A Naturalist Voice

First Year Hikes with Targets in Mind

Field notes by J. Cantrell, photos by Amy Watts

New vehicles may have a coveted smell, which might make the new owners crave a road trip, explore and show off the “new ride.” Directly after the holidays, hikers recognize the yearning in mid-winter to get out, too, and we unfold the trail map and plan future treks. We may not acknowledge the smell of new clothing but another sense comes into play with these latest holiday gifts. Hikers know new-fangled winter garments have a “feel” that must be promptly broken in. Smartwool socks, Vasque hiking boots and thick hooded sweatshirts resulted in squealed appreciation beside the Christmas tree a few days ago. That “squeal” of fresh outdoor attire turns to soothing strides in warm comfort for many winter outings ahead.

So where shall we explore? Missouri State Parks promote first-of-the-year hikes to get everyone started on the right foot, so to speak. What a great idea they encourage. How well it compliments New Year’s resolutions of family ventures, walking for good health and acquiring fresh air and vitamin D. I love our state parks, and I hope more Missourians discover these historical, cultural and environmental treasures in our public holding.

There are outdoor events centered on bald eagles this month, too. The Eagle Day event entices family and friends to take to the rural roads and see eagles in the wild. Spotting scopes are staffed by naturalists, allowing budding nature lovers of all ages to get incredible views. All these events have an education component, and with our national emblem, we learn about their life history, water quality and recovering endangered species. The Springfield Nature Center will host Eagle Days Saturday and Sunday, January 19 and 20, 2019. The Festival of Eagles in Stella, Missouri, is 10 am-3 pm, Saturday, January 26, 2019 (see chertglades.org or 417.629.3423 for more information).

A hiking destination does not have to involve targets to experience the outdoors, but it might help with getting a group together. Our conservation offices in Neosho, El Dorado Springs or Joplin can assist with targets and what to discover. Open lands bring the possibility of hundreds or thousands of snow geese flying above. Prairie hikes on conservation lands in Barton, Dade, St. Clair and Vernon counties have wonderful views near, like the winter botany and animal tracks. Distant views of coyotes, winter songbirds and white-tailed deer are a given. The prairie hikes impart wide sky views, and again, the possibility of waterfowl in the air overhead.

One of my favorite winter targets or a goal takes me to my childhood and probably my first encounter with a professional conservationist. I once approached a ranger at Yellowstone National Park with the encouragement of my mother with Peterson Field Guide in hand. He relayed the whereabouts of the endangered trumpeter swans to my 9-year old self. I will never forget the testimony he gave regarding the Missouri Department of Conservation and, in general, the state I live in. Today, the trumpeter swan is rebounding from the brink of extinction, and we don’t have to go west to view them. They winter right here in the Show Me The Ozarks region; all we need to do is break out the warm winter outfit and plan to get out, research and explore. My MDC conservation peers are here to help the public discover nature. So please give us a call at our local MDC offices and watch for our Shoal Creek Conservation Education Center opening later in the spring. Enjoy the trail, friends, layer up and take those warm comfortable strides, starting on the first hike of the new year. – Jeff