Walk away your winter blues

Recent below-zero temperatures have lots of people itching to get outside for some fresh air and exercise. Winter hiking can be a great way to burn some extra calories, create lots of energy or simply enjoy some sunshine outdoors.

It’s probably a good idea to wait until the temperature is at least above zero before venturing out on a hike, and make sure to take safety precautions when walking in more remote areas. (Yes, Steyer Nature Preserve can be a remote area when it’s cold and there’s no way to communicate with the outside world.) And some trails can be more hazardous with snow and ice.

Even on short, easy walks on cleared paths, hikers should wear boots to keep feet warm and dry, take along a cell phone and wear layers of clothing that can be removed and put back on as the body temperature changes.

Here are a some suggestions for nice, easy winter walks on flat surfaces.

Hedges-Boyer Park walking loop, 491 Coe St. The paved walking loop at Tiffin’s largest park is used year-round. It’s part of a 78-acre park that serves many uses, and should be a fairly safe place for winter walking.

Oakley Park, a 6-acre park in the middle of Grand, Sixth and Park avenues, has a half-mile lighted paved loop trail. It’s popular year-round, and would be the best choice for walking in the evening after dark.

Schekelhoff Nature Preserve, a city park off Water Street, features a half-mile paved trail along the Sandusky River. There are picnic tables and benches for resting. The path is a mile down and back, but hikers who want a longer walk can continue onto …

Clinton Nature Preserve, the Seneca County Park District’s 33-acre park with its entrance at 375 E. TR 132. At the other end, it connects with Tiffin’s Schekelhoff Park. The 1.24-mile trail is great for walking, and a bit more remote than the city parks.

Zimmerman Nature Preserve, at 680 E. SR 18, also is a county park, but within Tiffin’s city limits. It has a 0.2-mile paved path for a short, easy walk.

Tiffin University Nature Preserve, at 2375 W. CR 26, is a park district partnership just outside Tiffin’s city limits. Most of the 1.23-mile loop is not paved, but is flat and circles through a wooded area. It’s a little bit more strenuous than the paved trails and the trail may contain more snow than the others.

Mercy Community Nature Preserve, 45 St. Lawrence Drive, is on the grounds of Mercy Tiffin Hospital. The partnership between the hospital and the county park district offers a loop trail through a wooded area. It may be snow-covered.

Springville Marsh State Nature Preserve, 12250 TR 24, Carey, can be found off US 23 between Fostoria and Carey. The 161-acre nature area is a wetland with about a mile of boardwalk loop. The boardwalk does not have kickrails and may be covered in snow or ice. At the back of the loop is an overlook where walkers usually can see waterfowl. (Winter is a nice time of year to see Springville Marsh because there are plenty of mosquitos in the warmer months.)

For winter hikers who are more adventurous, Seneca County has opportunities for longer hikes. However, anyone venturing out in the cold, snow and ice should take safety precautions.

On their website and blog, TrekOhio (trekohio.com), Bob and Deb Platt suggest dressing in layers so they feel “just a little bit cold” when they start a hike.

“Once we’ve started hiking, we warm up fast and can remove layers of clothing as needed,” Bob Platt said. “For colder hikes, we take chemical foot and hand warmers.”

They said good pair of waterproof boots is a must, and an extra pair of dry socks is a good idea.

“I generally wear a heavy shirt, a sweatshirt with a hood and a parka,” Bob Platt said on the blog. “I usually bring two pairs of gloves; heavy-duty for cold, and lighter ones that let me operate my camera.”

The Platts use cleats over their hiking boots in winter.

“A walking stick is important,” Platt said. “It helps you balance in slippery conditions and gives added traction and helps ascending and descending hills.”

The Platts also suggest taking a water bottle – and a camera.

Philip Werner, who blogs on SectionHiker (sectionhiker.com), said winter can be a dangerous time for hiking in more remote areas. While Seneca County’s state and county parks might not exactly be back country, they’re remote enough, especially in winter, for proper precautions.

“Never hike alone in winter,” Werner said. “The potential consequences are simply too high.”

A group of hikers should leave a trip itinerary with a friend or family member who will know if the group is late in returning.

He reminds hikers that daylight hours are short in winter, and day trips should be started early.

“Be prepared with a headlamp and extra batteries,” he said. “Lithium batteries are more reliable in cold weather than alkaline ones.”

Anyone adventurous enough to hike through deep snow may find they can’t find trail markers.

“Topographical maps, a compass, and knowledge of how to use them is essential,” Werner says. “Do not rely on a GPS.”

Keeping body temperature warm enough, but not warm enough to cause sweating, is important, also, he said.

“Dress in layers. While you are hiking, add and remove clothes to minimize sweating,” he said. “Eat and drink frequently. Dehydration hastens the onset of hypothermia.”

He cites a statistic that says snowshoeing burns 600 calories an hour and winter backpacking requires 4,000-5,000 calories a day.

“Be prepared to keep warm with nothing more than the equipment you can carry,” Werner said. “Stay alert for the signs of hypothermia, frostbite or trench foot.”

On the website, he has more suggestions for more remote excursions.

“If you are not an experienced winter hiker, make your initial trips day hikes in areas that you are familiar with,” he said. “Go on trips with experienced winter hikers who are familiar with the area and local conditions.”

The following list would be great places for longer day hikes. Trails are longer and conditions are more strenuous (and likely snowy this winter) than the easy walks listed previously.

Bowen Nature Preserve, 11891 E. CR 24, Republic, is a nature area in the county park system and can be used on foot or on horseback. The 2.7 miles of trails is mainly flat and passes through mostly grassland and some woodland.

Forrest Nature Preserve, 701 E. CR 6, is another county park with 1.3 miles of trails that run along Honey Creek, through woods and grasslands and on a bluff overlooking the creek. In winter, some of the footing may be slippery.

Garlo Heritage Nature Preserve, a county park at 5777 S. SR 19, Bloomville, contains 2.7 miles of hiking trails and 8.2 miles of bridle trails. The front part close to the parking area is a boardwalk that would be a nice, easy walk. The loop trail around the lake would likely be strenuous because of snow cover, and the back part is more remote than other trails.

Steyer Nature Preserve, also a county park at 5901 N. CR 33, has 4 miles of trails in five loops of various lengths. The trail, snowy at this time of year, traverses many hills through the woodland, and includes eight bridges over ravines. The trails at Steyer would be the most difficult on this list for winter hiking. Also, watch for hunters; cottontail rabbit season ends Feb. 28, but coyote and groundhog can be hunted anytime.

Howard Collier State Nature Preserve, 1655 W. TR 38, includes 1.5 miles of trails, which probably are not cleared of snow. The first part of the trail is wooden stairs to descend to the bottom area along the Sandusky River. For hikers who don’t mind stair climbing and possible slippery spots, the area would be a nice winter walk. It is more remote than the trails closer to towns.