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Experts promote advantages of winter hikes; opportunities abound on Butler County trails

| Sunday, Jan. 26, 2014, 6:21 p.m.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Emma Lindahl, 8 holds hands with her father, Craig Lindahl, 41, both of Rural Valley during a Family Birding Hike hosted by Audubon Society of Western PA as part of Winterfest at Moraine State Park, Saturday.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Helen Fielding, 16, of Sewickly looks out over a frozen Lake Arthur during a Family Birding Hike hosted by Audubon Society of Western PA as part of Winterfest at Moraine State Park, Saturday.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Emma Lindahl, 8 of Rural Valley looks out over a frozen Lake Arthur during a Family Birding Hike hosted by Audubon Society of Western PA as part of Winterfest at Moraine State Park, Saturday.

Tranquility, unobstructed views and no bothersome bugs are just a few reasons local hikers like to hit the trails in the winter.

“It's easy to sit in your house and say ‘Gee, I don't want to get cold,' but once you get out there, it's worth it,” said John Stehle, president of the Butler Chapter of the North Country Trail Association. “There's nothing like walking in the snowy woods. You never regret a day you go hiking.”

Beginner winter hikers and seasoned experts can take advantage of upcoming opportunities to hike in Butler County. For beginners, Jennings Environmental Education Center in Slippery Rock is hosting a free winter hiking and backpacking clinic at 2 p.m. on Feb. 2.

Participants will learn how to dress, what gear to use and will receive tips and tricks for day hikes and overnight trips in the winter from the educators at Jennings.

Later in the month, the Butler Chapter of the North Country Trail Association, along with the History Department of Slippery Rock University and the North Country Brewery, will host the annual Cherry Pie Hike on Feb. 22 starting at the Jennings Environmental Education Center. There will be three sessions, starting at 9 a.m., 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.

There will be complimentary cherry pie and coffee and a short presentation on the frontier history on the area, followed by a two-hour hike along the North Country Trail led by members of the trail association and the Butler Outdoors Club. Space for these hikes is limited, so hikers are asked to contact Stehle and reserve a spot at stehles@gmail.com or 724-256-0674.

Stephen Smith of the Butler Outdoors Club said the natural beauty of the landscape is what attracts him to hiking in the winter.

“I like the starkness of it,” he said. “And if you're walking while it's snowing, it's a particularly nice time. It's almost like the earth has been muffled — there's a quiet that descends in the forest when it's snowing.”

Wintertime also puts pesky insects into hibernation and brings unobstructed views through the forest.

“A lot of times when you hike in the summertime, the trees are all leafed out, so your view is restricted because there's a lot of visual impediments,” Smith said. “You take the leaves off the trees, and your viewshed is now expanded.”

While the temperature can often be intimidating, both Stehle and Smith recommend dressing in layers of moisture-wicking synthetic materials and wool, which naturally insulates and wicks away moisture, to stay warm and dry.

“You have to be comfortable and your feet have to be comfortable,” Smith said. “Proper footwear and socks, a pair of shoes that are comfortable and fit you well — that goes without saying any time of the year, but in winter it's more important to have shoes that keep you warm and dry. Waterproof shoes are important.”

Stehle said hikers should remember to take all of the same precautions they do in the winter as they would during any other season, like bringing adequate water and snacks and a tarp or space blanket for protection.

“It's always good to be ready for that unexpected thing,” Stehle said.

Rachel Farkas is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-779-6902 or rfarkas@tribweb.com.

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