Bundled in colorful hats, scarves, boots and gloves, hundreds of people showed up over the weekend to walk the snowy paths at Blacklick Woods Metro Park, launching the system's 41st annual Winter Hike Series.
Sunshine sparkling on the snow Saturday, Jan. 4 kept the 10 a.m. start much warmer than the nose-numbing mornings later in the week, but even bitter winds seldom keep people away from that first winter hike, Metro Parks Director John O'Meara said.
"It is not unusual for us to (have) up to 1,500 people show up," he said. "It is a great local tradition and a good way to start off the new year and fight cabin fever."
Blacklick Woods in Reynoldsburg, spanning 643 acres, opened in 1948 and is the oldest of the Metro Parks, with six miles of hiking, biking and jogging trails, including a boardwalk trail through a swamp forest.
The next winter hike is scheduled for 10 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 11, at Sharon Woods Metro Park, 6911 Cleveland Ave. in Westerville. People may choose between two- and four-mile hikes.
Sharon Woods features 761 acres, including four miles of paved trails and the 14-acre Schrock Lake.
For people who don't want to hike quite that early on a Saturday, another winter hike begins at 2 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 12, at Prairie Oaks Darby Bend Lakes, at 2755 Amity Road, in Hilliard. That hike features hikes of one, three or five miles.
O'Meara said he often joins in on the winter hikes, but had to miss the first one because he was doing a bird count at Clear Creek.
"Hiking in the winter is a great way to see the parks," he said. "You can see much farther into the woods without leaves on the trees and with a beautiful covering of snow, you can see animal footprints, too.
"The winter hike series is long-established and it has grown into a big program," he said.
Naturalist Diana Morse said the hikes at Blacklick Woods on Saturday took off from every parking lot.
"At Blacklick, we have two- or four mile-hikes, with one guided, but the rest are self-guided," she said.
She said the program used to begin with a presentation by a naturalist, but when 500 to 700 people began to show up year after year, the presentation had to be cut short.
"We pretty much have to just ask people if they want to take a long hike or a short hike and (tell them) this is where you start," she said.
She said hikers are rewarded with hot soup after the winter walk.
"We call it a snack and make a vegetarian vegetable soup that is rich and hearty," she said.
Morse said the winter hike program began 41 years ago as a way to get more people into the parks during the winter.
"After the hikes became part of the Commit to Be Fit program, they became even more popular," she said. "I think a lot of people make it their New Year's resolution to get fit, so they come out to the winter hikes."
People who attend at least seven of the winter hikes get a patch to sew onto a jacket.
"Our Metro Parks are so different in the winter," Morse said. "We see birds in the feeders that we usually don't see and animal tracks that you would never see without a snow cover.
"People have to remember to dress warm, though, in lots of layers," she said. "Some of the parks don't have inside facilities to serve soup or a snack."
The other winter hikes in the series are:
* 10 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 18, at Scioto Audubon, 400 W. Whittier Street, Columbus; one or two-mile hikes.
* 10 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 25, at Clear Creek, 185 Clear Creek Road, Rockbridge; hikes cover one, two, three, five or seven-miles.
* 2 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 26, at Inniswood, 940 S. Hempstead Road, Westerville; two-mile hike.
* 10 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 1, at Blendon Woods, 4265 E. Dublin-Granville Road, Westerville; two, four or six miles.
* 10 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 8, at Highbanks, 9466 U.S. Route 23 North, Lewis Center; 2.5 or five miles.
* 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 9, at Glacier Ridge, 9801 Hyland Croy Road, Plain City; two-mile hike.
* 10 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 15, at Three Creeks, 3860 Bixby Road, Groveport; one, three or 5.6 miles.
* 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 16, at Slate Run, 1375 State Route 674 North, Canal Winchester; 2.5 or five miles.
* 10 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 22, at Battelle Darby Creek, 1775 Darby Creek Drive, Galloway; two, four or six miles.
More information is available online at metroparks.net.