As winter winds and snowy days descend on central Ohio, Columbus and Franklin County Metro Parks will begin its 46th annual winter hikes as usual at Blacklick Woods Metro Park in Reynoldsburg.

Participants will step out at 10 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 5, on 2- or 4-mile trails at the park, 6975 E. Livingston Ave.

Tim Moloney, Metro Parks executive director, said he would be there.

"I wouldn't miss it for the world," he said. "There is a wonderful quiet in the woods in the winter, with special views because there is no leaf cover. It's a wonderful experience and wildlife is abundant.

"Bundle up and we hope to see you there."

The winter hikes begin at Blacklick Woods because it's the oldest Metro Park, Moloney said. It opened in 1948.

Blacklick Woods naturalist Cody Berkebile said he is expecting 700 to 1,000 people for the first hike of the season.

"As visitors arrive, our rangers will guide them into designated parking lots. Then they can take 2- or 4-mile hikes," he said. "We will be serving hot chocolate, coffee and vegetable minestrone soup afterwards at the Beech-Maple Lodge."

Last year's hike drew 914 visitors to Blacklick Woods, he said.

Parking usually is not an issue because some people arrive early and then leave, Berkebile said.

"By the time we fill up the distance lots, people have usually vacated the spots near the front," he said. "If by chance we need to use all the front lots, we can open up more places to park."

Weather -- even if it's "frightful" -- also won't be a concern.

"Even frigid cold and ice normally will not keep people away, although a cold rain is worse -- that could keep numbers down," Berkebile said.

He said the winter hikes give people opportunities for fitness and fun.

"It's a great chance to get people out to all the different parks, especially since this is the season a lot of people want to stay inside," he said. "It's a really good incentive to get people out in the wintertime."

Moloney said the "Thirteen Hikes of Giving" effort will continue. To participate, people bring four canned goods or nonperishable food items for the Mid-Ohio Foodbank and receiving a collector's-edition mug.

"Every park is a little different, but somewhere near the start, a tent would be set up to take donations," he said. "For really large donations of canned goods, let the rangers know, and there would be a place to drive up and donate."

Berkebile said monetary donations also will be accepted, but by credit card only and for at least $5.

People who plan to attend all the winter hikes get a chance to receive a patch or even a free hiking stick.

"You can do seven hikes to receive an annual winter hike patch, or if you become a Friend of Metro Parks and do all 13, you receive a hiking stick," Moloney said. "If you are a returning member who already has a hiking stick, you get a badge that attaches to your walking stick."

Coffee, hot chocolate and soup will be served after all the hikes.

Berkebile said people who miss the start time of the Jan. 5 hike might not get a bowl of soup, but they could still have a ranger or someone at the nature center punch their winter-hike card.

"We typically leave the flagging up all weekend, so anyone that wants to do their own 2- or 4-mile hike at any time that weekend can get credit for visiting the park," he said.

Moloney said soup would be offered after the hikes at each park, except the last hike, at Battelle Darby Creek Metro Park, which serves "Darby dogs."

"These are unbelievably good hot dogs, to help us wrap up the winter season to get ready for spring," he said.

He said the best thing about the winter hikes is the people.

"We get to hike with an amazing collection of central Ohio people who love walking in the park, whatever the weather," he said. "I would be doing these hikes even if I didn't work for Metro Parks."

Leashed pets are welcome at the hikes, according to metroparks.net.

editorial@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekNews

.embed-container { position: relative; padding-bottom: 56.25%; height: 0; overflow: hidden; max-width: 100%; } .embed-container iframe, .embed-container object, .embed-container embed { position: absolute; top: 0; left: 0; width: 100%; height: 100%; }