With New Year's resolutions on the horizon, many of us will take a pledge to get in shape or to live a healthier lifestyle. What better way to do just that than to go hiking? And hiking does not need to be just a summertime hobby.
Each year the Wisconsin State Parks system holds several "First Day Hikes" throughout the state. To celebrate the beginning of the new year, hikers head out to do some winter hiking and enjoy the beauty of the Wisconsin outdoors on Jan. 1. It is a great way to spend the first day of the year - just being outside and enjoying nature. It is also good exercise for those with a New Year's resolution to get in shape or live healthier. For me, getting outside like that in the winter really makes one realize all the world is not hibernating. It is easy to think there is no life out there. The trees and plants and grasses are all dormant. Bird activity is reduced, and furry animal sightings are few and far between.
I think the reason we feel this way in winter, for the most part, is because the days are so short. We leave for work in the dark and we come home in the dark. And, to be honest, a lot of us do not spend nearly as much time outside in the winter as we do in the summer. First Day Hikes are a great way to learn what is really going on outdoors in the winter. A short walk around my own property shows me that more than squirrels and chickadees are playing in the snow. I've seen rabbit tracks, deer tracks and I was even startled by a turkey taking off from a tree directly above my head as I walked by. Near the highway I saw coyote tracks that let me know they are still out in search of food.
Taking a hike in a state park is a great way to see the outdoors in a completely different perspective. The formal First Day Hikes are guided hikes happening in several state parks in the state such as Buckhorn, Devil's Lake, Interstate and Kettle Moraine. But, simply because there is not a formal First Day Hike in our area, does not mean hikers cannot get out and enjoy the day themselves. Depending on the weather, it may be more difficult for some to get out and enjoy the outdoors. But, if the weather gets too cold, it is easy to set the hike up for another day. It is an activity in which the entire family can participate.
Of course, we have to dress a bit differently than we would in the summer, with more layers and heavier boots. Layering is important so hikers are able to control their temperature without getting too hot or too cold. Water is also important. Although we do not tend to think about dehydration during the winter, it is just as easy to get dehydrated in the cold as it is in the heat.
Keep in mind safety precautions, too, such as letting others know where you are going and when you plan to be back. This way, should something happen, someone will know where to start looking for you. A reliable handheld GPS will also come in handy, but remember that batteries will drain faster in the cold so having a spare set on hand is always a good idea.
Once you are outfitted, going hiking is as easy as opening your front door if you live in a rural area, or taking a short drive out of town. It can be a learning experience as well as the perfect way to get out and enjoy some healthy activities with the entire family.
Beckie Gaskill may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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