Have you discovered how fabulous our Park District is yet? It took me a while. I hit the pool for the first time this summer and finally went running in the park after noticing that the paths are conveniently marked so you know the distance you’ve gone.

While the weather is still nice enough to run outside now, soon the time for outdoor activities will come to an end. Fortunately, the Park District has plans to keep us entertained and fit through the winter. As Executive Director Larry Piekarz said, “Even though the pool may be closed, we still think we have a lot to offer to the residents of Forest Park.” And they do!

I love Halloween, so I’m jealous of Forest Park teens and kids. Friday, Oct. 15, teens can go on a Haunted House tour, which will take them to the area’s best haunted attractions. Admission, transportation, and food is included in the price – only $40 per resident teen. There’s also Boo at the Zoo Family Trip to Brookfield Zoo on Oct. 23, Spooktacular Halloween Party for five to 10 year-olds on Oct. 27, and Hauntin’ Halloween Dance for fourth through eighth graders on Oct. 29.

And the Park District isn’t just there for our children; it can help us all maintain a healthy lifestyle – something I’m relatively new at.

As a child, I hated gym class and organized sports. But in my 20s I struggled with insomnia, depression, and general sluggishness. After reading that a regular exercise routine would help, I signed up for a Pilates class through the Park District in Oak Park, where I was living at the time. It was quite expensive and though I enjoyed it, my teacher told me that I also needed to do cardio. Oh, how I shivered at that awful word, which conjured images of the mile-run in elementary school! But my co-worker at UIC told me that the campus gym was incredibly affordable, so we joined together and discovered the variety of free classes offered. We took kickboxing and step aerobics and even a boot camp class. We giggled when we screwed up routines and shared the thrill of feeling stronger and leaner.

I’ve been relying on workout DVDs and my elliptical since I left UIC two years ago, missing the camaraderie of exercises classes. I assumed that the Park District of Forest Park would be as expensive as Oak Park, but last winter they offered a free Zumba class and I roped a friend into checking it out with me. As Erin Parchert, Superintendent of Recreation, explains, “It’s a cardio-dance workout with a Latin twist. It has been very popular since its inception.” I can see why: great music, dance moves that are fun and effective, and it’s cheap – half the price of what I paid in Oak Park for twice as many classes.

Unfortunately Zumba doesn’t fit my schedule right now, but I was very excited to try the Mix, “a cross-training class that focuses on both muscular and cardiovascular endurance.” However, the Monday morning class that I wanted to take didn’t fill. Erin says it is important to register at least a few days in advance because classes can’t run if they don’t meet their minimum. A new session starts in November, so if you have Monday morning free, sign up, get strong and giggle with me in The Mix. Otherwise, check out the many other offerings at www.pdofp.org. Think of it this way: the more you exercise, the less guilty you have to feel about eating all of that great food over the holidays!

• Stephanie is the author of “I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone” and “Ballads of Suburbia.” She’s a proud Forest Parker who holds a master’s in fine arts degree from Columbia College Chicago. She also works locally at the Beacon Pub and loves to hear from people through her Web site www.stephaniekuehnert.com.