The 44th season of Metro Parks' weekend series of Winter Hikes kicked off in Blacklick Woods on Jan. 7 with 2- and 4-mile walks.

The 44th season of Metro Parks' weekend series of Winter Hikes kicked off in Blacklick Woods on Jan. 7 with 2- and 4-mile walks.

Participants embarked on guided and self-guided hikes and enjoyed hot soup and warm drinks at the Beech-Maple Lodge afterward.

The 2017 Winter Hikes series features 13 hikes, including one at the newest park, Scioto Grove Metro Park in Grove City.

Peg Hanley, a Metro Parks spokeswoman, said the Winter Hikes are a good opportunity for those looking for a free outdoor activity after being cooped up inside through the holidays or who resolved to get fit this year.

"Each park has its own unique terrain, its own personality," she said. "It's a great chance to explore parks people might not usually go to."

Hanley said the hikes provide an opportunity to see wildlife, such as barred owls at Blacklick Woods, bison at Battelle Darby or turkeys at Blendon Woods or Sharon Woods.

Free food might also entice hikers. Participants of the Blacklick Woods Winter Hike enjoyed a hot bowl of vegetable minestrone, hot chocolate, coffee, water and a campfire to roast marshmallows.

Cody Berkebile, a naturalist at Blacklick Woods, said Jan. 7 was his fourth Winter Hike, and he appreciated how many people came out to the park. Last year 1,117 participated in the hike at Blacklick Woods.

"I like seeing so many people in central Ohio coming out," he said. "It's great to see people who keep coming back year after year."

Additionally, those snow-lovers who complete seven of the 13 weekend hikes can earn a decorative patch to wear on jackets, scarves or hats.

The Sexton family from Bexley hiked 2 miles in the frigid temperatures Jan. 7 to get ready for an upcoming family adventure.

"This summer, we're going on a vacation out west and we plan on doing a lot of hiking, so we want to get ready for our trip," Pam Sexton said. "We aren't going to let winter stop us. We brought hand warmers and everyone in the family bought new hiking boots."

Meanwhile, Libby McKinley of London proudly wore a scarf adorned with Winter Hike patches.

She said she has been participating in the Winter Hikes since 2008 and she plans on earning the 2017 patch.

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