Monday, February 3, 2014

Winter Walks

A warmer than usual day beckoned the beagles and I outside this past weekend. There are those who preach the outdoor winter gospel, but I am an admitted fair-weather wimp. However, I've been reading up on the benefits of winter walking, and I learned that outdoor walking in cold air benefits your bones, mood and waistline.

I need no more information than that. With this year's resolutions in mind, I decided to get out and walk this winter!

Nothing compares to the crisp, clean air of winter and the magnificent view of a snowy landscape -- sometimes offering quite a nice surprise from the scenes you are more used to.

Whether the weather is warm or slightly frosted, most hiking trails remain open. And like this past weekend's two walks in two different local trails, the squirrels and birds still frolic. We saw evidence of fox (paw prints in the snow) and other furry woodland creatures. We also saw a flock of red-breasted robins, which I thought unusual (not that I know much about birds).

Saturday found us heading to the Patuxent Branch Trail in Columbia -- a delightful trail no matter what the weather, since it follows along the river, with promises of seeing deer, hawk, and other wild animals. If you walk the whole way, you'll be trekking 4.6 miles along the Patuxent River from Lake Elkhorn in Columbia to Savage Park. Along the way are interpretive signs. A suburban trail, it'll bring you beneath the ever-busy Interstate 95 -- soaring a 100 feet (I'm guessing -- I don't know really) overhead. We picked up the trail at the trailhead at Guilford Road in Columia, at the Guilford Pratt Truss Bridge (there's ample parking there), with the goal of going 1.5 miles to Volmerhausen Road and back. We wore hiking sneakers, but the trail still was covered in quite a bit of ice, so we were grateful for the treads -- in spring/summer/fall weather, plain old sneakers would be fine. This particular stretch is not paved, so there was quite a bit of mud as well, but it's flat, wide, and well groomed. Despite the ice and mud, the beagles were undeterred, reveling in the unexpected exercise and the good sniffs. (They got to "enjoy" baths upon our return home.)

Ice still floated on the bay, and offered a view of the bay I'd never seen before.
An unexpected blue bird
in the midst of winter
Sunday was another brilliant day, which called for visiting a park I'd never ventured to before: John Downs Memorial Park, on the Chesapeake Bay, in Anne Arundel County. Situated on the Chesapeake Bay, Downs Park offers a variety of natural and recreational activities throughout its 236 acres. It also offers more than five miles of paved and natural trails, including a self-guided nature trail. We walked the perimeter trail, which offered views of the bay that then transitioned to groves of marsh-loving swamp magnolias (not in leave or bloom), then we encountered a spit of water called Locusts Cove, which was almost completely iced over. All in all, this park offers the promise of beautiful and changing views with each season, and I decided I would be back -- perhaps with my new bicycle once spring thawed out the last remaining ice on the trail.

There's no better way to beat those winter doldrums! Sunlight and just being outdoors can do wonders for lifting your mood. Studies have shown that women who took a brisk, outdoor walk for 20 minutes daily had better mood, higher self-esteem and an improved sense of well-being at the end of the eight-week study.

Walking in a winter wonderland can help you burn calories and make up for some of that recent holiday excess. Outdoor walking through the park or around the neighborhood on a cold day won’t burn any more calories than walking on a warm summer day, but walking in the snow will. You expend more energy because it’s harder to move your feet in the snow, and you lift your legs a little higher.


Winter walking can keep your old bones strong. Like bears, people tend to hibernate during the winter and, as a result, get too little sunlight. That's too bad for bones. Sun exposure triggers vitamin D production in the skin, and bones need the “sunshine vitamin” to make the body absorb bone-strengthening calcium properly. Not getting outside during winter months slows down production and decreases the body’s store of vitamin D. Going for a winter walk and getting 15 minutes of sun on your face and hands two to three times per week should suffice for getting enough sun for vitamin D production.

Any trip into the outdoors, even a day hike or a gentle walk, requires keeping an eye on the weather forecast. If there's a storm coming, then wait, unless you go prepared for every contingency.The tips below aren't meant for the serious winter weather hiker -- or anything more than a mile or two walk on a day almost guaranteed to be pleasant.
  • Always check the weather and trail conditions;
  • Prepare for the worst conditions;
  • Dress according to the weather; 
  • Dress in layers that you can peel off or layer back on;
  • Don't forget a hat and gloves -- if it gets too warm to wear, you can always shove them into a pocket! 
At Downs Memorial Park we encountered information about the Yellow Dog Project (www.theyellowdogproject.com), and I'm thrilled to give this worthy project some space in the blog. We've all encountered them -- yellow dogs are dogs who need space - they are not necessarily aggressive dogs but more often are dogs who have issues of fear; pain from recent surgery; are a rescue or shelter dog who has not yet had sufficient training or mastered obedience; are in training for work or service; are in service; or other reasons specific to the dog. What a great idea! 

The Yellow Dog Project is a global movement for owners of dogs that need space. It hopes to educate the public and dog owners to identify dogs needing space, promote appropriate contact of dogs and assist dog parents to identify their dog as needing space. The Yellow Dog Project seeks to educate appropriate ways to approach or make contact with a dog with permission of a dog owner only, whether or not a dog is a “yellow dog”. They also seek to promote the use of yellow ribbons to identify yellow dogs needing extra space.

Tip: If you bring the pooch and he's an indoor dog, then if it's very cold, remember his comfort as well and bring his coat.

Getting there: Patuxent Branch Trail is located at 9190 Old Guilford Road, Columbia, MD 21046. Downs Memorial Park is located at 8311 John Downs Loop, Pasadena, MD 21122.

Websites: Patuxent Branch Trail: http://www.howardcountymd.gov/patuxentbranchtrail.htm; Downs Memorial Park: http://www.aacounty.org/RecParks/parks/downs/#.Uu6kFBBdVbE

Check out the blog's FB page for updates on places written about already in the blog :  facebook.com/midatlanticdaytrips!

Have you daytripped somewhere interesting? I'd love to hear what you're doing! Email [email protected] if you're interested in being a guest-blogger! 

Happy tired beagles!

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