A Wilderness of Winter
Reasons to get out of your house and explore the great outdoors this season
The thrill of the season’s first snowfall stirs memories of campfires, hot cocoa, sledding on powdery runs, and many other fun moments. Most times, though, winters in Ohio are harsh.
Cooped up for too long and staring at a yard full of snow last year, we bundled everybody up and went outside to build a snowman. The entire episode lasted maybe 45 minutes, but by the time we were done, a large snowman was standing crooked in the yard while everybody admired it over a cup of hot cocoa, only slightly bothered as we watched the dog systematically deconstruct the snowman.
In times like these, I wonder what people did 100 years ago. Did they sit in their houses all winter and wait for spring? Did they turn up the thermostat to ward off the chill? No! They bundled up, went outside, and got on with their lives. Maybe they enjoyed hunting and ice fishing. Maybe they milked cows or fed hogs. Maybe they chopped wood to replenish the fireplace. Maybe they explored new parks and public greenspaces created in a golden era of conservation’s history. It can be the same for us now, with just a little extra effort.
A winter trip to a wild area has many advantages not available in the summertime, such as fewer crowds, no itchy mosquitoes or poison ivy, and some lower-priced adventures. Here are a few outside adventure options for Central Ohio during the winter.
Columbus Metro Parks offer hikes throughout the winter months. Hikes are scheduled at different days and times, depending on the time of year and trail conditions. Parks are peaceful, and mostly empty of people during the day. And what’s more fun than hiking in the sunshine? Hiking at night. Experiencing natural places during nighttime in the winter can bring an absolute calm to those willing to try it. Go to metroparks.net for more information.
Old Man’s Cave in Hocking County offers a winter hike that is enjoyed by many people every year. The hike begins at Hocking Hills State Park Campground and winds through the park. Annually, thousands of people enjoy this hike. Hocking Hills also has Ash Cave, the largest recess cave in Ohio. The site is open year-round, and provides spectacular views. Here’s a hint: frozen waterfalls become giant icicles (think hundreds of feet high) as water flows down the Hocking Hills State Park cliff faces to create a winter wonderland. Find more information at hockinghillsstatepark.com.
Birds migrating to Ohio only in winter are plentiful, if you know when and where to look. Birds come through Ohio at most times of the year. Those flying to Ohio during the winter months are sometimes traveling from areas high in the Arctic. Winter in Ohio doesn’t affect these hardy birds. Snowy owls, snow buntings, waterfowl, gulls, and more visit Ohio when home waters freeze. Visit Alum Creek State Park or Hoover Reservoir before ice freezes the waterways. These large reservoirs hold birds as long as the water is open. Find more information about birds, and other wildlife species, at wildohio.gov.
The annual Christmas Bird Count is another great way to experience the outdoors, and participate in citizen science. The 2015 bird count begins on December 14 and runs through January 5. Anyone can participate. Birds are counted on prescribed routes nationwide, including many in Central Ohio. The Christmas Bird Count began in 1900, and thousands of people participate each year. More information is available at audubon.org.
Remember, Ohio can’t have its warm summer without a cold winter. Enjoy the season while it lasts, and you might have a new experience that will bring only warm memories.
Tips for Your Winter Adventure
Pack something warm to drink, and plenty of food. Eating a healthy snack helps ward off the cold.
Wear a couple layers of socks, and sturdy, warm shoes. Actually, layers for all clothes are important. Remove layers and put them back on as needed.
Don’t leave the little ones out TOO long. Enjoy the day, then get back inside to warm up. Little fingers and toes freeze fast.
Be on the lookout for ice as you walk. Falling on your bottom is going to sting.
Bring binoculars. Views are incredible during the winter, and you can see farther with no leaves on the trees.
Don’t underestimate the cold. If your body starts feeling numb, get somewhere warm right away.
Slow down when driving in icy or wintry conditions.