WILTON — Before Thanksgiving, before Halloween, even before back to school, people began inquiring about Woodcock Nature Center’s holiday Wreath Festival.

The event that typically raises more than $80,000 is one of the signature ways to mark the winter holiday season. People were wondering, nature center executive director Lenore Herbst said, if it would survive the pandemic.

“We’re gonna do it,” she said on Friday “It’s such an iconic, important, landmark event. We’ve been planning it since summer camp ended.”

Now, the event is just around the corner with reservations opening on Thursday, Nov. 5, at the center’s website. The festival itself begins Nov. 30 and runs through Dec. 11, with the traditional Family Day on Dec. 12.

It took quite a bit of planning, she said, evolving from providing wreath-building kits to go to figuring out a way to safely have people on site. On a typical year, Herbst said, the event would sell out, attracting 1,000 or more people. This year, there’s room for just a fraction of that.

Along with fewer people, one of the most noticeable changes this year will be the ambient temperature. In order to allow for greater air flow, the center’s spaces will be colder than normal so people are advised to dress for the weather.

Ticket sales will also be different this year. The Pavilion is a group sale for 10 people. There will be a fire in the fireplace and two heaters, but it will still be chilly. This is one of two places where people may eat and drink snacks from home.

Individual tickets may be purchased for the Pond-side Tent and the Forest-view Tent. Each will hold a maximum of 10 people. Decorating stations will be six feet apart and no eating or drinking will be allowed.

The Winter Garden is an outdoor space that will be set up with tables, chairs and benches where people may gather to enjoy food or drink brought from home. There will be no covering, but there will be lit fire pits and twinkle lights for a festive ambiance.

On Family Day, Dec. 12, participants will be assigned spaces to decorate in the Pavilion or one of the tents. Families may also use the Winter Garden and Bubble and Brew will be on hand selling hot beverages.

“Health and safety is our first priority,” Herbst said, noting face masks will be required. “We’ve reduced the numbers in all our spaces.” There will never be more than 30 attendees on site with staff for any of the decorating time slots.

“We’re trying to make it fun and bring people joy.”

For those who prefer to decorate their wreaths in the coziness of their own home, to-go kits will be available for pre-sale and then pick-up.

Individual timed tickets range from $65 to $75. Family Day tickets are $55 per wreath. To reserve the Pavilion is $1,500.

Natural donations

The nature center provides all decorations for the Wreath Festival, but those items have to come from somewhere. While staff will be scouring the forest for some, the center also welcomes donations from the community.

Desired materials include hydrangea flowers, acorns, milkweed pods, pine cones, staghorn sumac, fluffy grasses, sedum heads, dusty miller, magnolia leaves, money plant, lichen (growing on sticks or by itslef), mossy bark, seshells, honey locust pods, and cinnamon sticks.

Donations may be left in bags or boxes outside on the steps to the offices in the brown house at the end of the driveway.

Community support

This will be Woodcock’s last in-person fundraiser of the year and it caps a year of pluses and minuses.

While there were some real challenges, Herbst said, “We’ve felt very supported by the community.”

One of the bright spots was a recently concluded virtual auction that raised more than $10,000, she said. People bid on items donated by local businesses as well as one-of-a-kind Woodcock experiences.

“It was our first virtual auction,” Herbst said, adding she was gratified at the results. The nature center also held two small on-site events for 40 people each that brought in new faces. And, more than 100 people took part in the Frothy Forage beer tasting and guided hike held during the summer.

Summer camp was also successful and the nature center is looking to use that as a model for after-school programs.

“We’re proud we’ve been able to keep the kids outside,” Herbst said.

Coming up are free guided hikes on Nov. 14, 3 to 4:30 p.m. and Nov. 19, 3:30 to 5 p.m. Registration is required at woodcocknaturecenter.org.