Enjoy fresh air and sunshine, even in the cold winter months

Monday, November 4, 2013

The cold months may be upon us in Southeast Missouri, but that's no reason to stay inside all winter. Parks and natural areas are open year-round, and you may be missing out on some beautiful scenery.

"It's great to spend time outside even when it's cold because you'll see our outdoor world through a whole different lens than in the warmer months," says Candice Davis, media specialist with the Missouri Department of Conservation in Cape Girardeau. "Wildlife are still trying to eke out a living, even when it's cold, and you can catch glimpses of this if you take the time to notice. There's nothing more serene and calm than a winter hike."

December through February are perfect for watching bald eagles along the waterways, says Davis -- try the Mississippi River, Duck Creek Conservation Area, Mingo National Wildlife Refuge or anywhere else with fish for the birds to feed on.

"The eagles will be very active in our area during this time, and the opportunity to see them is worth spending time in the cold weather," says Davis. "Bring binoculars or a scope, bundle up, wear warm boots and be prepared for the conditions."

As for scenery, a whole new landscape emerges when the dense trees lose their leaves. Winter hikers at Trail of Tears will see views of the Mississippi River that aren't visible the rest of the year, while those at Elephant Rocks State Park near Graniteville, Mo., will enjoy an unobstructed panorama of the Ozarks. Wondering what lies beyond the beaten path? Off-trail areas are exposed during the winter, offering a rare opportunity to peer deep into the woods. Ice and a dusting of snow add to the beauty of bluffs and cliffs in Southeast Missouri and Southern Illinois. And, just because it's cold outside, it doesn't mean you have to forego a fresh dinner -- fishing, picnicking and camping areas remain open throughout the winter.

There are also plenty of winter activities available in your own backyard or neighborhood. If there's been a lot of rain or snow, head outside to look for animal tracks.

"Look along the edge of ponds or streams where animals may walk down to get a drink. In the fresh mud, or especially in fresh snow, tracks will be very visible," says Davis. "If you don't see tracks, look for other animal signs, like scat or rub marks on trees. Take your kids outside and pretend to be animal detectives. Bring along an animal tracks guide book, or take a photo of the tracks you see. Then go back inside and have some hot cocoa while you figure out whose tracks you saw. You never know what animal you might cross paths with."

Fall is also a great time to rake -- and play in! -- the leaves, take photos with the fall colors as a backdrop, and plant trees so they can settle in over the dormant season, says Davis. If you have kids, involve them in your "tree research," let them have a say in what kind of tree you plant, and teach them what the tree will need to in order to grow and be healthy.

"If you plant the tree in your own yard, you can use it as a growth chart for your child," Davis suggests. "Take a picture each year of your child next to the tree they planted. At first, the child might grow faster, but if you continue over time you can see when the tree's growth will really take off and leave your kiddo in the dust."

But remember, no one's going to have fun outdoors if they're too cold -- so be sure to dress in warm layers, wear gloves and water-resistant boots, and warm up when you get back inside.

"Cold feet and hands will send you back indoors prematurely. Put hand warmers in your pockets to help you last even longer in the cold," says Davis. "Then, when you get back indoors, reward yourselves with hot cocoa and marshmallows or your favorite latte and warm pie."

A cool winter snack

If you're not into winter hikes, you can always bring the outdoors into your warm, cozy home. Candice Davis likes this recipe for snow ice cream:

Ingredients:

1 mixing bowl full of snow

1 cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup heavy cream

Directions:

Place a bowl outside when it begins to snow and let it fill up. When you have a full bowl of snow, stir in the sugar and vanilla. Then stir in the cream slowly until you have your desired consistency. If you like cinnamon, you can add a little bit of that to flavor it up, too. For a lighter version, use milk, but I like how the cream adds a delightful richness. After all, we don't get to have snow ice cream very often, so it's worth the calories. Serve immediately and enjoy!

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