For Steve Gurney, whose wedding anniversary falls on Feb. 14, Valentine's Day is a weighty occasion.

So a couple of years ago, he surprised his wife with an unconventional holiday, complete with a bonfire, string quartet, candlelit trails through the woods and lots and lots of chocolate. It was a hit.

"She really enjoyed it," the 44-year-old Bloomington resident said, "so much so that she begged me to go back next year."

The couple is one of many who will celebrate the holiday at the Richardson Nature Center, one of five western suburban parks in the Three Rivers Park District that hosts such romantic annual events to draw sweethearts of all ages.

"It's a nice, affordable way for folks to get out on a Valentine's date and do it at their pace and have a nice time," said Tom Moffatt, Richardson's outdoor education supervisor.

Other parks offer sleigh rides, candlelit dinners of local food, organic soap-crafting, kicksled rides, snowshoeing, s'mores, cookies and more.

The events appeal to those looking for something unique, said Linda Seaton, outdoor education manger for Three Rivers Park District. And they can make for special memories.

This year's bounty of snow, for instance, will make for better snowshoeing than ever. "With this new fresh snow it's going to be just wonderful," Seaton said.

This year, Richardson's Candlelight and Chocolate event is taking on a sustainability theme: A representative from Equal Exchange, a Massachusetts-based fair trade co-op with offices in St. Paul, will talk about making environmentally conscious choices when it comes to chocolate and coffee.

Each of the events requires pre-registration and usually fills up. Proceeds from the admission are usually just enough to cover the costs.

For Moffatt, the Valentine's event is one of his favorites during the year. He's seen at least three engagements among couples who attended.

"It's just a really fun event. It's really relaxed," he said, "and that's what we want to strive for."

Tara Bannow is a University of Minnesota journalism student on assignment for the Star Tribune.