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Winter hikes take virtual twist in season of COVID-19

Looking for a safe way to get out of the house and try something new this holiday season?

Looking for a safe way to get out of the house and try something new this holiday season?

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) and Columbus and Franklin County Metro Parks have a few ideas.

Both have adjusted their popular winter hikes for Ohioans to enjoy on their own time and at their own pace.

“The winter season, in itself, is something special and that’s what we try to highlight at these winter hikes,” said Kathryn Conner, a naturalist with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources division of parks and watercraft. “You would go, usually with a guide, like a naturalist, and we’d walk you through some of the popular trails or some may be that you haven’t tried before and was always, and still is, a very popular thing for our visitors.”

The hikes may not look the same this year but the virtual aspect offers new opportunities for returning fans and those looking to try something new, Conner said.

“It’s not saying, ‘Just watch this video.’ That’s not a hike. What we want you to do is take this video as a stepping stone and go out and explore the state parks,” Conner said, adding that the videos are a good fit for anyone at home, kids in the classroom and even those in senior living facilities.

Checking out the virtual hikes is as simple as exploring the ODNR Facebook pages and YouTube page.

“Even though it’s not a typical winter hike, you know, we can’t go out and hike with you, it’s still kind of connecting us with our visitors and showing them, ‘Come out. Still enjoy your winter hike,’” Conner said.

Columbus and Franklin County Metro Parks is encouraging visitors to come hike 18 different parks using a travel booklet that can be stamped.

After seven hikes, a returned and completed travel booklet will get hikers a reward.

Click here to learn more about that winter hike series.

In addition to the physical and mental benefits of getting outside during the winter months, a winter hike can also add a whole new perspective, Conner, with ODNR said.

“One of my favorite things, and it might seem a little small to people, is trees,” she said. “When you’re walking in the spring or the summer, or the fall, everyone’s looking at leaves. But trees have more than just leaves. I love getting people to be able to notice a tree by its bark, by its buds; just the end of its twigs.”

The animal hikers may sight are also different in the winter months.

“They get to see what birds stay here all winter long and it is so wonderful to be able to tell people how these animals adapt to survive in an environment where we’re all walking outside going, ‘I can’t imagine being out here,’ but the animals are out all day and night,” Conner said.