December 2010 Issue
Chills With Thrills
This holiday season and throughout the winter months, venture out for recreation and nature programs in Ohio parks.
To everything, as the saying goes, there is a season.
And if nature is your game, or the great outdoors your favorite place, you know all about the seasons in Ohio — their delightful differences, their keen characteristics and the way they morph so beautifully from one into the other. How the fog and frost can soften the crinkly edges of the autumn landscape; the way endless shades of green sprout seemingly overnight to renew everything in the spring.
When winter comes to the Buckeye State, the air turns crisp and cold. The colors shift to gray, blue and chilly white. And there’s no better place to experience the season’s beauty than in our parks.
From the rolling terrain of Hocking Hills State Park in the south to the winding river bends of Cuyahoga Valley National Park to the north, Ohio is blessed with a wide variety of parklands — which, during the warmer months, are aswarm with swimmers, campers and picnickers.
But how often do you think about venturing into nature when the snow is blowing and the temperature keeps falling? The state park you know from your summertime visit will be completely transformed by winter. Trails, hills, lakes and forests become something new. This winter, why not venture out to see the changes?
“It’s nice and peaceful in the wintertime,” says Chad Smith, one of two staff naturalists at Hueston Woods State Park, just north of Oxford. “It’s really quiet, but there are still lots of things going on. The lodge is open and we have programs, but I think those who are willing to brave the elements during the winter have a more individual, more personal experience with the park.”
What he and many other Ohio Department of Natural Resources employees want you to know is this: Ohio’s state parks are just as much open during the winter, for the most part, as they are during spring, summer and fall.
“We have a great sledding area, and all our trails are still open,” says Scott Doty, park manager at Maumee Bay State Park. “We’ve got plenty of wildlife on the trails that you can see — deer, bald eagles, even a snowy owl. That’s just a beautiful sight in the wintertime, I’ll tell you. I’ll never forget the first time I saw one.”
“And of course,” he says, “just being around the campfire during the winter is always fun.”
All across the state, lodges, cottages and cabins are open year-round, and some campgrounds remain ready for hardy winter campers. Most state parks put on special winter and holiday-themed programming. Hiking trails you know from the warmer, greener months are still open and provide great opportunities for cross-country skiing.
Hueston Woods’ Smith says winter hikers are fewer, but more serious. “There aren’t as many, but the ones who come out are here for much more strenuous, adventurous hikes,” he says.
But the parks aren’t just for hikers. At Alum Creek State Park in Delaware, the state just put in a disc golf course that has turned out to be very popular — and park staff can’t wait to see how it gets used during the winter. “Oh, I guarantee guys will be shoveling ice off the pads to play it,” says Loren Hart, operations manager at the park.
“We have hunting, fishing, that type of thing all year round,” he says. “Once they have ice on the lake, ice fishing is really popular. The dog park is open year-round, and the hiking trails are, too. We’ve got snowmobiling on the multi-purpose trails, and some cross-country skiing, which is also a good workout for people.”
Elsewhere around the state, there are miles of trails open for cross-country skiing, including Jefferson Lake State Park in Richmond and East Fork State Park in Clermont County.
Winter is the best time for spotting wildlife, too. Waterfowl are migrating; deer are more out in the open; animals are more actively in search of food; songbirds stand out sharply against the snow. “It’s prime wildlife time,” says naturalist Smith of Hueston Woods, which draws approximately 2 million visitors a year.
And the ones who arrive during the cold months may find they have a big, wonderful park all to themselves, comparatively speaking.
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources' main parks website, dnr.state.oh.us/parks
, walks you through programs, highlights and notable features at parks, wildlife areas and nature preserves. A bit of browsing might make you want to grab your boots and get out into the chill.
If you do, here are some of the places you might find, and the things you might do. Enjoy. Appreciate the solitude, and anything else you encounter.
And by all means, dress warmly.
Hueston Woods State Park
A huge resort lodge, cabins, the 625-acre Acton Lake, bridle paths, campsites and more fill this nearly 3,000-acre park in Butler and Preble counties just north of Oxford, which draws visitors from a wide area, including Cincinnati, Dayton and Indiana. Fossil hunting is popular, as is the Raptor Center for birds of prey.
Special winter events: The Holiday Raptor Invasion is Dec. 18 at 11 a.m., when naturalists bring birds of prey from the Raptor Center to the Hueston Woods Lodge for an educational program. Learn about birding from an expert during the Winter Bird Hike, Jan. 22, at 10 a.m. in the nature center. For more information, call 513/524-4250.
Winter recreation activities: hiking, sledding, cross-country skiing, ice fishing, ice boating, ice skating. 6301 Park Office Rd., College Corner 45003, 513/523-6347
Alum Creek State Park
Enjoy a 3,387-acre reservoir and 4,630 acres of fields and woodlands within an easy drive of Columbus. During the summer, visitors spend time at the state’s largest inland beach on Alum Creek Lake.
The main winter event is The Fantasy of Lights, featuring a million lights and more than 100 holiday displays, at the lake’s marina, through Jan. 2. For more information call 740/369-2900 or 740/548-6056, or visit alumcreek.com
Last year was one of the display’s most successful, with “about 7,000 or 8,000 cars,” says operations manager Hart.
Winter recreation activities: ice skating, ice fishing, ice boating, sledding, snowmobiling and cross-country skiing on the multi-purpose trail. 3615 S. Old State Rd., Delaware 43015, 740/548-4631. alumcreek.com
Hocking Hills State Park
More than 2,300 acres of cliffs, waterfalls, gorges, caves and hills provide some of the best, most varied hiking and camping in the state.
Special winter events: “Christmas in Ash Cave,” Dec. 11, 5–7 p.m., with a candlelight walk to Ash Cave and a bonfire, caroling, a decorated tree and Santa for the kids.
The Annual Winter Hike, a rugged six-mile hike from Old Man’s Cave to Ash Cave, is on Jan. 15, 9–11 a.m., with continuous starts. Dress for the weather. For more information, call 740/385-6841.
Winter recreation activities: hiking, ice fishing. 19852 St. Rte. 664 S., Logan 43138, 740/385-6842
Maumee Bay State Park
A lodge, golf course and cottages are prominent features of this more than 1,300-acre park along Lake Erie, bordered by vast natural wildlife areas to the east.
“We’ve got the best sledding hill in the area,” park manager Scott Doty says. “We get a lot of people during the winter who just like to sled. Our winter camping is also open, and all our trails are, too.”
Winter recreation activities: hiking, cross-country skiing on the Mouse Trail, ice skating, winter nature walks and sledding. 1400 State Park Rd., Oregon 43618, 419/836-7758
Burr Oak State Park
This park, located between New Lexington, Athens and McConnelsville, offers a lodge and conference center and a lake among more than 2,500 acres of woods and farms.
Special winter event: Appalachian Weekend at the lodge, Jan. 14–15, with entertainment and exhibits marking the region’s history and heritage. For more information, call 740/767-2112.
Winter recreation activities: sledding, ice fishing, ice skating, hiking. 10220 Burr Oak Lodge Rd., Glouster 45732, 740/767-3797
Cuyahoga Valley National Park
Waterfalls, cliffs, more than 100 miles of trails, a railroad line, thick forest, a historic trail along the Ohio & Erie Canal towpath, tons of wildlife and bike paths — there’s a lot to see and do in Ohio’s only national park, located between Cleveland and Akron along the winding Cuyahoga River. To learn more, visit nps.gov/cuva
Special winter events: “Journey to the North Pole on The Polar Express!” Enjoy cookies and hot chocolate as you recreate the famed Christmas story on the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad. Kids are encouraged to wear their pajamas. For more information, call 330/657-2752 or visit cvsr.com
Cuyahoga Valley House Concert Series: Intimate concerts featuring violinist and fiddler Ed Caner and local guest performers at Hines Hill Conference Center at the park, Dec. 19, Jan. 16, Feb. 20, 7 p.m.
Winter recreation activities: hiking, cross-country skiing, downhill skiing, snowshoeing, snow tubing and sledding. Visitor Center: 1550 Boston Mills Rd., Peninsula 44264, 330/657-2752. nps.gov/cuva
When You Go
For activities and events at Ohio State Parks, visit dnr.state.oh.us/parks. For details on programs at Cuyahoga Valley National Park, call 330/657-2752 or visit nps.gov/cuva
. Many lodges, cabins and cottages, as well as some campgrounds, at Ohio’s state parks are open year-round. To make reservations, visit dnr.state.oh.us/parks
or call 866/OHIOPARKS (866/644-6727).