Have you been searching. . . . for Waldo? I’ve found him, and he’s a keeper!
Launched at the start of December, the Columbus and Franklin County Metro Parks Winter Hike Series isn’t going to look quite the same in 2020 as it has in years past. Gone (for now) are the efforts to draw large crowds. That means an entirely different approach, and a new marketing strategy, for the Metro Parks.
In years past hikes were promoted for one Saturday morning or Sunday afternoon, at a featured Columbus or Franklin County park, with hikers expected to gather to join in the fun. Park rangers were on site en mass to direct car and foot traffic, hand out punch cards, and serve warm bowls of soup. Bonfires were lit, hot chocolate was served, and volunteers gathered at their favorite metro park to welcome visitors.
Groups were encouraged to hike together! Hikes were promoted on social media and the Friends of the Metro Parks website. There was an option to “make up” hikes, should a hiker be unable to attend on the official day of the hike, but half the fun was seeing friends, sharing stories, and drinking hot cocoa together.
Crowds were large enough that hikers began to arrive early, to get a parking spot and a head start on the 3, 5, or 7 miles they had planned for the day. Crowds were large enough that “Waldo” was able to get lost, and hikers had fun searching for him!
“Look, it’s Waldo! I found him!” and “I found you!!” were common exclamations, when a red and white striped hat and shirt were spied in the woods, next to a pond, or across a field of tall grasses. Many hikers wouldn’t say a word, but their eyes would light up and a grin would tug at the corners of their mouths. Occasionally a child could be seen elbowing her Dad, then pointing to Waldo.
The 2020 Winter Hike Series, which began in January of 2020 and ended the following month, knew nothing of COVID-19, mask wearing, or social distancing. Groups of hikers sat close together on bales of hay, shared a bag of chips, and threw their arms around one another for a selfie.
The 2021 winter hikes will look a bit different! In fact, they have already started, on Dec. 1, 2020, in an effort to spread out park visits over a three month period. Each month, December, January, and February, there will be 6 featured parks. Hikers will be welcomed to hike any day, any route and any time. The series is called “A Ticket to Travel,” which is something many wanderers are longing to do!
In December the parks will be adorned with lights and holiday decorations. Luminaries will light paths, as hikers are encouraged to come during the day and at dusk. In January you can honor your New Year’s resolutions with a longer, more strenuous hike. In February you’re encouraged to “Fall in Love” with a favorite park!
I encourage hikers to keep some of the traditions of the winter hike series, no matter when they hike, which park, whatever distance, and in what company. Bundle up! Start the day / hike with a hot cup of coffee! Get out into nature, breathe in the smell of a winter snow, and do some “forest bathing.”
If the looser structure, incorporating 18 parks (instead of the traditional 13), and the improved parking situation are appreciated by the community, then this might be the new normal! The goal is to get hikers out into the parks all year, to encourage them to take advantage of this expansive, free resource right in their own backyards.
I’ve discovered so many wonderful, beautiful spaces along the trail. I’ve maintained some amazing cycling friendships by transitioning to hiking, and sharing our adventures. We still plan to share them. . . remotely. Social media will allow us to bring one another along on our hikes, to share our stories, and to embrace this strange yet wonderful time in our lives.
Masks are required in the parks, and the “Ticket to Travel” organizers are doing everything they can to keep everyone safe while they also remain engaged! I have my ticket, and I’m ready to travel!
2020 has been a strange year – no one will doubt that. Don’t let that deter you from doing the things you love, enriching your experiences, and sharing your love of nature. The first weekend in December I visited 2 parks, and I expect to visit four more before Christmas. I’m on Staycation the week of Christmas, but I don’t play on staying put at all.
I’ll be out in the parks!
While I don’t expect to see Waldo again this year I’ll be on the lookout for new “characters” at the Columbus and Franklin County Metro Parks this winter! (There’s a hint in the links below. . . . if you’d like to know who to keep your eyes out for, on weekends in the monthly featured parks!)
Join me on my next adventure,
Columbus and Franklin County Metro Parks: https://www.metroparks.net/blog/a-ticket-to-travel-through-your-metro-parks/
Where’s Waldo? (Fandom): https://waldo.fandom.com/wiki/Waldo
Here’s An Explanation To That Weird Ax-Licking Scene In ‘Rudolph’: https://www.huffpost.com/entry/rudolph-ax-licking_n_56607408e4b079b2818d781d