Thursday, January 1, 2015

First Day Hike at Potato Creek State Park

A few years ago, we started the tradition of going on a First Day hike, starting at Pokagon State Park, going to a nature preserve near our house, and then going to Potato Creek State Park for 2015. It's a great way to commit to getting outside as the new year begins. While waiting for the hike to start, we explored the small nature center for a bit, looking at tracks and guessing what all the items were in the touch box.

We also took a quiz about woodpeckers, trying to match the names and descriptions with the pictures of the birds. There were a few boards set up like this where the information could be changed. We've been here a few times before. I appreciate that they change the various displays to have fresh content. 

When it was time for the hike, we gathered outside with winter nature hike BINGO cards in tow. The cardboard and paperclip helped hold the papers in place while writing. I met Robert, our guide, at Certified Interpretive Guide training earlier this year. He had us stop to talk about various items as we moved along the trail. There were about 70 people for the hike, which is great!

Down by the lake, we could hear the broken ice near the shore clinking together making music. My mom just posted a video of the ice making noise like this in her backyard as well, so it was neat to hear it for ourselves. We were told about the history, did a little winter tree ID, and found tracks nearby. At each stop, the boys looked around, trying to find the various items on our quest. Our five-year-old was working on his literacy skills as he worked at reading the words. They all had their observation powers on full blast. 


Along the hike we were introduced to various behaviors of animals in winter, such as the beaver who likes hanging out in his lodge or modified bank burrow. 

We learned about sassafras and sycamore trees. We even were able to smell the distinct sassafras smell on the twigs.

Along the hike, I met Chuck Golubski. I heard the name Chuck and had seen many pictures shared by Potato Creek. He had a camera with a  big lens, so I figured it might be the same guy. It was neat because he could share where he sees the eagles hanging out. When hiking, talk to the people around you. They'll often share what they like, what they've observed, etc. Chuck takes great pictures. Find his Birding Photography page here or his regular Photography page on Facebook here

I met a couple of other families that were out hiking as well. One family was staying in the cabins there. That sounds like it would be fun sometime! Another family home schools and looked like an outdoor family. I enjoyed learning about where they like to find nature in the area as well. They even took a second hike after this First Hike. Way to go outdoor family! 

We found several nuts along the way. My son was especially enthralled by this black walnut. 

Another young boy had quite the stick collection going on. :-) We also found poison ivy along the trail in various places. Watch for the hairs. The naturalist reiterated that we can have a reaction from the vines as well. 

One tree even had rectangular woodpecker holes throughout the tree. Pretty cool! Back at the nature center, we had hot chocolate and cute tree cookies. Robert's mom made them to share with us and even took the time to serve all of us. How sweet! She said they often went to the park as her kids were growing up. It's neat Robert can work there now. 

After the hike, we checked out the beaver and our wingspans. 

There is also a puppet theater, reading nook, and a place to explore seasonal objects. I like how they had a tray for various items with information printed about them. Here my son is exploring and irridescent turkey tail feather.

We checked out the osprey. There are several nests in the park. The migratory birds often return to the same spot each year. We noticed a large nest in a tree as we drove in and Robert told us that it was an osprey nest as well. There are various platforms around the park for nests too. We spent a fair amount of time looking out the wildlife viewing window, too. It's nice that there is a lake in the background. We have known this one as the cardinal window, as there are often lots of cardinals here. We saw up to 8 at one time today, though there were also chickadees, nuthatches, tufted titmouse, bluejays, and more. 

Outside, we stole the spot the "outdoors" family used for taking pictures earlier. The mom said they use it often! 

The park is also really nice as well. It leaves plenty of room for imaginative play! 

I'm glad it was nice enough to play outside for a while! We like having a playground available for after the hike. Combining nature and recreation work well in our family!

I took a couple of the kids that were getting cold back in the nature center. After watching the birds a little longer, the naturalist took the snake out so we were able to touch it and check it out closely. Robert helped us make observations about the snake's behavior we might not have noticed otherwise. 

As we left, I noticed all the farm tools outside. The park does a good job telling its story as it changed from farmland to a state park! Thanks for another great First Day Hike! We look forward to many more hikes this year!