Tag Archives: Winter Fun

Welcome 2021 With a First Day Hike

It is almost time to put 2020 in the books, and bid farewell to a year that brought so much uncertainty and tribulation into so many people’s lives.

And to help New Yorkers do that, State Parks is again encouraging people to take part in the First Day Hikes program, now marking its tenth year in New York.


Of course, because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, this series of outdoor events will be a little different than before, with the addition of many self-guided hikes, requirements for social distancing, masking and capacity limits.

So, it is more important than ever to check in advance with any specific site that you may be interested in and pre-register if necessary, since restrictions on staff- and volunteer-guided events may limit the number of people who can attend.

The walks, hikes, and self-guided options are family-friendly, and typically range from one to five miles depending on the location and conditions.

So, to give people more options for 2021, many First Day events will now be held multiple times over the course of the first weekend in January.

Hikes are being offered at more than 60 state parks, historic sites, state Department of Environmental Conservation lands, wildlife areas, Forest Preserve trails and environmental education centers.

Click here for a listing of Parks events, or use this interactive map below to locate hikes.

As New Yorkers adapted to COVID restrictions this year, which limited many forms of indoor activities, they turned to healthy and safer outdoor alternatives on hiking trails at State Parks and other state lands.

State Parks Commissioner Erik Kulleseid, who last year took part in a First Day Hike at Thacher State Park, is again encouraging New Yorkers to take part in this annual family-friendly event.

According to the Commissioner, “First Day Hikes have grown into a popular tradition for many New Yorkers and we look forward to welcoming families and friends out on the trail at many of our parks and historic sites.  While this year’s program may look a little different from previous events, exploring the outdoors is still the perfect way to enjoy the winter landscapes, unwind with loved ones and kick off the coming year.”

As always with winter hiking, remember to dress warmly and in layers, while keeping in mind this old Scandinavian saying: “There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.”

And with snow and ice possible on many hiking trails, make sure to use proper footwear, and consider adding traction devices, like Microspikes, for additional stability.

Whether maintaining a safe distance in a group or hiking on your own, remember that you are still part of something that is happening across the U.S. in all 50 states, and dates back to the initial First Day Hikes that started in Massachusetts in 1992.

So, get outside, keep safe, and let’s ring in 2021 to welcome better days ahead!


Post by NYS Parks Staff

First Day Hikes 2020

Many New Yorkers thrive in winter and are eager for falling temperatures and consistent snowfalls. To these hardy adventurers, a few extra layers of gear combined with the snowy terrain of parklands is a winning recipe for fitness, togetherness and outdoor fun.

Welcome the new decade, enjoy the winter landscapes, and unwind after a hectic holiday season by joining a First Day Hike on January 1, 2020.

First Day Hike

There are more than 75 such hikes planned at state parks, historic sites, wildlife areas, trails and public lands across the state as part of the 9th annual First Day Hikes program. This map can help find one near you…

Hikes are being offered at more than 50 state parks and historic sites (with some facilities offering multiple hikes for different age groups, skill levels and destinations within the park) and 21 state lands, wildlife areas, Forest Preserve trails and environmental education centers run by the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

Staff from State Parks and DEC, along with volunteers and partners at many sites, will lead these family-friendly walks and hikes, which range from one to five miles depending on the location and conditions. Remember to dress appropriately and keep this old Scandinavian saying in mind: “There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.”

First Day hikers at Taughannock Falls State Park.

A sample of this year’s programs feature a seal walk, walking history tour, snowshoe waterfall hike, pet-friendly treks, gorge walks, fire towers, and more. If weather conditions permit, some First Day Hikes may include snowshoeing or cross-country skiing. Many host sites will be offering refreshments and giveaways.

Participants are encouraged to contact the park for information and pre-registration where noted.

Never too young to go out for a hike.

And know that you are part of something that is happening all across America. First Day Hikes, which started in Massachusetts in 1992, are now a national event taking place in all 50 states.

Last year nearly 55,000 people rang in the New Year, collectively hiking over 133,000 miles throughout the country on the guided hikes.  Numerous others hiked state park trails throughout the day.

If you’ve never been on a First Day Hike, 2020 is the year!


Cover photo: First Day hikers at a DEC fire tower. These hikers are wearing traction gear on their boots, which is important in steep or icy conditions.

Post by NYS Parks Staff

Evangola State Park: Lake Erie’s Winter Playground!

Along the shores of Lake Erie, Evangola State Park becomes a winter sports mecca as the lake’s famous lake-effect snowstorms blanket the park! Lake-effect snow occurs when cold, Canadian air moves across Lake Erie evaporating its open waters and causing intense, local snow bands which can drop one to two inches of snow per hour.

Burning calories while relieving stress, cross-country skiing is a popular activity on the parks peaceful and tranquil trails.

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An unbroken forested ski trail at Evangola.

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The only sound while skiing is the soft crunching of the snow as you glide through the woods.

Cross-country skiing is a wonderful way to connect to nature!

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Fresh snow clings onto the branches, enhancing the beauty of trees and shrubs.

Three major trail systems are avaliable at Evangola State Park. The Evangola Snowmobile Trail is located on the east side of the park and snowshoeing and cross-country ski trails are on the west side.

Many snowshoers and skiers utilize the 3.5 mile snowmobile trail since it is lightly used by snowmobilers. The trail is fairly flat and easy for beginners.

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Evangola Snowmobile Trail.

The Evangola Cross-Country Ski and Snowshoe trail is an easy two mile loop trail through forest and shrubby wetlands.The trail starts at the baseball field located on the west side of the park and goes right into the woods.

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Snowshoers head out on the trail.

With a variety of tracks along the way…….

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A skier discovers eastern coyote tracks.

A fun activity while skiing or snowshoeing is to investigate fresh animal tracks. The tracks left behind are a magical record of a nocturnal creature’s travel, allowing a glimpse into their secret lives.

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Four toed animals include the fox, coyote and dogs. Raccoon prints have 5 clear toes. Deer tracks resemble a divided heart. Image from NYS Dept. of Conservation

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White-tailed Deer are often seen crossing the trail, photo by Ed Conboy Jr.

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A skier checks out the Evangola Nature Center. The nature center is open Memorial Day to Columbus Day and is sometimes used as a resting spot during winter sports programs.

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When the snow gets deeper and the world turns quiet…

The Niagara Region Interpretive Programs Office has free snowshoes to loan to adults and children and many people bring their own snowshoes. It is easy to learn snowshoeing and participants become proficient on their first winter snowshoe hike.

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The “Forest to Lake” snowshoe hike traverses Evangola’ s forested trails……

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….and ends with a majestic look at the ice formations of Lake Erie!

Stunning Ice Formations

A spectacular winter trail at Evangola is the “Rim Trail” along towering cliffs over Lake Erie, where you can see all the way to Canada on a clear day! But clear skies or cloudy, check out some of nature’s ice sculptures all along the shore.

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Even the rim trail fence can bow with the weight of wind driven ice waves!

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The “Rim Trail’s” chain link fence with ice.

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A lone skier checks out the “Rim Trail” view. During winter, arctic waterfowl and even an occasional Snowy Owl can be seen. Some of the biggest Red Oak in the park also occur along this trail.

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A winter icescape along the rim trail.

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Lake Erie ice volcano vents can be seen from above along Evangola’ s “Rim Trail”.

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Throughout Evangola’s winter trails there is plenty to see including the iconic “Scotty’s Covered Bridge”!

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Evangola Sunsets during winter can be spectacular too!

Winter is a great time to get outside and explore Evangola State Park. So, come join our outdoor snowshoe hikes and cross-country ski programs or get out on your own to enjoy the park’s “lake-effect” snow trails.

Post by Dave McQuay, Evangola State Park environmental educator

Enjoy Winter – Get the Kids Outside

It’s cold outside, it takes forever to get the kids bundled up and out the door. Is it worth all the trouble? You bet! You don’t need a lot of planning, just a few tips and tricks to encourage kids – and you – to enjoy the outdoors in winter.

Bundle Up

Look for hats and hoods that are not just fun or cute, but that are also warm and comfy (and don’t keep falling over their eyes). Warm and waterproof boots, mittens – not gloves – to keep those fingers warm, and a scarf if it is really nippy or windy out. For the little ones, mitten clips or strings keeps them from getting lost. If it is sunny, don’t forget to apply some sunscreen on the face and ears, and fair eyed kids and adults may want sunglasses.

Build a Snow Sculpture

We all hope for snow! Building snow people or forts or animals, small or large is always fun. My father once built us a snow duck we could sit on. Look for leaves, sticks, and berries on the ground to decorate your snow sculpture with.

Let’s Go Sledding! Snowshoeing! Hiking!

Many parks have places for sledding. Pick the size of slope that is right for the kids and a location without trees or other hazards. Likewise, choose the right size route for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing or hiking and make it fun. If there is no snow, there are still lots of places to hike. Avoid icy trails. You can find flat trails around a lake or campground or on bike paths that are good for beginner snowshoeing and hiking with or without snow. Some of the nature centers even have snowshoes to borrow. Start small and work up to a longer outing. Older kids may enjoy the challenge of a longer day out; just remember to bring lunch and water and plan for some stops.

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Learn to ski! Photo by Anneli Salo, accessed from Wikicommons
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Sledding is always fun.
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Out for a hike.
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Accessed from Wikicommons

Look for Animals Kids are good at spotting animals and animal tracks. Stop and look and listen for squirrels and birds in the bushes and trees. You don’t need to be able to identify what animal it is, just take the time to look. Where do the tracks go? Are they big or small? What kind of animal do you think it might be? Common animal tracks to see in the winter at the park are squirrels, dogs, birds, snowshoe hare, and deer.

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Chickadees will sometimes come to a little birdseed in your outstretched hand.

Need a little help? Take part in a park-led activity like a snowshoe hike or ice fishing day.

Be an Explorer 

There are all kinds of cool things to see in winter. Take the time to look around, it’s amazing what you can find. Some kids are naturally curious, others may need a little encouragement or direction to get started. If so, make a game out of it like a scavenger hunt for shapes, colors and/or things. Try this: find a sign of 1 animal; a place where an animal might hide; the shape of the letters U,V,X,Y; something green, something blue.

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Ski tracks form nice V’s
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Do you see a ‘U’?, photo by Julie Lundgren
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A hollow tree trunk is a place animals could hide, photo by Julie Lundgren
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Light green lichen decorates this hemlock log, photo by Julie Lundgren

Take a Break – Bring a Treat

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Bring a little treat and stop outside on a log or a bench to have a snack and water.  Tangerines, raisins, apple slices, pretzels, nuts are some healthy choices but a little chocolate or a cookie doesn’t hurt. Bringing a thermos and having hot chocolate or tea to have outside seems really special after sledding or midway through a hike or ski.

Know when to come indoors

If it is really cold or windy, pay attention to signs of getting too cold. Noses, ears, and fingers can easily get cold and frostbite may happen when the temperatures drop. Get out of the cold if any of you can’t feel your fingers or toes or start shivering. And plan your outing so you are done well before the daylight dims, as temperatures drop when the sun goes down.20_winter_painting2_JLundgrenPost by Julie Lundgren, NY Natural Heritage Program.

More outdoor fun ideas:

Appalachian Mountain Club, 20 Outdoor Activities Kids Can Do Anywhere

New York State Dept. of Conservation Conservationist for Kids, Become An Outdoor Explorer

New York State Dept. of Conservation Conservationist for Kids, Become a Winter Wildlife Detective!

Which Track is That? A Look at Winter Animal Tracks Throughout State Parks

Winter is a wonderful time of the year, there’s snow and ice everywhere in our State Parks. Within that snow and ice, you can see traces of what animals have been there – maybe even just moments before you arrive! One of the traces that can help you identify which animal it came from is their tracks.

To determine what animal the track came from, you should look at several different factors. First, the condition of the snow the track is in makes a big difference in how a track looks (wet snow leads to more clear tracks and drier, powdery snow has less clearly defined tracks). Second, you should think about the gait of the animal (how it moves). There’s four different types of gaits that most animals use in their daily activities: the walk, the trot, the gallop and the jump. And lastly, you must look at the shape of the track including the number of toes present, which can vary in size depending on the animal that made it. For more information on identification of winter tracks, please see this blog.

Let’s look at some tracks that have been seen throughout our State Parks:

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Here’s evidence of a mink on the ice of one of the streams within Allegany State Park, photo by T. LeBlanc
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This is the track of a long-tailed weasel also seen within Allegany State Park. Fun fact: long-tailed weasels have a very high rate of metabolism and they eat about 40% of their body weight per day! photo by Thomas LeBlanc
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Above you can see track of a turkey. To learn more about Allegany State Park’s role in wild turkey restoration, please see this blog. photo by Thomas LeBlanc)
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And a coyote track was spotted within Allegany State Park. As you can see, there is a bit of fur and a splotch of blood so perhaps this coyote just finished his lunch! Photo by Randall Abbott.
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Within the Finger Lakes Region, park staff noticed this track of a fisher at Keuka Lake State Park. Photo by Becky Sibner
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The tracks above, found at Harriet Hollister Spencer State Recreation Area, are from a deer. The large spot is where the deer had stopped to browse. Photo by Whitney Carleton
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This is the footprint of a black bear, found at Mark Twain State Park. For more information on female black bears in the wintertime, please look at this blog. Photo by Kira Broz
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Also, seen at Mark Twain State Park, is a raccoon. The most important sense of the raccoon is their sense of touch – they have hyper-sensitive front paws adorned with vibrissae (a type of hair that aids in tactile sensing) that allows them to identify objects before fully touching them! Photo by Kira Broz
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At Letchworth State Park, you can see the tracks of a squirrel as compared to a human footprint for a scale reference. Photo by Gary Lamitina
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Above is the tracks and wing impressions of a Northern Bobwhite, a small quail, seen at Connetquot River State Park Preserve on Long Island. Photo by Annie McIntyre
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At Fort Montgomery State Historic Site, you can see the tracks of a squirrel and some mystery tracks as well…which turns out to be from a pine cone as seen in the insert! Photo by Peter Cutul
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At Harriman State Park, you can find the tracks of a bobcat as seen here. For more information on bobcats and other wild cats of the Northeast, please check the blog again in a few weeks for the upcoming post on that subject! Photo by Peter Cutul
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Also at Harriman State Park, the tracks of what is believed to be a short tailed weasel can also be found! Photo by Peter Cutul
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Looking around Grafton Lakes State Park, river otter tracks can be seen in the snow. Photo by Elizabeth Wagner

As you can see, there is still a great diversity of animals to be found within our State Parks – even in the cold of winter! So, the next time you’re hiking the trails at a State Park, look around you and see what tracks you can see!

Scat is another trace that animals leave behind.  If you are interested in learning more about winter scat ID, check out this blog.

Post by April Brun, State Parks

Disclaimer: All identifications are just suspected, none are confirmed by a wildlife biologist.

Resources:

Animal Track Activity Sheet, Minnesota Dept. of Natural Resources

Long-tailed weasel, NatureWorks

My Animal Sign Field Guide, US Fish and Wildlife Service

Tracks, New York State Conservationist, February 2015