Get Out There! Twinkling Lights, Hot Cocoa, and Nature Trails Accessible to All

How do you celebrate – life, the holidays, your family? Warmth and light come to mind when I think about celebration, during the winter holidays and throughout the year. Festivities light up the night this time of year, some with dress codes, high ticket prices, and other challenges that get in the way of participation by some. Let’s take a moment to celebrate that this is not the case at the Winter Hike Series put on for the last 50 years, by the Columbus and Franklin County Metro Parks.

Use of the parks is free, which is amazing – I hope you’ll vote for additional funding the next time it is on the ballot.

Most of the parks are outside of the 270 outer belt, where there are larger swaths of land available to be made into parks, making them convenient for a broad range of visitors, from all corners of the county. There are also parks easily accessed from downtown, including the Scioto Audubon and Quarry Trails, linked below. More importantly, you are meant to visit them all year! I actually find myself there more in the winter because of the wonderful programming offered!

Visiting Inniswood Metro Gardens this December I discovered a park bathed in the lights of the holiday season, for all to enjoy. There were lots of kids and families, of course, but also young couples strolling hand-in-hand and seniors making the most of paved paths and carefully constructed and maintained boardwalks.

Not every area of every park is accessible to strollers and wheelchairs, but the spirit of each park is captured in areas like nature centers, wheelchair accessible paths into the woods, and quite places of reflection like docks placed at the edge of a pond or nature-inspired sculptures that greet visitors as soon as they leave the parking lot and step into the park proper.

“Oh, look – I can get the stroller inside!” one young mom shouted to her friend, as they approached Granny’s House, in the Country Garden. I stepped aside, clearing the doorway for her, as she maneuvered the stroller up the brick path, then onto the porch. Carrying her newborn, her smile widened, as she gazed up at the lights that adorned the roofline. Her eyes sparkled and her white fur-lined parka was bathed with the colors of Christmas candy.

Why visit in the winter, in the first place?

At the first hike of the Winter Hike series, Park Rangers did triple duty, directing traffic, ensuring visitor safety, and answering questions about how the hikes work. Standing around the fire, we chatted with one ranger who explained that the kickoff hike at Inniswoods had brought in 5 times the visitors that had been anticipated. The hikes are back!

The Metro Parks have been hosting the hikes for 50 years; the format of the hikes has evolved over the years, due to growth in popularity and more recently the impact of COVID-19. The goal has remained the same – to get the community outside, and into the parks. Let’s go!

Here are the basics, to participate fully:

  • Pick up your hike card at any of the Metro Parks this December.
  • It’s all about flexibility! You can visit the parks in any order, at your convenience, and simply ask park staff to stamp your hike card with a park-specific stamp.
  • Get festive – together! If you want to join in the festivities on February 26, 2023 and visit with fellow hikers you can hike 7 parks to earn your Metro Park Winter Hikes patch. (Visit Winter Hikes Series 50th Anniversary for details.)
  • Feeling more ambitious? If you choose to become a member of Friends of Metro Parks you can earn a Metro Parks-branded hiking sticks and yearly medallions.

The park’s accessibility extends to the community of more senior residents in the Columbus and Franklin County area. Consider Metro Five-0. Programs for 50+ are available, though I have many 60+ friends who are more fit than I and could easily leave me in the dust, but they don’t! In any case, the wonderful programing that the park offers is meant to be inclusive, welcoming, and to offer something for any and all visitors.

Free Programs & Activities for Seniors

“Metro Parks’ outreach group offers a variety of free programs for seniors, age 50 and older. Programs are typically 60-minutes long but can be adjusted to meet the needs of your group. You can bring your group to one of our parks or we can bring a program to your group’s facility. Most programs can be adapted to indoor or outdoor settings. To schedule one of our current programs, call 614.508.8004” (Metro Parks website)

  • Amazing Trees
  • Animal Homes
  • Rock On!
  • Nature Discovery
  • Birds of Prey

Don’t be offended by the fact that the young age of 50 is when this specialized programming begins. . . says an active member of the community that just about qualifies and has begun to see adds for AARP. Instead, attend the events, meet others with similar interests, and get active!

“Metro Parks offers a variety of activities and programs to connect seniors, 50 and older, to the natural world. Programs are designed to promote an active and healthy lifestyle but also offer opportunities for seniors who may need a bit more assistance.” (Metro Parks website)

And don’t forget to take a selfie!

Each of us develops “favorite” parks; Inniswoods is one of mine, but there are so many more to explore. Sometimes I think that my favorite park is . . . well, the one I’m currently in. (Akin to the mantra that the “best” camera is the one that’s in your hands when the moment strikes and you need to capture an image. . . but don’t get me started on that.) At Chestnut Ridge Metro Park this week there were luminaries and lanterns guiding visitors along the trail. There was hot chocolate! There was holiday spirit!

And there was a fellow dressed as a bison – I’d recommend you keep an eye out for him in the parks, now through February.

Join me on my next adventure,

~ Kat

Related Links:

Columbus and Franklin County Metro Parks:

Winter Hikes:

One comment

  1. Awesome narrative and photos as always!
    You embrace nature and the cultural experience!
    You must (as I always say) submit to Nat Geo! or a local newspaper!
    You’re an extraordinary documentarian and should share your gift!
    BLOG ON and ON!!


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