAACP’s Lorain Chapter, provides Hoppin’ John, a dish of black-eyed peas and rice.

Admission to Harrison Cultural Community Center’s Kwanzaa celebration is free. For more information, call 440-244-0359.

Slippery Slopes

Winter is here, and that means it’s time to go sledding. We’ve found some of the biggest, steepest and best hills in the county. So grab your hat and gloves, release your inner child and race down these local hills.

Cascade Park, Elyria

At about 600 feet long, this Lorain County hill is known for being one of the biggest and steepest sledding hills around. “It’s been a landmark,” says Frank Gustoff, director of Elyria’s Parks and Recreation. “We have pictures from the early 1900s of people using the hill.” Daredevil riders can pick up huge speeds as they start at the top and race toward the bottom. Parking available at Furnace and West River roads, Elyria

Mount Oberlin — The hill behind Phillips Gym, Oberlin College, Oberlin

While it isn’t an official sledding hill, the Mount Oberlin behind Phillips Gym has long been a favorite place for locals to have some winter fun. “It’s a decent-sized hill, and it’s one of the few around that you have easy access to,” says Mike Snyder, assistant director of athletics at Oberlin College. 200 Woodland St., Oberlin, 440-775-8519

Vermilion River Reservation

For a sledding spot that is perfect for people of all ages, head to the Vermilion River Reservation to enjoy a classic, straightforward 200-foot-long hill. “It’s not a gigantic hill,” says park manager Michael Socha. “But it’s a fun hill to sled down.” 51211 North Ridge Road, Vermilion, 440-967-7310