Between social and charity bike rides, outdoor yoga, and summer festivals, it can be a challenge to get yourself out onto the city’s bike trails during the warmer months. But when the Midwestern skies grow dark gray and overcast, and there is slush and muck and frozen earth out there in the woods, the motivation is severely lacking.
Understanding this, the Friends of Columbus Metro Parks created a Winter Hike series, with 12 hikes, over a 2 month period, which kicks off with the New Year. What is the appeal? Why would fitness enthusiasts around Columbus take the bait and get out into the parks?
Soup (or chili), and some combination of volunteer-made cookies, fruit, chips and yogurt awaits at the end of the hike, at the park’s shelter house. There is always a steaming cup of coffee, or hot chocolate, and if you finish early enough there will still be marshmallows to roast over a fire maintained by the park rangers, volunteers, and event organizers. I don’t actually like marshmallows, but I adore the experience of roasting them, and warming my feet by the fire, then going home with the smell of the fire still in my hair. So, I volunteer to roast them for my fellow hikers, or I drop a gloppy mess of half-scorched marshmallow fluff into my hot chocolate.
Snowville Creamery’s chocolate milk is such a treat that more than one hiker has remarked that they look for the milk cartons, and the lovely lady who is always there to pour samples into Styrofoam cups, at the end of the hike.
But really it’s the comradery that evolves amongst hikers, and the celebration of an accomplishment, once the hike is completed, that brings many loyal hikers back week after week. While others are still tucked in bed on a wintery Saturday morning in January, with frost forming on the windows, a newspaper and their first cup of java, hikers are setting off onto a snowy path through the metro park system.
Oh, and wait just a minute!!!! For the first time this year there’s the promose of a special branded Columbus Metro Parks walking stick!
If a hiker completes 7 of the 12 hikes in the series, a Metro Parks patch is earned, embroidered with a handsome owl. In the 3 or so years that I’ve been participating in the hikes, with scattered and somewhat weather dependent attendance, I’ve never hiked enough to earn the patch. This year, for the first time, I committed to hiking all 12 hikes. I would earn my walking stick!
Blacklick Metro Park: It was on the very first hike of the season that I signed up as a “Friend of the Metro Parks”, with the goal of earning my stick, branded with “Columbus Metro Parks”. The sticks are branded at Slate Run Park – see recap below. Twelve hikes didn’t seem like an impossibility. I didn’t really think about the logistics of my travel, monthly bike rides, wanting a rest day, etc. But I was caught up in the excitement, the beautiful winter day, and the promise of reward. So, the Columbus Parks Winter Hike Series was on!!
Sharon Woods: Dedicated to the hikes, the well maintained Columbus trail system, and time outdoors, there were no excuses for missing a hike, but some of the hikes were just mud! We came prepared, and ready to get dirty! It might have been easier with a hiking stick, but we were still earning those. Each week I had the pleasure of hiking with a different collection of hikers, but we were all in it for the fun, fitness and friendship. . . and did I mention the hiking stick? Seeing 2 of 6 hikers in shorts is a reminder that it’s been a fairly mild winter in the Midwest.
Prairie Oaks: I remember this as one of the coldest and windiest of the hikes this year. Several areas were open, allowing the wind to rush past us and threaten to blow us into one another. There wasn’t a lot of snow, but there was enough of the powdery stuff, and ice, to make me glad I have a good pair of hiking shoes. We were on gravel, grass, and pavement, and we just decided to lean into the wind.
Scioto Audubon: The park system has built into this program the ability to make up a “missed” hike. I took advantage of that 2 or 3 times this year, mostly by “pre-hiking” at the parks I knew I’d miss due to work travel. Knowing that several of us would be out of town the weekend of this hike, a group of us decided to take this urban hike on as a self-guided affair.
The multi-use trail (for cyclists, walkers, pets, roller bladers, etc.) lacked the mud and steep inclines of other parks, but the view of the city was a reminder that this is a Metro Park hiking series. Major work has been done along the Scioto River over the last year and a half, and the accessibility to walkers/ hikers, like us, is outstanding. Columbus residents have embraced this downtown park, and it will thrive during festival season.
Inniswoods: A year ago at Inniswoods there was a level 3 snow emergency that prevented most hikers from completing this hike. I’d gotten there early, and since drivers were being cautioned to stay off the roads, if at all possible, it just made sense to take our time on the short hike through the most manicured park in the Metro Park system. I had my camera with me, so there were great opportunities to capture the fresh snow. (Photo by Craig Clark)
This year the sun was shining, the temperatures were unseasonably warm, and the park was packed! Hikers were directed to park on nearby residential streets, and the walk to the park was almost as long as the hike itself. This is a diverse hike; there are forest areas with wooden boardwalks (these made passing other hikers a small challenge), hibernating Asian gardens, and a children’s garden area that brings “The Secret Garden” to mind, and offers a meditation pathway. It was a treat to be outside!
Clear Creek: I don’t know where to begin to describe the loss that occurred during this year’s Clear Creek hike. But to be serious, just for fun, I brought tiny little replicas of my cats along on the hike. These miniature cats could seriously be the doppelgangers of ButterCup and ButterBean. What an adventure they had at Clear Creek, with me documenting it all along the way.
Sadly, one of the Butter Twins took the opportunity to cast off on a solo adventure of her own.
Blendon Woods: At times it’s nice to hike as part of a crowd, greet fellow hikers, and chat with friends over soup and cookies. But one purpose of the hikes is to remind outdoor enthusiasts that the parks are beautiful year-round, even solo. Hikers realize that the fitness benefits of physical activity and the chance to be surrounded by the natural world, are available all 12 months, regardless of the temperature and the weather conditions.
I was out of town and missed the Blendon Woods hike, so I made it up the very next day. It was refreshing to complete this hike with just one other hiker, rather than a large group. It was a nice change of pace, and highlights a different aspect of the hikes – this way of doing things encourages more intimate conversation, and a chance to really look around at the natural beauty of the park in-between.
Highbanks: There were some hikes that had to be squeezed in on an already busy day, during an already busy weekend. I almost skipped Highbanks, because I had a bike ride scheduled that day, and the temps came in at around 7 degrees as I was hitting the snooze button. The bike ride, hosted by Yay Bikes!, was a big success, and a handful of cyclist friends headed to Highbanks to hike, after we got our wits about us over a beer and a slice of pizza at Whole Foods.
And then we earned our “punch” for a hike at Highbanks Metro Park, on the card that tallies our 12 hikes!
Glacier Ridge: It was so cold. We hiked anyway, with smiles. I’m told that the creamed chicken sandwiches are the best around (by my non-vegetatian friends). An Ohio specialty, they are a staple of Midwestern cuisine.
“These sandwiches are very popular in this area (Ohio). You will find them being served at all kinds of gatherings, from parties to potlucks and they are sold at most local ice cream shops.” (http://www.instructables.com/id/Fast-and-easy-shredded-chicken-sandwiches/ )
Three Creeks: Did I mention that Dogs are allowed on some of the trails?! Daisy would be the first to point out that she is only welcome on certain hikes. This is understandable, with the rough terrain, and the need to keep hikes safe for hikers. At 14 years old, Daisy holds her own on the Metro Parks paths, and draws attention wherever she goes. She’ll give you a smile, but what she is really after is a rump scratch. Wearing her Lazy Dog leash and collar, from her days kayaking in Key West, she knows what’s what, and will tell you about it if you ask her.
Slate Run: Arriving early, I was able to experience Slate Run’s working farm prior to finding the area of the park with the hiking trails. The trails here are rather steep, and it was so muddy from the recent warm-up that hikers were discouraged from completing the 5 mile route. We took the 2.5 mile route, and made good time. With the hills, I’m glad this hike was later in the season, when we were conditioned for them.
The farm was wonderful, and I will absolutely return in the spring when the piglets are still young, and again in the summer when the crops are at their highest growth. The animals were entertaining, active and beautiful. It’s a thrill that the Metro Parks includes a working farm to educate the children of Columbus, at no cost.
Battelle Darby: And then we saw the bison! On loan from The Wilds, the bison are lingering off in the field along the 6 mile path at Battelle Darby Metro Park. Every hiker we saw stopped to check out these amazing creatures, and the new Nature Center is top notch, with multimedia displays as well as hands-on exhibits. The indoor creek habitat with fish, turtles, and activities is great for kids, especially those small enough climb through the tunnel that runs under the creek.
And with that the series is complete – 12 punches for 12 parks and 12 amazing experiences! It was time spent with friends who have the same interest in natural parks, being active & the “swag” that is the Columbus Metro Parks Winter Hike Series walking stick. We are the “Stick People”!
Join me on the next adventure,
Columbus Metro Parks: http://www.metroparks.net/
Friends of Metro Parks: http://www.metroparks.net/about-us/friends-metro-parks/
2015 Nature Print Contest: https://www.flickr.com/photos/75573634@N06/sets/72157660368813361
2016 Winter Hike Series: http://www.metroparks.net/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/WinterHikes-2016-web.pdf
Yay Bikes!: http://www.yaybikes.com/
Lazy Dog: http://lazydog.com/