Take advantage of outdoor activities, even through the winter

As cold weather sets in, it can sometimes feel like the only thing to do is hunker down at home and wait it out until spring.

But, getting outside to enjoy fresh air and nature can be an important part of finding a healthy winter wellness routine.

Springfield and Clark County have a wide variety of outdoor activities that individuals and families can enjoy through the National Trails Parks and Recreation District (NTPRD) and the Clark County Park District (CCPD).

“Even when it’s cold out, it’s still a great time to go out and explore nature,” says Leann Castillo, executive director of NTPRD. “You can get bundled up and go looking for animal tracks in the snow. If we don’t have snow, the bike paths are great. They’re not muddy, and they’re the perfect place to park and walk because you can go as far as you want.”

NTPRD currently is challenging area residents to make a commitment to get out in nature and walk 2,022 minutes in the first three months of 2022.

“You can come to the parks, take a quick hike or take a quick walk,” Castillo says. “You can even take a walk in your own neighborhood.”

Through the NTPRD website you can download a minute tracker sheet. Anyone who completes the 2,022 minutes of walking outdoors and turns in their tracker sheet to the NTPRD office at 1301 Mitchell Blvd. by April 1 will be entered into a prize drawing.

“It’s only about 23 minutes a day, if you started Jan. 1, so it’s something everyone can do at their own pace,” Castillo says. “It’s great to get outside and see what’s happening, for example, there’s lots of bird activity this time of year.

“And, the parks aren’t busy. The parks are open 365 days a year, so even in the winter months, it’s a great time to get out and enjoy them.”

Castillo says during the last few years, NTPRD has added more “at your own pace” activities like the walking challenge to encourage individuals and families to explore the parks. She says that many times people want to participate in NTPRD offerings, but maybe have a prior conflict at a specific day and time.

Instead, people can participate in open activities, such as the upcoming Snowball Fight, Rubber Ducky Day, Candy Heart Seek and Find, and Ground Hogs Day Countdown events. For each of these activities, people are encouraged to search through various parks to find hidden objects and complete and activity to possibly win a prize. These and other activities can be found in the Winter Guide on page 10.

“We’ve had a lot of success with programs where we put things in the parks and make them available from this day to this day,” Castillo says. “That way, you can go on your own whichever day works for you.”

In addition to these at-your-own-pace programs and the general availability of NTPRD’s 25 parks, which include more than 1,100 acres of parkland with more than 30 miles of multiuse trails and roads, there are also scheduled activities you can participate in.

These include weekly hiking gatherings, a Maple Sugaring Hike, a Nature Journaling Winter Hike, and an Orienteering Valentine Event. Details about all these and many more indoor and outdoor activities are also available in the NTPRD Winter Guide

The CCPD also hopes individuals will take advantage of the variety of options to enjoy nature during the winter.

“We encourage people to get out and hike any day, any weather,” says Carol Kennard, executive director of CCPD. “Sometimes, after a snowfall is the best time to get out and hike in the woods. It’s serene and peaceful. We have hiking trails at all our facilities, and we encourage people to get out and explore them.”

Kennard also recommended people use the extensive bike trails that run through Clark County’s park systems and connect with the larger bike trail options that extend across the state.

“As long as you’re dressed properly for the weather, it’s still fine to get out and enjoy the outdoors in any weather,” Kennard says.

Kennard also says people can enjoy some of the parks more scheduled programming, including a birding program for kids, a wetland program for kids, some daytime programming for homeschool students, and weekly Thursday morning group hikes at George Rogers Clark Park.

“The hikes are a good way to get to know the park better without worrying about getting lost on the trails or feeling alone while hiking,” Kennard says. “You can build a camaraderie with other people.”

The CCPD Facebook page is the best place to keep up on the parks’ latest offerings, Kennard says.

Both Castillo and Kennard say their respective offices are always happy to help direct parks visitors to which parks or trails might be the best fit for the type of activity they’re looking for, guide people to spots that aren’t muddy, and generally help give advice on where to get out and about. The NTPRD office can be reached at 937-328-7275, and the CCPD office can be reached at 937-882-6000.

“I’m an outdoorsy person, so if I don’t get outdoors, I start getting grumpy,” Kennard says. “By getting outdoors you can improve your own mental health. The fresh air is healthy for you, and we encourage people to continue getting outside.

“It’s not a bad thing to go outside in the cold as long as you prepare for it. Even if it’s just going for a walk in your neighborhood for 15 to 20 minutes, the benefits are definitely there.”

Read more articles by Natalie Driscoll.