We are now officially more than two weeks into winter. Those who enjoy the snow may be disappointed with what this season has brought forth so far, while others may be relieved with the absence of shoveling, salting, and de-icing that are usual this time of year.
Whether you love or loathe the snow, it’s always a good idea to get outside for some fresh air, exercise, and vitamin N (for Nature)!
The benefits of being in nature are widely known with stress reduction being at the top of the list.
The Peterborough area is full of outdoor locations and activities that are free and fun for everyone. Here are some ideas to get you planning your winter weekends, with or without the snow.
There’s nothing more locally iconic than skating along the Trent Severn Canal in front of Lock 21, a National Historic Site, and the world’s largest lift lock when it opened in 1904.
Last week, the temperatures dipped low enough for the canal to be open, allowing outdoor enthusiasts to glide along this beautiful outdoor rink along Ashburnham Drive in Peterborough. City staff regularly flood the rink to ensure almost perfect conditions for skating and hockey so, as long as the temperature is low enough, you’ll be able to skate.
Ice conditions at the Lift Lock are posted with a green or a red flag, which is updated daily throughout the winter.
If the red flag is up, consider checking out one of Peterborough’s arenas for public skating, usually available for a small fee.
If you prefer to stay off the ice, consider a hike. For many Peterborians, a trail lies just beyond the doorstep. Peterborough has so many inner-city trails that going for a walk or hike is easy!
Check out Jackson Park, Armour Hill, or walk along one of our many paved trails such as The Great Trail (formerly The Trans Canada Trail), The Rotary Trail, or the Parkway Trail.
“Living close to so many green spaces and trails means that we have nature close by; this time of year you can see the beautiful red stems of Red Osier Dogwood and the stunning colours of songbirds like blue jays and cardinals,” says GreenUP’s Jenn McCallum.
“Bring your camera along and enjoy some nature photography! During winter, I particularly enjoy the lovely monochrome landscapes of snow falling in Birch forest stands.”
Even on a gray day, so many colours really stand out this time of year. If you’re bringing the kids along, try and count how many colours you can see while on your hike. Along with McCallum’s suggestions above, you can watch for the purple-ish colour of Eastern Hemlock tree bark, the steel blue feathers of a nuthatch, or the sweeping yellow branches of a willow.
If there is snow on the ground, you’ll also have the opportunity to see many tracks left behind by critters that are active all winter long. Kids love to identify footprints or to simply follow tracks to see where animals are scurrying off to. You can point out the difference between the footprints of ducks, songbirds, and squirrels and if you’re lucky, you may see the prints of a red fox or a snowshoe hare.
“My favourite winter activity is hand-feeding the chickadees,” says GreenUP’s Dawn Pond, “I love standing with seeds on my toque and waiting quietly for them to land on my head.”
Feeding the chickadees by hand can be a magical experience. Simply take some birdseed along with you on your hike. When you hear the familiar chickadee-dee-dee sound, hold out a mittenful of seeds alongside a tree branch and wait patiently for one to land.
“Take a friend and get your camera ready,” suggests Pond. “It’s so nice to have a photo keepsake of this special moment, especially after waiting so patiently for one to land.”
A great place to try feeding chickadees is at GreenUP Ecology Park, where many birds frequent the feeders that are stocked for winter feeding. You’re also likely to see cardinals, juncos, and nuthatches — and if you’re lucky you may spot the pileated woodpecker that has been frequenting the area.
Have you ever considered a night hike? With the sun setting around 5 p.m., there’s ample time to take a stroll after dark and enjoy the calm and quiet of the evening. Dusk brings a variety of different animals out of hiding so listen for owls, and watch for deer, both of which can been seen in and around the city.
Just be sure to be safe and be seen while out after dark; wear reflective clothing and bring a flashlight or headlamp so that others are able to see you.
Want to try something new and adventurous along the trails? GreenUP’s Lindsay Stroud suggests taking a sunny day to try out winter cycling.
The local trails are well maintained in winter, offering a great opportunity to bundle up and bring out your bicycle. Riding your bike in the winter adds physical activity into your day, decreases the number of cars on the road, helps build connections to your community, and is a lot of fun.
“Bring some maple syrup along,” suggests GreenUP’s Matthew Walmsley. “Making maple taffy on ice is a great way to use up last year’s maple syrup stocks before the new batches arrive in late winter, and it is a sweet treat no matter what outdoor activity you choose.”
If you’re unsure about identifying a species you see, or if you want to learn more about your nature sightings, download the iNaturalist App for access to resources from across the globe, all at your fingertips on your mobile device.
For more outdoor activity ideas, pick up a copy of The Big Book of Nature Activities by local naturalists Drew Monkman and Jacob Rodenburg. It is brimming with fantastic nature-based activities, all laid out by season. It is available at the GreenUP Store at 378 Aylmer Street North in downtown Peterborough.