Walking at the parks in winter

Published 12:03 pm Sunday, March 1, 2009

Snow dripping off the rooftops and slush on the streets can be seen as a positive sign. The recent heavy snow is gradually melting away. Spring is surely on its way and all will be soon be well.

Then the sun goes down, the temperature plummets and the melted snow sparkles in the next morning’s sunlight as the shiny glare of newly formed ice. For those of us who are confirmed year-round walkers, that ice can be a serious problem. Local streets are especially susceptible to ice formation, despite the best efforts of homeowners and city work crews to address the problem. In the many areas of Albert Lea where a boulevard stands between the street and the sidewalk, the problem can be especially severe. Snow piles up on both sides of the sidewalk, then melts and freezes, creating a treacherous sidewalk.

Parks can provide the safest alternative for long-distance walkers and their boisterous pets, whose long winter days can be brightened by the exercise offered by area parks.

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While the parks are more attractive during the warm weather months, winter makes them a necessity for providing a safe venue for walking. Shopping malls and gyms are great places to maintain fitness, but they don’t allow pets on their premises. Dog walkers need another option to keep their four-footed friends happy.

Wintertime walking in this area’s many public parks provides wider expanses than do the narrow sidewalks of the residential areas of the city. Avoiding the dangers of slippery ice is easier to accomplish in the parks.

While the visual beauty of public parks is their main attraction, in winter it is sound that is the key element. The crunching sound of snow underfoot may be a sobering reminder of the length and severity of our North Country winters, but also provides an element of safety for walkers. The snow offers a more secure walking area than does the treacherous ice. While it can be a struggle to tromp through all that snow, it is better than falling on the ice.

Our dogs skate blithely over both ice and snow, often snorting contemptuously as their human companions huff and puff while trudging through the white stuff. Ah, but we humans have an ally in our efforts to maintain our balance. Snowmobiles leave a track that walkers can use to save themselves from a nasty spill. The packed down snow is a more stable path where walkers can make progress.

Myre-Big Island State Park is fortunate in having a county highway rolling right through it. Snowplows leave a wide track for vehicles, and that is their purpose. But for walkers, the crunchy snow on the sides of the highway provide a fairly secure place to walk. Walkers at the state park are advised to stay off the trails used by cross-country skiers, as the ski tracks can be disrupted by the walker’s footprints. There are still plenty of good walking areas on Big and Little Island, if you stay on the plowed surfaces. The campground area on Big Island is plowed regularly, offering a walking area close to the natural beauty of the wintry woods. The winter wonderland of Big Island is a spectacular sight, just watch your step.

Small herds of deer are often seen on Big Island, though they are less active in the winter. Snowmobile trails are another option for walkers, just listen for the big machines as they come roaring in your direction, and stay out of the way!

White Woods County Park, south of Twin Lakes on State Highway 69, is closed for the winter, but it is possible to park at the main gate and go for a wintertime stroll. Following the snowmobile tracks offers the best option for safe, hassle-free walking. White Woods is a great place for dog walking, even in the winter. The wide variety of landscapes and natural scenes make this park one of Freeborn County’s greatest natural attractions.

Edgewater Park tends to get pretty icy this time of year, but it can be traversed if you are careful. Listen for the crunch of the snow underfoot as you gaze upon the scenic wonders of the city’s most popular playground.

Bancroft Bay Park is known as a great doggie walking venue. The home of the annual Big Island Rendezvous added a second disc golf course last year, adding to its usefulness and attraction. This park is not plowed very often, and can be difficult for us humans. Consider acquiring a pair of snowshoes to help you keep up with your canine companion.

Remember, silence is golden, but take care. That quiet could mean you are walking on ice!