Take a winter hike and help the environment, too

By Kristy Zurbrick
Madison County Editor

Photo courtesy of Barb Nye/Metro Parks
A crisp winter walk at Three Creeks Metro Park brings out the smiles.

Since its introduction 47 years ago, the Metro Parks Winter Hike Series has morphed into a massive event.

Thousands of people now show up for the hikes which take place in January and February at 13 of the system’s 19 parks. Participants are treated to guided and self-guided hikes, hot chocolate and soup, and the fellowship of like-minded winter adventurers.

But with all that good stuff comes lots of discarded bowls, spoon and cups, and carbon emissions from cars carrying those adventurers to and from the parks.

While Metro Parks is thrilled that so many people have latched onto the hike series, they also want to be good stewards of the environment.

“We’re happy to provide the experience, but we also don’t want to make a mess of this world,” said Jill Snyder, assistant manager of education and interpretation.

To that end, Metro Parks started a few years ago to encourage participants to carpool to the hikes and bring their own reusable mugs and bowls. Hikers also can earn commemorative mugs by donating five cans of food, five personal hygeine items, or $5 to the Mid Ohio Food Bank.

This year, the park system is ramping up its conservation efforts even more.

“We’re really trying to reduce waste from the event,” Snyder said.

To do that, Metro Parks is using compostable bowls and utensils where possible in place of styrofoam and plastic. They have partnered with The Compost Exchange, which will compost refuse and food waste from the hikes, as well as educate hikers about composting. In addition to the mugs hikers can earn with food bank donations, the Friends of the Metro Parks are selling reusable bowls and spoons.

“We hope to divert a whole lot of trash from the landfill,” Snyder said.
Metro Parks staffers plan to track just how much waste they divert.
“If we hit certain goals, we’re going to save the turtles–not sea turtles, but our own Ohio turtles,” Snyder said.

The idea is to provide better habitat and resources for protection of turtles, especially box turtles, whose numbers are declining due to habitat loss and fragmentation. (Turtles are getting hit on roads, including those within the parks, that bisect their living areas.) Additionally, a new nature center planned for Blacklick Woods Metro Park in Reynoldsburg will include an educational component on turtles.

So, what do turtles have to do with waste reduction?

“Sometimes, it’s hard to get people excited about trash… This way, we’re saying that if we can get everyone on board with our conservation efforts, we as a Metro Park district will give back to protecting the environment,” Snyder said.

This year’s motto for the Winter Hike Series is “Hike to a Greener Place.” For more information, go to metroparks.net.

The 47th Annual Winter Hike Series, presented by Columbus and Franklin County Metro Parks, runs Jan. 4-Feb. 22.

Anyone who completes at least seven hikes receives an embroidered patch. Anyone who completes all 13 hikes and is a paying member of the Friends of the Metro Parks receives a walking stick and/or a medallion for the stick. Friends membership is $10 per year. This year’s medallion pays tribute to the Scioto Audubon Metro Park.

Dates, times, places and distances for each of this year’s hikes are as follows:
Jan. 4–10 a.m., Blacklick Woods in Reynoldburg, 2 or 4 miles;
Jan. 11–10 a.m., Sharon Woods in Westerville, 2 or 4 miles, pets welcome;
Jan. 12–2 p.m., Prairie Oaks in West Jefferson, 1, 3 or 5 miles, pets welcome;
Jan. 18–10 a.m., Scioto Audubon, downtown Columbus, 1 or 2 miles, pets welcome;
Jan. 25–10 a.m., Clear Creek in Rockbridge, 1, 3 or 5 miles;
Jan. 26–2 p.m., Inniswood in Westerville, 2 miles;
Feb. 1–10 a.m., Blendon Woods in northeast Columbus, 2 or 4 miles;
Feb. 2–2 p.m., Scioto Grove in Grove City, 1 or 2 miles, pets welcome;
Feb. 8–10 a.m., Highbanks in Lewis Center, 2.5 or 5 miles;
Feb. 9–2 p.m., Glacier Ridge in Plain City, 2 miles, pets welcome;
Feb. 15–10 a.m., Three Creeks in Groveport, 1, 3 or 5.6 miles, pets welcome;
Feb. 16–2 p.m., Slate Run in Canal Winchester, 2.5 or 5 miles; and
Feb. 22–10 a.m., Battelle Darby Creek in Galloway, 2, 4 or 6 miles, pets welcome.
Hikes are free. No registration is required.

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