Up to snow good

2011-01-05T05:15:00Z Up to snow goodBy Heather Jordon Of the Summit Mason City Globe Gazette
January 05, 2011 5:15 am  • 

The best cure for cabin fever during winter is to get out of the cabin. And local parks offer a variety of recreational opportunities to make getting outside a fun adventure.

Snowshoeing, cross country skiing, sledding, ice fishing and snowmobiling are among the most popular activities in the area.

Lisa Ralls, naturalist for the Winnebago County Conservation Board, said the light and fluffy texture of the recent snow is a "good skiing snow."  And the sheer quantity of the snow is a benefit to snowshoers, once the warmer weather packs it down a bit.

"You need a good foot and a half of snow to make snowshoeing worth it," Ralls said. "Without that much, it's easier to walk."

Ralls said she has personally enjoys snowshoeing because of the quietness and beauty of winter.

"In winter, things look so different outdoors," she said. "And everything is much, much quieter.  People don't realize how quiet the snow makes everything."

Ralls said snowshoes also allow people to walk to places they usually could not. 

"You can pretty much snow shoe anywhere," she said. "That's one of the advantages."

She recommends Pilot Knob as a good place to start for beginning snow shoers or skiers, as Thorpe Park is hilly, so it's better for those more experienced.

"The stretch between the pond and the campground (at Pilot Knob) is a nice, flat surface, it's a great road for cross country skiing."

Deb Coates, park ranger for Pilot Knob State Park, said cross country skiers or snowshoers may hike anywhere in the park, but agrees with Ralls that the easiest path is the road.  Next hardest would be the hiking trails, followed by the horse trails, where "you have to blaze your own trail."

Coates said snowmobilers have to stay on the horse trails or use the road, and are encouraged to respect the groomed ski paths.  Snowmobiles are not permitted on the hiking trails. 

Both gates to the park are closed, but patrons may park at either entrance and walk in.  Coates said the gate is wide enough for snowmobiles to fit through.  Park hours are 4 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.

Both Ralls and Coates say they have seen a number of ice fishers.

"We already have people out there ice fishing," Coates said.  "They have caught a couple of keepable blue gills, but we have bass in the lake too."

Tom Haan, director of the Hancock County Conservation Board, said there is lots of ice fishing happening on Crystal Lake and Indian Lake.

"There were some gentlemen Friday having success on Crystal Lake," Haan said.  "The bass were hitting but were not legal size."  Haan said there are also crappies and bluegill in the lake.

Jason Lackore, Hancock County naturalist, said that beyond fishing, some people are still doing late-season hunting for wild pheasants or squirrels and rabbits.

Lackore personally enjoys snowshoeing around Eldred Sherwood and Eagle Lake State Parks, the latter a popular spot for another winter activity usually associated with sledding by youngsters. 

"Crystal Lake Park is known for sledding as well as Eagle Lake State Park," Lackore said.  Sledders may warm up in the shelter house which Lackore said groups often use to make a fire, eat lunch, make hot chocolate, check out the birds in marsh area or view the wildlife.  He's also seen the construction of plenty of snowmen.

"We've started seeing activity in our parks," Haan said.  "Families are getting out and using the sledding hills." 

"There's plenty of snow for snowmobilers," he said. "We are seeing plenty of them out and about."

Snowmobiling is limited to county trails in Hancock County. 

Todd Von Ehwegen, naturalist for the Lime Creek Nature Center, said there are a lot of snowmobilers on the Shellrock River Greenbelt and sledding at Linn Grove Park. 

"At the Lime Creek Nature Center, a very popular activity is cross country skiing," he said.  Von Ehwegen said skiers can enjoy almost nine miles of groomed trails.  Snowshoers are asked to walk to the side of the groomed trails, or Von Ehwegen suggests Quarry Lake Trail, maintained specifically for snowshoers.

Von Ehwegen said another popular activity is bird watching and wildlife watching from the main building at Lime Creek Nature Center.

"Just this morning a mother and daughter saw a deer walk right up to the feeders," said.  In addition to deer, birds, raccoons and possums may be viewed from inside or on the trails. 

For ice fishing, Von Ehwegen recommends the Bluebill Wildlife Area, Blair Meadows Preserve or the Kuhn Wildlife Area.

Whatever the activity, Lisa Ralls said it is the snow that makes all the difference.

"Even in the summer on the quietest day you can hear the wind, the leaves, the birds," she said. "With the snow you hear none of that."

"The quietness and the beauty are why I really enjoy it.  Everything looks different in the winter."


Helpful hints

www.mycountyparks.com -  A listing of all Iowa Parks, searchable by county.

www.iowasnowmobiler.com/regions/three - Iowa State Snowmobile Association, region 3 website.  Lists local snowmobile trails and clubs.

www.winnebagoccb.com - Winnebago County Conservation Board.

www.hancockcountyia.org/conservation.htm - Hancock County Conservation Board

www.co.cerro-gordo.ia.us - (click on outdoors tab on left) - Cerro Gordo County Conservation Board

Upcoming events

Monday, Jan. 10 - An instructional program, Ice Fishing 101, will be held at 6:30 p.m. at the Lime Creek Nature Center. This program is specifically tailored to ice fishing novices and will cover everything from equipment to clothing to techniques. Experienced instructors will be present to answer questions and provide hands-on assistance with equipment. Participants will have the option to receive an ice fishing rod and reel combo and tackle for a $5 fee, or bring their own equipment for the instructors to prepare for ice fishing. All participants of this training session are invited to attend the ice fishing event on Jan. 15 (see below).  Registration is required by calling 641-423-5309 by Jan. 5.

Saturday, Jan 15 - An ice fishing event sponsored by the Cerro Gordo County Conservation Board and Lime Creek Nature Center will be held 9-11:30 a.m. at the Bluebill Wildlife Area. Mentors will be available.  There will be a fire for roasting marshmallows and hot dogs. A weigh-in and door prizes will follow the fishing. Children must be accompanied by an adult. Anyone 16 years of age or older must have a fishing license. Registration is required by calling 423-5309.

Sunday, Feb. 5  - Free snowshoeing program at Thorpe Park.  Group snowshoeing 2-3 p.m., followed by hot chocolate in the warming house.  A few snowshoes will be available to borrow, but patrons must call 641-565-3390 ahead to reserve. 

Copyright 2015 Mason City Globe Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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