Tuesday, December 29, 2015

First Day Hikes

From a First Day Hike in 2014
The New Year is often about starting things fresh, making commitments, and working on goals. Our family has started out New Year intentionally the last 3 years by taking a First Day Hike on January 1st at a local natural area. It shows our commitment to getting outside this year in different temperatures and sets the mood for a year of getting outside.

In Indiana, many of the area state parks host first day hikes. We can get to about 4 different state parks in just under or over an hour. We’ve been to several places in the past. On a particularly stormy First Day, we chose to go to a nature preserve near our house. While we missed the comradery, group experience, and guided hike with additional learning opportunities, we still were able to have good family time and renewed our commitment to getting outside that year.

Here are past First Year Hikes we have taken:

2016—Lots of options!  

10:00am Indiana Dunes—Three Dunes Challenge! 1 ½ mile hike ending with a fire and snacks. Meet at the Nature Center.

1:00pm Pokagon—Hike to Lake Lonidaw and back. Less than a mile. Enjoy marshmallows and a campfire near the toboggan run after the hike from 2-3pm. Meet at the Pokagon Inn Lonidaw Lounge.

2:00pm Chain O’Lakes—Take an old fashioned walk to school by walking 4 miles. Expect a 2 hour hike. Meet at the Stanley One Room House. Coffee and hot cocoa are available.

7:00pm Potato Creek—Start your 2016 Bird List by taking an owl walk! The 1 mile hike will take about an hour. Meet at the Nature Center auditorium.

We found the State Park options a great way to visit a nature center, meet others, and enjoy natural areas we visit once in a while. There have also always been snacks, which motivates my kids! There is a $7 entry fee per car for Indiana residents.  If a State Park is not up your alley this year, we have great local options in Elkhart County and nearby areas. Check out my winter or summer guide for places we enjoy visiting in the area.

While we have had unseasonably warm weather so far this winter, expect a dip in temperatures for the New Year. We use layers, warm boots, gloves, hats, etc. Sometimes, we even bring hand warmers.

As we enter 2016, I encourage readers to think about getting outside in the New Year. Perhaps, a First Day Hike fits in your plans. Perhaps, you have another outdoor option in mind. Let us know in the comments how you plan to commit to getting outside in 2016!

Friday, December 18, 2015

Gifts of Nature: 10 Holiday Nature Gift Ideas

Volunteer Dennis Badke, from FoxWood Raptor and Wildlife Rehabilitation presents a Great Horned Owl at Woodlawn Nature Center. It's costly to provide for animals and keep a nature center running. Donations are always appreciated. Thank you! 

It’s easy to get caught up in a buying frenzy during the holiday season; however, the holidays can intentionally be a good time to connect with nature, togetherness, and goodwill. Nature experiences can be a perfect gift that will continue to build memories long after the presents are unwrapped. Here are a variety of nature related gift ideas we enjoy:

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Backyard Woodpeckers

Winter is a great time to explore birds as the white landscape and bare trees allow us to easily see movement and color. One bird I especially like to watch is the woodpecker. April Pulley-Sayre, a local nature author, recently came out with a delightful book for children focusing on woodpeckers we find in our area and their behaviors. With detailed and realistic cut paper woodpeckers, WoodpeckerWham! is a treat for children and adults. Here are a few woodpeckers we have in our area and how they act during winter. They typically stay in the same range during the winter, changing their eating habits to find nutritious and easily available foods.

File:Downy Woodpecker01.jpg
Male downy woodpecker--note the shorter bill and red patch Source