COLUMN: Winter fun in the outdoors

Michele Olson
Jones County Naturalist

     The holiday season is upon us and as the temperature drops so does our time spent in the outdoors. Families tend to stay cooped up indoors with little time spent staying physically active. Keeping family members healthy with winter fun and a breath of fresh air can be as simple as bundling up and heading into the outdoors.

     If we are lucky, as Iowans, we usually get a little snow during the winter! Snow provides a wonderful substance for active family fun and imaginative play for kids of all ages. Speaking from experience (and I still like to “play” in the snow) kids can stay busy for hours making snow forts, building snow sculptures, making snow angels, and having snowball fights. Household objects like buckets and food storage containers make wonderful building blocks for constructing some awesome snow forts.

     After you’ve constructed your fort become a “tracker” – follow an animal track. Families can learn about the animals that live in their neighborhood by reading the “stories” in the snow. 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.

     If you and your kids like the thrill and adventure of downhill speed, 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.

     For a special treat, explore a local county or state park! 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

     (Don’t forget to be safe and wear blaze orange if you are venturing out during hunting seasons.)

     Maybe you or your children received a pair of snowshoes or cross country skis as a gift. Both are wonderful ways to enjoy the outdoors and provide an excellent workout. The only requirement necessary is snow! Your backyard, neighborhood, city park or one of the previously mentioned county parks can provide hours of fun. Central Park offers group lessons and the opportunity to try out snowshoeing on the trails of Central Park. Give Michele a call at 319-481-7987.

     If you don’t have snowshoes but would love to give them a try, mark your calendar for the Central Park Holiday Open House event on Wednesday, Dec. 27, from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at the Central Park Nature Center. Families can try snowshoeing at no cost, make pine cone bird feeders and several other crafts to take home, watch the birds at the nature center bird feeders, enter our holiday coloring contest, and explore the nature center exhibits. The center’s live animals will be fed at 10:30 a.m. A free will chili luncheon will be available from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. If no snow – wear your outdoor gear and hiking boots and head outside for a hike to check out the Central Park Lake Restoration Project – now in full swing.

     For more information or to reserve a time-slot for snowshoeing call Michele at 319-481-7987 or email



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