(Posted Dec. 28, 2022)
By Kristy Zurbrick, Madison Editor
Metro Parks is celebrating five decades of encouraging folks to explore nature when temperatures are low.
“When Metro Parks first started the Winter Hike Series in 1974, it was really just a way to get people out in the parks in winter when usually they hibernate and don’t get out,” said Jill Snyder, the park system’s visitor engagement manager.
“In the early 2000s, when I started working here, if we had 100 people come out for one of the winter hikes, it was a good day. Then something clicked, word got out, and we started having over a thousand people showing up at some of the hikes.”
The format of the winter hike series has changed over the years. Initially, Metro Parks staffers led guided hikes for a few dozen visitors on certain days. When participation numbers exploded, the parks offered a combination of guided and unguided hikes on certain days in January and February. Since the pandemic, the hike series has expanded to more parks in the system, takes place over three months instead of two, and offers a looser structure.
The 50th Annual Winter Hike Series is well under way. More than 1,000 hikers showed up at the kickoff at Inniswood Metro Gardens in early December. The program runs through the end of February. Participants can enjoy refreshments when they hike certain parks at certain times, or they can simply get out to any park anytime.
Those who visit at least seven parks in the series earn a Metro Parks Winter Hikes patch. Those who visit all 20 parks in the series and sign up to be a Friend of the Metro Parks earn a walking stick and medallion. Participants can pick up a hike series card at park nature centers or print one from www.metroparks.net/winter-hikes/. Staff members at each park can stamp the card.
Three of the 20 parks are located or partially located in Madison County–Battelle Darby Creek near West Jefferson, Glacier Ridge near Plain City, and Prairie Oaks between West Jefferson and Plain City. The others are scattered around Franklin County, with a few situated outside the county to the southeast.
In January, the days on which refreshments will be available are:
• Jan. 7–Prairie Oaks, 10 a.m.-1 p.m.
• Jan. 14–Sharon Woods, 10 a.m.-1 p.m.
• Jan. 21–Scioto Audubon, 10 a.m.-1 p.m.
• Jan. 28–Clear Creek, 10 a.m.-1 p.m.
Also in January, visitors can find Metro Parks wooden ornaments to take home. Look for the ornaments at Walnut Woods the week of Jan. 7, Slate Run the week of Jan. 14, Rocky Fork the week of Jan. 21, and Scioto Grove the week of Jan. 28.
In February, the days on which hot drinks and treats will be available are:
• Feb. 4–Blendon Woods, 10 a.m.-1 p.m.
• Feb. 11–Glacier Ridge, 10 a.m.-1 p.m.
• Feb. 18–Three Creeks, 10 a.m.-1 p.m.
Also in February, visitors can search for wooden ornaments to take home at Pickerington Ponds the week of Feb. 4, Heritage Trail the week of Feb. 11, and Quarry Trails the week of Feb. 18.
To wrap up the series, Metro Parks will host a Winter Hike celebration on Feb. 26, 11 a.m.-3 p.m., at Blacklick Golf Course. Hikers are invited to walk along the paths of the Audubon Sanctuary Golf Course, search for wooden ornaments along the trail, collect their Winter Hike patch or Friends of Metro Parks hiking stick and medallion, enjoy hot chocolate, and warm up around the fire.
More information and a map showing all the Metro Parks can be found at www.metroparks.net.