After the hustle and bustle of shopping, having company over, decorating, and numerous parties it’s nice to take a break and reconnect with nature. Winter time is quiet time in Winnebago County Parks. (Even the Sunnyview Expo Center is silent from December 22 to January 5.) Whether or not the trails are groomed yet, it’s a great time to take a walk in the snow through the Community Park, on the WIOUWASH or Mascoutin Recreation Trails or at Waukau Nature Preserve.
There’s nothing quite like the crisp air, crunchy snow and soft breezes through the trees to bring on a sense of Zen. The quiet solitude of winter is unique when compared to other ‘noisier’ seasons, whose ‘quiet’ can be just the opposite loud at times.
As you wander along the trail, see if you can identify tree species without their leaves. Look for animal tracks in the snow, matching the prints with the creature that made them. And maybe, indulge in some winter bird watching. Notice how active nature is even at this time of year?
This is also a great opportunity to find a new nature walk, and remember to explore it throughout the coming year as the seasons unfold to reveal unique details.
When you’re heading out here are a few things to keep in mind:
Wear warm clothes and footwear, walking through a winter wonderland can get chilly, so make sure you’re prepared. Dressing in layers, protecting your hands and feet, and paying attention to the forecast can help you stay safe and warm while outdoors in cold weather.
Bring along your camera/phone, even in winter it’s important to leave nature as we find it, so capture your memories with a photo; also a phone is a good idea for emergencies and always let someone know where you’ll be if you are heading out alone.
Check the forecast before heading outside. Temperature, wind and moisture, along with the length of time that you’ll be outside, are key factors in planning a safe cold-weather outing.
Wind and cold together make up the wind chill, a common element in winter weather forecasts. Wind chill extremes can make going outdoors unsafe even with warm clothing. The wind can penetrate your clothes and remove the insulating layer of warm air that surrounds your body. Any exposed skin is vulnerable to frostbite.
The risk of frostbite is less than 5 percent when the air temperature is above 5 F, but the risk rises as the wind chill falls. At wind chill levels below minus 18 F, frostbite can occur on exposed skin in 30 minutes or less.
If the temperature dips below 0 F or the wind chill is extreme, consider taking a break inside instead, and consider putting off your workout if it’s snowing, unless you have waterproof gear. Getting wet makes you more vulnerable to the cold. And if you get soaked, you may not be able to keep your core body temperature high enough.
Know the signs of frostbite and hypothermia. Frostbite is an injury to the body that is caused by freezing. Frostbite is most common on exposed skin, such as your cheeks, nose and ears. It can also occur on hands and feet. Early warning signs include numbness, loss of feeling or a stinging sensation. If you suspect you have frostbite, immediately get out of the cold. Slowly warm the affected area — but don’t rub it since that can damage your skin. Seek emergency care if numbness doesn’t go away. Hypothermia is abnormally low body temperature. When exposed to cold temperatures, your body begins to lose heat faster than it can be produced. Being outdoors in cold weather increases the risk of hypothermia. Older adults and young children are also at greater risk. Hypothermia signs and symptoms include intense shivering, slurred speech, loss of coordination and fatigue. Seek emergency help right away for possible hypothermia.
Last but not least, it’s as easy to get sunburned in winter as in summer — even more so in snow or at high altitudes. Wear a sunscreen that blocks both UVA and UVB rays and a lip balm with sunscreen. Protect your eyes from snow and ice glare with dark glasses or goggles.
Picture yourself in Winnebago County Parks taking a winter break!