The Columbus and Franklin County Metro Parks’ Winter Hikes series, now in its 49th year, will be adding a new twist this winter.
Last year, the hikes were all do-it-yourself. This year, participants still have that option, but can also take part in group activities with a different emphasis and different parks featured each month.
Participants can print up a hiking card online or pick up one at participating parks. Those who complete seven hikes and have their cards stamped by park staff will earn a badge. Friends of the Parks who hike at all 18 locations will earn a hiking stick.
“We know that there are people who really enjoy getting together with other people, and other people who don’t want to be part of that,” said Jill Snyder, who is in charge of education and interpretation at the Metro Parks, and designed this year’s hike series.
Holidays: Tree decorating tips: We turned to an expert for advice
“Especially with COVID still being an issue, we thought this would be the way to get the best of both worlds. If you’re not comfortable with crowds or if you work weekends and want to get your hikes done on Tuesdays, that’s fine with us. But if you want to have that camaraderie, that group interaction, you can have that, too,” Snyder said.
The Winter Hikes have evolved and grown over the years.
“Twenty or 30 years ago, we would get a hundred people on a hike. Before the pandemic, we were up to a thousand people,” Snyder said.
The Winter Hike series will kick off from 5 to 7 p.m. Dec. 1, at Blacklick Woods Metro Park, 6975 E. Livingston Ave., Reynoldsburg, where participants can enjoy hot chocolate and a stroll along the lighted boardwalk.
Lights will be the theme for all of December.
“Five of our parks will have lights and decorations up. They will be open until 8 in the evening for people to enjoy the lights, and then on Sundays, there will be hot chocolate from 5 to 7,” Snyder said.
The five lighted parks are Battelle Darby Creek, Blacklick Woods, Highbanks, Homestead, and Inniswood.
In addition, Chestnut Ridge will offer lantern hikes and hot chocolate on Dec. 17 and 18.
Holiday lights: Community gatherings, tree lightings among holiday family events
In January, attention will turn to food, which has long been a draw for the Winter Hikes.
“We’re going to have some of the food that we’ve had in the past,” Snyder said. “We’re kind of treating it as a grab-and-go. People can come, do a hike wherever they choose, and then stop by between 10 and 2 on specific Saturdays or Sundays at specific parks to get soup or breakfast sandwiches or cinnamon rolls or doughnuts. Each park will have a different food for people to have while they’re there.”
The food-dispensing parks include Blendon Woods, Sharon Woods, Scioto Audubon, Clear Creek, Prairie Oaks, and Three Creeks.
In February, several of the parks will provide campfires where chilly hikers can warm themselves, and will also hide Metro Parks wooden ornaments along the trails for visitors to take home. Parks with campfires include Glacier Ridge, Pickerington Ponds, Rocky Fork, Scioto Grove, Slate Run, and Walnut Woods.
Winter Walks will finish the season with a grand finale at a new site for the program, the Blacklick Woods Golf Course.
“From 11 to 3 on the last Sunday in February, which is Feb. 27, people can come get their patches. We’ll have hot chocolate and ice skating and a hiking route along the golf course, which is not a place that you’d normally get to go. We’re going to make it a final ‘Woo hoo!’ celebration of what everyone has accomplished,” Snyder said.
While the core programs are now listed on the Metro Parks website, more will likely be added.
“Keep an eye on our Facebook page,” Snyder said. “We will be having some more group programs promoted on social media.”
At a glance
For more information, visit www.metroparks.net or the Columbus and Franklin County Metro Parks Facebook page.
This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Metro Parks Winter Hikes series has new programs, badge, walking stick