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Nature’s Best By Elma Chapman - Winter Walks

In 1994 ACRES Land Trust acquired the land that became Bicentennial Woods. It’s 79 of the hilliest acres this side of Brown County State Park. The Ft. Wayne Wildwalkers met there last Friday for a brisk hike in the not-so-deep snow. It was a cold morning in the 20s, but the walking kept us warm as we went up and down and back up again. In some places it was just steep hills and in other places there were stairs. Willow Creek flows through the middle of the preserve and the trails wind along beside it or cross it on a bridge. As we walked along, a kingfisher squawked at us as he flew past. We also heard several woodpeckers, cardinals, and other birds. There were a lot of deer, squirrel, and rabbit tracks in the snow, too.

The sun was out and the sky was blue. It had pink tinges earlier when the sun first rose, a predictor of what was to follow Friday night and Saturday, but for the walk it was very calm. There wasn’t much wind, and being in the trees and in the hills protected us from what little wind there was. The snow, barely two inches at that time, sparkled in the sun and was crisp underfoot. Sixteen of us walked for about 1¼ hours and thoroughly enjoyed the morning.

As we walked along I tried to find hiding places that birds or mammals might use to get out of the weather, inspired by the book I’m currently reading about winter survival tactics used by various creatures. I found some fresh woodpecker holes. You can tell they’re fresh by the color of the wood or by the pile of woodchips on the forest floor. Another hint is piles of gnawed nutshells at the base of a tree, particularly a tree with a hole at the bottom. I thought of giving such a tree a whack with my hiking stick to see if I could stir up some flying squirrels perhaps, but thought better of it. My hiking stick was made for me by a friend, and it’s still shiny and new and beautiful.

Bicentennial Woods is located on Shoaff Road, ¼ mile west of Coldwater Road near Huntertown. If you are looking for a challenging hike, it’s a good place to go. But it’s not that bad: there were two young women running the trail as we walked it. Our group slowed them down a bit, but they soon passed us and disappeared over a hill. There are two main trails, the Dogwood Trail and the Wetland Trail. In the winter they didn’t look too different to the untrained eye, but they would be quite different in the spring and summer.

Last January I wrote about two hikes I did in the state parks on New Year’s Day. Indiana is again sponsoring “First Day Hikes” at many locations. Pokagon and Chain O’Lakes are the two closest to us, but there are many more. Google “First Day Hikes Indiana” and you’ll get right to a list of all of them. The one at Pokagon starts at 1 p.m. at the inn and is under a mile in length. At the end you get to roast marshmallows over a fire near the toboggan run and drink hot chocolate provided by the park. At 6 p.m. there is an illuminated hike at Chain O’Lakes, also under a mile in length. The trail is brightened by the luminaria set along the way. I did both of these last year and highly recommend them. There are 27 other parks to choose from for an official First Day hike, some quite strenuous and others quite laid back.

Don’t hide indoors on New Year’s Day! Get out there and start working on those resolutions right away!

On an unrelated note, I was delighted to see that the Middlebury Recycling Center just changed from accepting only #1 and #2 plastics to accepting #1 through #7! Since the recycling bins here look exactly like the ones I used in LaGrange, I hope those are increasing the range as well. If they aren’t, let someone in authority know that they should. Let’s keep as much as we can out of landfills!

See you on the trail!