By SARA ARTHURS
Winter doesn’t necessarily mean being cooped up indoors. In fact, many pursue outdoor hobbies year-round and they say there are benefits to spending time outside.
Melisa Zachrich, president of the Findlay Striders running club, said it can be hard to stay motivated to run on dark, cold days. But she finds it’s rewarding to run in winter.
“I actually like it a lot,” she said.
Zachrich runs a combination of roads and trails but said many runners prefer one or the other. During the week, when she is working, there are fewer available daylight hours so she doesn’t run trails as much. She said a lot of people run trails on the weekends in winter and supplement them with either treadmill or road running during the week.
Zachrich said running can help fight off “the winter blues.”
She cautioned that runners should wear appropriate clothing, which means layers in the winter. There are guidelines online for what runners should wear but most of the Striders wear heavy-duty running tights, moisture-wicking clothing, gloves and a hat. It’s the feet, hands and head that are most in need of protection from the cold, she said. In addition, when running in the dark she recommends a head lamp or something reflective.
Another popular hobby in the winter is disc golf.
Dennis Hills of Ottawa, who coordinates disc golf activities at Riverbend Recreation Area with the Hancock Park District, said players are active all winter.
Disc golf is played by throwing a disc into a basket standing on a pole. Hills said the terminology is the same as in golf, with players throwing from a tee and using terms such as par and birdies.
Hills, a Findlay native, plays in two leagues, a summer league in Ottawa and a winter league in Findlay.
The winter league plays Saturday afternoons and is open to anyone who wants to come and learn to play.
Participants played on a recent Saturday when it was snowing and “we had five inches on the ground,” Hills said. Only five people showed up but “we had a good time.”
One challenge in such situations is finding the disc, which can get buried in snow. Hills has learned to tape a ribbon to the center of the disc, which makes it more likely that at least part of the ribbon will stay above the snow, but even that doesn’t always work and discs can become impossible to see.
Findlay disc golfers also participate in a nationwide tradition, the Ice Bowl, which disc golfers play in February to raise money for charity.
“We’ve only had to reschedule one time,” when Hancock County was under a Level 3 emergency, Hills said. The local Ice Bowl is played Super Bowl weekend and money raised is donated to the Family Center.
Hills, 65, said he enjoys competing with players one-third his age and being able to beat them. The game is “always a challenge,” he said.
Hills and his wife also try to walk at least two miles a day, which he acknowledged is “a lot easier to do during nice weather.”
While he prefers playing disc golf in warmer weather than cold, he said he would rather play in snow than in rain.
“The worst I’ve ever played in was 10 below zero. … Fortunately, it wasn’t windy that day,” Hills said.
Hills has been playing disc golf for 10 years and played his first round in the winter, when his son introduced him to the sport.
Margie Stateler, visitor services manager at the Hancock County Park District, said there are many opportunities for outdoor recreation at local parks.
Spending time outdoors can help with symptoms of seasonal affective disorder and exercise promotes weight loss, cardiovascular health and spiritual and mental well-being, Stateler said. Outdoor winter activities promote weight loss by raising a person’s metabolism to compensate for their body’s adjustment to colder temperatures, she said. She added that being in the parks “can simply be invigorating, inspiring and revitalizing.”
Available outdoor exercise activities include snowshoeing, cross-country skiing or taking a four-legged friend to the K-9 Field of Dreams Dog Park at Riverbend.
Cross-country ski trails are set at Raccoon Run Winter Sports Center at Riverbend when conditions are appropriate.
For those who don’t own cross-country ski or snowshoe equipment, Raccoon Run Winter Sports Center at Riverbend Recreation Area Shelter rents ski equipment and snowshoes for all ages. The cost is $7 per hour or $20 per day.
If good snow conditions are present, the Winter Sports Center will be open on weekends and select holidays through March, with regular hours from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Other days may be added depending on the weather. Ideal snow conditions include 4 inches of snow base. For current snow conditions, call the park district office at 419-425-PARK (7275) or the Winter Sports Center at 419-424-1555.
Interested in cross-country skiing or snowshoeing but don’t know how? Classes will be offered at the park district in January and February. Stateler said cross-country skiing is easy to learn. She has taught young children as well as a woman in her 80s. The park district’s website has a coupon that can be downloaded for a discount on cross-country skiing lessons.
Saturday morning classes on cross-country skiing are scheduled from 9 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. Jan. 4, 11 and 18 and Feb. 1, 8 and 15. A snowshoeing class is set Jan. 25.
Fees for workshops must be paid in advance at the park district office by the Friday before each scheduled date. The cost for the workshops are $12 for cross-country skiing and $10 for snowshoeing. Participants must be at least 8 years old and those under 16 must be accompanied by a participating adult.
Less strenuous outdoor activities also offer rewards. Stateler said parks also make a great venue for amateur photographers.
“You can take pictures all year round,” Stateler said.
The park district has a photo contest in early February.
Other popular outdoor activities year-round include birdwatching and geocaching. Geocaching is a game in which a “cache” is hidden and participants look for coordinates, then track it with a GPS. There is an active geocaching group that uses the Hancock County parks.
In addition to bird-watching, other animals including raccoons, deer and possums are visible, Stateler said. There are interesting plants to look for, too. She suggested learning to identify trees by their twigs and bark, which can be mentally challenging compared to the easier identification when the leaves are out at other times of year.
While the park district does not have jurisdiction over the Findlay reservoir, that is a popular place for sledding, Stateler said.
Ice fishing is also possible at Shank Lake or Dold Lake at Oakwoods Nature Preserve but Stateler stressed that the park district no longer checks ice thickness and “it is at your own risk.”
Stateler said those spending time outdoors should pay attention to winter safety including being careful on snow-covered or icy surfaces. To stay warm, dry and comfortable “please dress in layers,” she said. That way if you get warm once you are moving you can take some layers off. She also recommends bringing water or a warm beverage with you.
And even though it’s winter, “don’t forget to wear your sunscreen,” Stateler said.
Also, make sure an adult is nearby to supervise if you take children to the parks. Stateler encourages parents to teach their children to spend time outside and said children who grow up spending time outside are more likely to become adults who enjoy being outdoors later in life. Children can play outdoors on playgrounds at Riverbend, Litzenberg or River Landings.
The park district has a new “Kids in the Parks” series that starts in January and is aimed at getting children of all ages outdoors with their families.
Parks are open every day from sunup to sundown. Stateler said they see a lot of activity on winter days when it is sunny.
“People don’t want to hibernate in their houses,” she said.
Online: www.hancockparks.com Arthurs: 419-427-8494 Send an E-mail to Sara Arthurs
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