COLUMN: Head outside for some winter fun

THE NATURE OF THINGS COLUMN
By: 
Michele Olson
Jones County Naturalist

     The holiday season is upon us, and as the temperature drops, so does our time spent outside. Most of us have a tendency to stay cooped up indoors. Keeping family members healthy and happy with winter fun and a breath of fresh air can be as simple as bundling up and heading into the outdoors.

     Living in Iowa, we usually get at least a little snow during the winter! Snow provides a wonderful catalyst for active family fun and imaginative play for kids of all ages. Snow can keep kids busy for hours making snow forts, building snow sculptures, making snow angels, tracking backyard wildlife, and having fun family snowball fights.

     You are likely to find squirrel, rabbit, bird, fox, mouse, cat, dog, and maybe even deer tracks – right in your own yard. During brief warm spells, raccoons, opossums and skunks might wander here and there in search of a mid-winter snack. By observing and studying the tracks each day you can identify the animals in your yard, learn where they are living, and even deduce what they are eating. If your family wants to learn more about your wild neighbors, take a trip to your local library to check out some wonderful wildlife books.

     Once we get a good base of snow on the ground, grab your sleds and head for a local sledding hill. Sledding is great fun for the young and young at heart and a real workout too! Always remember to sled safely – feet first and in an area with no obstacles or hidden dangers. If you need more speed, head to a local downhill skiing slope for a day of downhill skiing, snowboarding, or sledding fun.

     When the temperatures drop even more and the ice is thick and considered safe, head to a local lake or pond to try your luck at ice fishing. If you don’t have the equipment yourself, ask around; someone you know might like to share their passion for this winter activity. Check for ice fishing clinics or derbies held in eastern Iowa to learn more about this winter pastime. (2019 Hunting and Fishing Licenses available on and after Dec. 15.)

     Want to explore beyond your neighborhood? Head to a local community, county, or state park for a hike, snowshoeing, or cross country skiing. Check out the trees, tracks, and wonderful scenic landscape that eastern Iowa has to offer. A few fun parks for exploring in Jones County include Whitewater and Lost Canyon, Central Park, the Hale & Eby’s Mill Wildlife Areas, and Pictured Rocks and Wapsipinicon State Parks. Maps for many of these can be downloaded from the Jones County Conservation Board website at www.jonescountyiowa.org/downloads (Don’t forget to be safe – check local hunting seasons still active – and wear blaze orange so you will be visible to hunters in the area).

     If you’re still looking for a way to get out of the house over the holidays, head to the Central Park Winter Vacation Open House event on Wednesday, Dec. 26 and Thursday, Dec. 27, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. daily at the Central Park Nature Center. Families can make pine cone bird feeders, win a prize by completing our digital holiday scavenger hunt, enjoy a cup of hot chocolate and a cookie, and explore the Nature Center exhibits. The center’s live animals will be fed at 10 a.m. on Dec. 26. Visit the Jones County Conservation Board website for more information at http://www.jonescountyiowa.org/events-programs.

 

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