The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Health & Family

February 14, 2013

Higher temperatures make family hiking a practical activity

JOPLIN, Mo. — Winter months are usually when families buckle down and hunker in. The lowering temperatures encourage families to stay inside with movies or board games.

But as recent average temperatures increase to warmer than average -- this week's snow not included -- now may be the perfect time to take a hike.

"It's not necessarily better, but it's different, said Cyndi Cogbill, public service assistant for the Missouri Department of Conservation. "There are still ticks in the winter, although there are less of them. Poison ivy is still out there, but the lack of leaves makes it hard to recognize."

But the big advantage, thanks to the bare trees, is that it's much easier to see everything, from horizons to wildlife.

"You can see things better," Cogbill said. "You can see the lay of the land, you can see wildlife better, because there is no foliage for camouflage."

The biggest thing to watch in winter is, of course, the weather. Cogbill said it's hard to judge temperatures in the winter, because the wind can skew conditions wildly.

She recommends wearing layers to deal with fluctuating conditions, and that hikers shouldn't forget sunscreen.

"Bodies are covered, but faces are still open," she said.

Kid-specific tips

While basic hiking advice applies to everyone -- regardless of age -- Cogbill and outdoor gear retailer DEI list some specific things parents can do to make sure their kids have a good time:

  • Bring snacks. Lots of them. Kids will expend energy more quickly, so they'll want to eat plenty. That also means be patient and offer plenty of opportunities to wolf those snacks down.

    "Children like small, little meals more frequently," Cogbill said. "Take things they are already familiar with and comfortable with."
  • Bring a trash bag. Mainly because of all the snacks.
  • Pick a location that is relatively close. Cogbill said that Joplin has a nature center south of town and a hiking trail north of town, both of which are perfect spots to take the family. Both offer varying lengths to accommodate families.
  • Commit to hiking at a child's pace. Daytime hikes along shorter routes are perfect. The hike will usually take about as much time as it would normally with adults, so plan accordingly.
  • For kids who are into tech -- and that's pretty much all of them -- don't ban electronics. Use them. Have kids take pictures with cellphone cameras. Hunt down apps that use physical movement to work. Or try geocaching.

    Cogbill said to make sure cellphones are fully charged before hitting the trail, too.
  • Encourage other kinds of games, from hide-and-seek to scavenger hunts -- just make sure kids don't wander into unsafe or off-trail places.

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