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Winter brings new sights, joys to Harrison Hills in Natrona Heights

| Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013, 9:01 p.m.
Grace Tabitha Clark
Harrison Hills Park in the winter Grace Tabitha Clark

Harrison Hills Park offers “so much year round,” entomologist Grace Tabitha Clark says.

The winter season, the Harrison resident says, presents the chance to experience its natural beauty in a completely different way.

“The snow-blanketed woods are a sight to behold, and the view from the lookout at the top of the riverside trail is spectacular at this time of the year,” she says. “For those whose enjoyment of the park in spring or fall is dampened by allergies or hay fever, the clear crisp winter air is bound to clear your head.”

All are good reasons to consider taking part in Saturday's Venture Outdoors' “Stews Hike,” says Clark, who, with husband Spencer Clark, will lead the “moderately easy” trek covering up to 5 miles over undulating terrain. “It's a wonderful opportunity to meet people and share our favorite trails in the park,” she says.

Casual hikers should find it quite doable, says Clark, who is a member of Friends of Harrison Hills Park. Her husband serves on the organization's council.

“We will go at a slow pace with two or three rest stops. There will be an option for those who prefer a shorter-easier distance. We can lead this second group through a shortcut loop,” she says.

A change of shoes and socks is recommended, as the trails can get muddy and wet. A snack and water also are suggested.

“Venture Outdoors always has a great mixing of singles, couples, and participants of all ages,” Clark says.

After the hike, participants will adjourn to the park's indoor Environmental Center for hearty homemade hot stews and rolls.

Among the offerings is Council of Friends' member Sue Vertosick's well-regarded vegetarian stew.

“We have heard that it is amazing,” says Clark, who loves making all-natural and organic foods from scratch. Clark will be baking the five-grain dinner rolls to accompany the stews.

“These hikes provide avenues to Venture Outdoor members and the public to explore and learn about great natural areas while getting some exercise,” she says.

Although it may be normal to feel sluggish and unmotivated to get outdoors during this time of the year, such exercise could be especially helpful to those who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Clark says. “This afternoon hike should get us a much-needed dose of sunlight, however weak,” she says.

Harrison Hills Park has 500 acres offering picnic shelters, and 14 miles of color-marked trails for running, hiking, biking, birding and horseback riding.

Cross-country skiing and snow shoeing are options in the winter. Nature programs for all ages are held in the Environmental Learning Center.

“Participants on this Stew Hike will see woodlands, conifer stands, the pond, and the Watts Memorial Overlook with spectacular views of Allegheny River 400 feet below the park,” Clark says.

It is yet another way, she agrees, to encourage people to get out into the environment, and to celebrate, rather than hibernate, in winter.

Rex Rutkoski is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4664 or rrutkoski@tribweb.com

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