The Columbus and Franklin County Metro Parks’ Winter Hikes series, now in its 49th year, will add a new twist this winter.
Last year the hikes were all do it yourself. This year, participants still have this option, but can also participate in group activities with a different focus and different parks presented each month.
Participants can print a hiking map online or pick one up at participating parks. Those who complete seven hikes and have their card stamped by park staff will earn a badge. Friends of the Parks who hike at the 18 sites will win a hiking stick.
“We know there are some people who really enjoy being with other people, and others who don’t want to be part of it,” said Jill Snyder, education and interpretation manager at Metro Parks, and designed this year’s hike series.
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“Especially since COVID is still a problem, we thought that would be the way to get the best of both worlds. If you’re not comfortable with crowds or work weekends and want to do your hikes on Tuesday, that’s fine with us. But if you want to have that camaraderie, that group interaction, you can have it too, ”Snyder said.
Winter hiking has evolved and developed over the years.
“Twenty or 30 years ago, we used to take around 100 people on a hike. Before the pandemic, there were as many as a thousand people, ”Snyder said.
The Winter Hike series will begin from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. on December 1 at Blacklick Woods Metro Park, 6975 E. Livingston Ave., Reynoldsburg, where attendees can enjoy hot chocolate and stroll along the lighted boardwalk.
Lights will be the theme for the entire month of December.
“Five of our parks will have lights and decorations. They will be open until 8 pm at night so people can enjoy the lights, and then on Sunday there will be hot chocolate from 5 pm to 7 pm, ”Snyder said.
The five lighted parks are Battelle Darby Creek, Blacklick Woods, Highbanks, Homestead and Inniswood.
Additionally, Chestnut Ridge will be offering lantern hikes and hot chocolate on December 17th and 18th.
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In January, attention will turn to food, which has long been a draw for winter hikes.
“We’re going to have some of the food we’ve had in the past,” Snyder said. “We kind of treat it like a sure hit. People can come in, hike wherever they want, then stop between 10 and 2 a.m. on certain Saturdays or Sundays at specific parks for soup or breakfast sandwiches, cinnamon rolls, or donuts. Each park will offer different foods to people while they are there.
Food distribution parks include Blendon Woods, Sharon Woods, Scioto Audubon, Clear Creek, Prairie Oaks and Three Creeks.
In February, several parks will provide campfires where chilly hikers can warm up, and will also hide wooden Metro Parks ornaments along the trails for visitors to take home. Parks with campfires include Glacier Ridge, Pickerington Ponds, Rocky Fork, Scioto Grove, Slate Run, and Walnut Woods.
Winter Walks will end the season with a grand finale at a new venue for the program, the Blacklick Woods Golf Course.
“From 11 am to 3 pm on the last Sunday in February, which is February 27, people can pick up their patches. We will have hot chocolate and ice skating and a hiking route along the golf course which is not a place you would normally have the opportunity to go. We’re going to do a final “Woo hoo! “Celebration of what everyone has accomplished,” Snyder said.
While basic programs are now listed on the Metro Parks website, more will likely be added.
“Keep an eye on our Facebook page,” Snyder said. “We will have other group programs promoted on social media. “
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For more information, visit www.metroparks.net or the Columbus and Franklin County Metro Parks Facebook page.