Reflection on Winter Hikes
Imagine if Seattle residents only hiked when it was sunny and 70 degrees? They would never go outside.
Seattle’s higher than average outdoor recreation participation level shows us that their residents have learned something that perhaps we have forgotten – there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad gear (and that coffee/caffeine make every activity possible).
Core to The Parklands’ mission is to help you find ways to enjoy special moments in the park all twelve months of the year because at last check, we don’t live in San Diego or Miami. Our most beautiful days are not defined always by 70 degrees and sun. Sometimes our best days are 38 degrees and cloudy! This is doubly true if you are like me and tend to be a mosquito magnet in the warmer months.
It has been my pleasure to serve as a trail guide for members-only hikes this winter. Guiding these winter walks often gives me pause as I get to watch a new and authentic relationship develop between a park/natural resource and visitor. This pause quickly turns to awe as I take note that the relationship develops in places and at times of the year when folks may have thought the park was dormant. It’s these quiet “ah ha” moments that make all the work, planning, meetings, budgets, processes, and details worth the effort.
Lately, I’ve been watching folks appreciate the Kentucky winter landscape for its simple beauty. The gentle grays, mellow oranges, and muted browns add an air of contemplation to this place we call home. And, just when the landscape’s subdued tones settle the soul, a flash of color pops almost if on demand. Peeks at white tailed deer, river otters, pileated woodpeckers, eastern bluebirds, and every kind of raptor imaginable remind us that this landscape is a living, thriving, and constantly changing place. While we often think of parks as destination landscapes, the truth is that in parks, we encounter never ending change. No park visit is the same twice, because you are never entering the same place twice.
And for seeing and being part of change in the outdoors, these winter moments pass by far too quickly. Listening to the evening news, I’m convinced that most harbor a wish to rush through winter and the cold dreary days of February in a mad race to spring. Well, the spring story is starting now. If you are out in The Parklands over the next couple of weeks, you will see the dogwoods readying for their annual explosion of color as they set their buds and their mottled gray trunks and branches stand out a little bit more against the forest backdrop. Stepping into the woods you can somehow “feel” the larger oaks and hickories acknowledging that it’s almost time for the little guys in the forest to have their moments of flowering glory.
I encourage you to embrace cold weather exploration and watch this very special season as it won’t come again in the same way you will experience it now. Bundle up, pick a route, take your time, and you too may begin to see your Old Kentucky Home in a new way.
Here are some recommendations to make the most out of your winter visit:
- First, check your shoes for mud. If trails are muddy to the point your shoes get muddy, please stay off of them. A lot of damage can happen to these natural surface trails if they are used in the muddy season. And going around muddy or wet spots on these trails only makes it worse. If you want to get in the woods, consider going cross country and off-trail through the thickets. Or, stick to the paved paths.
- Dress in layers. While you will be cold at first, you may find the need to remove heavier jackets once you get going and work up a little sweat. But watch those cold spots by wearing a good hat, gloves, and waterproof boots with good socks – comfy feet make all the difference in the world.
- Consider walking the Louisville Loop. While this trail is a hot spot of activity in the summer, winter is a great time to enjoy its quieter spots. Check out the section through the Humana Grand Allee staying on the lookout for some of the eastern bluebirds that congregate together near the creek.
- Keep an eye on the power lines and tops of trees for visiting raptors. This is a great time of year to spot owls, hawks, and kestrels in the park. In particular, be on the lookout for one of our Great Horned Owls who has taken to making “drop in” appearances along Beckley Creek Parkway just south of Wood Duck Lake. This guy is becoming quite the celebrity. Or, see if you can spot “Fred”, our resident pileated woodpecker that lingers in the back parking lot at John Floyd Fields. You’re likely to hear him before you see him.
- Sign up for one of our guided hikes. These hikes are increasing in number and availability, so look for them in the newsletter and on our social media platforms. While these hikes fill up fast, we are disciplined on keeping them small enough so that the groups don’t overwhelm the trails or detract from the experience in the field. Even if you know a trail well, you never know what you may learn on a hike with a member of our staff.
- Stop and listen. The silence of a winter afternoon is a gift in this part of the world. Within the silence though, you will pick up sounds of wildlife all around. Just slow down and listen a bit – it’ll be worth it!
- If you still need motivation to step out in the cold, be like a resident of the Northwest and enjoy a strong cup of coffee coming to and after leaving the park. Cold gray days seem to make lattes taste even better!!