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Cures for Cabin Fever

Winter in McHenry County is a chance to connect with nature and family, and burn a few calories while you’re at it.

Don’t let a little flurry keep you indoors. Pull on your boots, slip on your mittens and head outside to play. There is no such thing as bad weather, just poor clothing choices. Layer up, bundle up, show off that new knit cap and warm up to the idea of outdoor winter play. That same release from stress, and the calmness you feel during an autumn hike, can be even more invigorating when it’s coupled with a crisp winter breeze. The following are just a few ideas to shake the winter blues at McHenry County Conservation District (MCCD) sites:

Head for the hills. Fun-loving folk who are looking for a little fun factor, head to your favorite sled hill. MCCD’s Glacial Park in Ringwood (unstaffed) is a bring-your-own-sled hill located by Wiedrich Barn that promises fun for all.  And, don’t  underestimate  the  amount  of  exercise  you’ll  get  trekking  up the hill.

Take the family out on a winter hike to spy every detail of the previous night’s animal antics recorded in the snow. A fresh coating of snow can turn even the youngest of the family into a snow detective. As squirrels chatter in the branches above, their imprints below show that earlier they were scurrying about retrieving acorns from hidden caches. Secretive winter animals leave many clues and telltale signs about their nighttime escapades. Look for different tracks, droppings, gnawing and rubs left behind like their autograph. Enjoy the woodlands at Pleasant Valley in Woodstock, Coral Woods in Marengo, Rush Creek in Harvard or Glacial Park in Ringwood. When out on your hike, add a pair of walking poles to add stability for trickier winter terrains and better balance. They also recruit the upper body muscles for an efficient workout.

Consider cross-country skiing. Gliding over glistening snow provides a chance to witness the calm serenity of blanketed woodlands while benefiting from the rhythmic cardiovascular movement cross-country skiing provides. Although you have to provide your own equipment, MCCD offers more than 21 miles on MCCD sites. Once there are 3 to 4 inches of packed snow, trails are groomed at Coral Woods, Pleasant Valley, Marengo Ridge, Winding Creek, The Hollows, Harrison/Benwell, Rush Creek, Silver Creek, Stickney Run and along the south end of the Prairie Trail.

New this year are two solar-lighted trail loops at Pleasant Valley and Hickory Grove Highlands that offer hikers and skiers a chance to get out until 9 p.m. Head out in the late afternoon when the shadows are getting long to enjoy the surreal, picturesque backdrop; perhaps you’ll spook a deer from the woods or spy a mouse scurrying away in its snow tunnel.

Winter camping is where it’s at. The heartier of the bunch can venture to Marengo Woods for a weekend of winter camping in the silent woods and cooking around the campfire. Take in the sights and sounds of the great outdoors and sleep under star filled skies. The contrast of the heat and flow of the fire and crisp winter air can be a refreshing and invigorating change of pace to mid-winter doldrums. A steaming brat fresh from the fire with a little spicy mustard is just what you need to shake off the chill and suspend the shivers.

Get nice on ice. Frozen lakes provide opportunities for ice skaters and anglers at several MCCD sites including Fel-Pro RRR and The Hollows in Cary, Pleasant Valley in Woodstock, Rush Creek in Harvard and Stickney Run in McHenry. At least 4 inches of clear ice is recommended for any ice activity. All ice-related activities are done at the user’s own risk.

Shake off the chill. MCCD offers many winter programs and drop-in activities as well. If you find yourself looking for something to do on a Saturday afternoon that the whole family can enjoy, stop in for one of the Family Exploration Programs offered indoors at Lost Valley Visitor Center in Glacial Park, Ringwood, from 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. During February, families can participate in activities, games and a hike themed around coyotes. No registration required. While at the Lost Valley Visitor Center at Glacial Park, families can get a break from the blustery winds and enjoy the warmth of the exhibit room and Sandhill Study while doing activity sheets and puzzles, reading nature stories, looking up animal tracks in the identification books, or using the binoculars or magnifying lenses. Weekday winter hours are Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and on weekends from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

If you are out wandering near Crystal Lake, stop in the Prairieview Education Center’s Exploration Station, an interactive drop-in center that features several hands-on activities that help children learn more about the natural world surrounding them. A puppet theater, theme book bags and nature boxes, books, board games and puzzles are available to explore at your leisure. The theme of the Exploration Station changes every three months to highlight seasonal changes taking place in the environment. Weekday winter hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturdays 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sundays 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. Prairieview also has winter trails for hiking or cross-country skiing. The Education Center is located at 2112 Behan Road in Crystal Lake.

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