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  • Adrienne Fawcett

Bagpipes & Bonfire Is Sure to Give You Surprises -- and Chills

By Adrienne Fawcett Lake Forest Open Lands Association has quite a few surprises in store for guests of Bagpipes & Bonfire on Sunday, Sept. 19.

The 2021 theme is Some Fires Give You Chills. That mission is certain to be accomplished, as the event will again be held at Middlefork Farm Nature Preserve with Scottish marchers and a solo bagpiper performing “Amazing Grace” at sunset atop an enormous pile of invasive brush.

The large bonfire always caps off an extraordinary day during the Lake Forest Open Lands event.

But this year’s 33rd Bagpipes & Bonfire returns to the simplicity of its origins, and it pays homage to the Native Americans who originally tended the land.

“The goal is to encourage people to come out and see Lake Forest’s beautiful open spaces, learn about our long-term connection to the land from hundreds of years of Native American stewardship to the care of the immigrants who settled Lake Forest and more,” says Susie Hoffmann, LFOLA’s director of education.

So what’s new in 2021? To attract more people, including the hundreds of newcomers who moved here during the pandemic, LFOLA has lowered the general admission price to $50 for adult members and $75 for adult non-members (children's prices are even lower). Guests are invited to dine in picnic style, similar to Ravinia, with their own food, refreshments, chairs and blankets. (The field will still have a tent with tables set up and food offerings for Grand Tartan sponsors.)

Several restaurants in Lake Forest are offering Bagpipes & Bonfire specials, including Everett Farms and Food Stuffs. In a nod to the early days of Bagpipes & Bonfire, donuts are making a comeback. Stan’s Donuts food truck will be on the field offering free goodies.

LFOLA’s mission is to connect all generations to the land. When board members sat down to plan this year’s event, they wanted to acknowledge the people who took care of the land first. They’ve added a special tribute to the area’s Native American predecessors, including crafts, displays of artifacts, traditional dancers and drummers. The board also will share its new land blessing, which acknowledges and honors the Native American connection to the land and our local community’s preservation of it.

In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic prompted LFOLA to create a new tradition. Instead of hosting Bagpipes & Bonfire at the nature preserve, bagpipers were staged at various sites in Lake Forest and Lake Bluff to perform “Amazing Grace” in unison at sunset. This beautiful tribute will take place again this year at local parks, schools, churches and LFOLA preserves, but it will be on Saturday, Sept. 18, the night before Bagpipes & Bonfire.

Another change is reflected in Bagpipes & Bonfire’s chairmanship. Previous Bagpipes & Bonfire events were chaired by long-time Lake Forest families, but the LFOLA board is at the center of this year’s festivities. Board members will greet guests as they arrive on the field, in an effort to welcome them home to the land that has been so important to innumerable generations. To learn more about Lake Forest Open Lands, visit


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