(Don’t let those snowmobilers have all the fun)
By Charles Chandler
In a previous article about Winter Kayaking, it was suggested that if shelf ice was forming or the river was frozen over then don’t go and stay home. With the White River currently frozen over and a major ice jam on the lower Muskegon, kayaking is still not an option. So if you stayed home as recommended, read a book, spent the Christmas gift cards and a bit more on recreational gear, by now cabin fever is setting in. February is one of those in-between months where it is so easy to slip into that malaise where we give in to the couch, binge-watch TV, and consume too many salty snacks, etc. during the commercial breaks.
A sure cure for winter restlessness is to dig out those insulated pac boots, snowshoes, or cross-country skis and hit one of the many unique hiking trails we have in Newaygo County. It is so easy to extend your recreational year with time well spent on our snow-covered hiking trails.
In my opinion everyone should experience the delight of making the first tracks on one of those snow-covered hiking trails. It is always amazing to see how old man winter decorates our trees and woodlands in the winter. He uses scallops and dollops and filigrees and wads and lumps of snowy cotton candy. It appears that different trees get different treatments. The evergreens hold layers of fluffy snow on their springy branches that appear to have a load limit. As their boughs droop lower until their limit is reached, then you hear that loud whump as they shake their burden of snow, spring up and start over. The oaks all get a white overlay that outlines their bare branches. My favorite winter trees are the young beeches. Their leaves dry in the fall but don’t drop so in winter, when the sun is shining, their leaves reflect the sun and take on golden tan color that stands out in the stark winter snowscape.
Then there is the artwork of the woodsy folks. It is always remarkable to see how busy our woodlands are in the winter. In our other seasons you will rarely see some of these nocturnal creatures however in winter, the snow is literally crisscrossed with their tracks. You will see markings from a coyote, porcupine, raccoon, bobcat, fox, deer, squirrel, rabbit, mice, turkey, small birds, and the elusive grouse. Sometimes you might see mouse tracks that abruptly stop and there will be a delicate outline of the wings of some hawk or owl.
It is strongly recommended that once in your hiking life you take a winter stroll along one of our local trails on a full moon night. Hiking along a trail in our snow-covered woodlands on a crisp winter’s night is a transcendent experience. You can forget about that scary big bad wolf stuff because on those sublime winter nights, you can read your watch by the ambient light. After a time, you will turn your intrusive headlight off and confidently walk on. Sounds are amplified on a snowy night and you will hear the coyote clan yipping along some hidden trail or the owl hooting softly to a companion on up the hill. At night a small band of four or five startled deer will sound like a buffalo stampede as they bound through the woods. Some make a night hike a social event by gathering up some like-minded folks for a meetup and afterwards, gather around the fire ring or a cozy kitchen for storytelling and some hot chocolate or Irish coffee.
There are so many great trails to explore in Newaygo County. You can hike a section of the North Country Trail or try one of the local “loop” trails like Loda Lake, Birch Grove, White Cloud Connector or the trails in the Coolbough Natural Areas. The advantage of hiking a loop trail is that you don’t have to spot your car. Additionally, there are many two tracks that wind through the Huron-Manistee National Forest that are also available for snowshoeing or cross-country skiing. One of my favorite short winter hiking trails begins right behind the Newaygo County Welcome Center located on M-37, at 4684 Evergreen Dr., Newaygo. This trail has everything: a section of the North Country Trail, switchbacks and terrain changes through lots of woods, a spur to the Twin Lakes campground area, porcupine dens, deer trails, a few challenging hills, and if you go on a weekend you can watch the cute bundled-up kids fly or tumble down the toboggan hill. If you are newbies to snowshoeing and want to practice before hitting the trail, try the big open spaces at Henning Park. There are maps for all these trails at the Newaygo County Welcome Center or search on the internet by the various trail names.
As with all Michigan winters, recreational activity safety precautions must be taken to ensure you have a safe and enjoyable experience. Some practices that we follow are to dress in layers and carry additional warm clothes and water in your backpack. The experts recommend that you never hike in cotton, always wear a base layer of wool or fleece, then button it all up with a windproof breathable shell and warm hats and gloves. We leave the house cold because we know that we will warm up on the trail.
We always plan our winter hiking trips with our short winter days in mind. For example, you should match your hikes with your level of fitness and amount of time allotted to the hike. The time it takes you to hike a mile depends on several factors: your level of fitness, the type and depth of the snowpack, the steepness of the trail and your experience with snowshoes. Most folks can walk a mile on a developed trail in about 20 to 30 minutes or a rate of about 3 miles an hour. When snowshoeing we consider covering 1 to 2 miles in an hour a realistic rate. Think about a winter hike as a sightseeing tour and a great way of getting a fat burning cardio workout. There are many books and articles with tips and precautions to take when making winter hiking or camping trips. The following found on the North Country Trail Association website is one of the best:
So let the warning signs of becoming a couch potato and the restlessness of cabin fever motivate you to get on your gear and take an energizing hike along one of our beautiful snow-covered hiking trails.
Don’t let the snowmobilers have all the fun!