FORT WAYNE — Winter is in full swing in northeast Indiana, and the gray skies and freezing temperatures can make many people avoid the outdoors during this time of year.
However, the region’s parks, trails and other natural spaces welcome visitors with winter programming throughout the coldest months.
Lindenwood Nature Preserve, 600 Lindenwood Ave., Fort Wayne, offers “Wintry Weather Hikes” two or three times a month on Saturday mornings. The 110-acre nature preserve features four hiking trails.
On Jan. 12, naturalist Emma Altimus led a group of about 20 hikers.
“(During winter) people feel like they lose a connection with nature, so they like to get out as much as they can. The hike that we offer gives them an excuse to come out,” she said.
The free hikes provide an opportunity to get some exercise, socialize and learn about the nature preserve. During the snowy hike, Altimus pointed out the preserve’s various flora and fauna. Throughout the winter, visitors can spot nuthatches, cardinals, bluebirds, blue jays and woodpeckers.
“For birders, winter can be a great time because all of the greenery is gone,” she said. “You can really see far away and distinguish those colors. A cardinal can be easily spotted in the winter time because that’s the only color that you’re going to see because everything is brown and the snow is white.”
Eagle Marsh Nature Preserve, 6802 Engle Road, Fort Wayne, also offers opportunities for visitors to catch a glimpse of wildlife.
On Jan. 12, the nature preserve hosted a “Tracks and Scat” hike. Participants learned how to recognize the tracks and scat made by different animals at Eagle Marsh, then set out to spot and identify the tracks and scat seen.
During winter, many of the marsh’s reptile and amphibian inhabitants hibernate. However, many mammals remain active during the colder months. Dane Nagy, the volunteer who led the educational hike, said animals like coyotes and opossums are more active during winter because food is scarce.
“There’s less going on in winter, but there’s definitely a lot of life. Everything has to eat. When things don’t hibernate, they have to find food somehow. They are active. Their survival is on the line, so there is a lot happening; it just tends to be harder to see,” he said.
At the beginning of the hike, participants used trays of sand to study their own tracks to help them understand how animals move through mud or snow. During the hike, Nagy called attention to tracks in the snow left by small animals.
In addition to Lindenwood and Eagle Marsh nature preserves, Fox Island County Park, 7324 Yohne Road, Fort Wayne, and Franke Park, 3411 Sherman Blvd., Fort Wayne, are great places to take a winter hike, Nagy said.
Jan Gibson, who volunteers with the Little River Wetlands Project, attended both programs at Lindenwood Nature Preserve and Eagle Marsh on Jan. 12. She said she enjoys hiking year round, but there’s something special about hiking in the cold weather.
“I like the quiet,” she said. “I like being able to see the tracks in the snow. It’s just invigorating. It gets you out and moving in the winter.”
Gibson’s advice for enjoying the outdoors in winter is to start young.
“Get kids out when they’re young because they love the snow,” she said.
Little River Wetlands Project hosts special programming for young children called “Short Hikes for Short Legs.” Each educational hike covers a different topic. On Feb. 13, children will learn about salamanders.
Betsy Yankowiak, director of preserves and programs for Little River Wetlands Project, encourages winter hikers to dress appropriately before hitting the trails.
“There’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing, so just being prepared before you go out is important,” she said.
That means wearing layers, a hat, gloves, two pairs of socks and shoes or boots that will keep feet warm and dry.
Hikers should also use caution when walking on snow that could be covering ice as well as wooden surfaces like footbridges that can get slick when icy or wet.
Upcoming winter hikes
Feb. 9: A Wintry Weather Hike, hosted by Lindenwood Nature Preserve, will take place 11 a.m. to noon. Meet at the parking lot. Hikes are free and open to all ages. No pre-registration necessary.
Feb. 13: Short Hikes for Short Legs: Salamanders, hosted by Little River Wetlands Project, will take place 9-10 a.m. at Eagle Marsh. Program starts in the barn, 6801 Engle Road, Fort Wayne. The program is geared toward children ages 3-5 to enjoy with a responsible adult.
Weekly hikes: Little River Ramblers meet 9-11 a.m. each Tuesday to explore a different part of Little River Wetlands Project areas. In February, the Ramblers will explore Arrowhead Prairie, 8624 Aboite Road, Roanoke. Hikers are encouraged to wear boots and to dress appropriately for the weather.