By Joe Hadsall
Globe Features Editor
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.
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:
The Missouri Department of Conservation maintains five conservation areas in Jasper County and 17 in Newton, including Kellogg Lake in Carthage, Wildcat Glades Conservation and Audubon Center in Joplin and Morse Park in Neosho.
The department in 2011 had more than 700 miles of trails available for foot, bicycle and horseback exploration. And there are also trails around the area, such as the Frisco Greenway and Ruby Jack trails.
Cogbill said maps of all the department's local trails are available on the department's website, mdc.mo.gov. Those maps can be printed out from home, she said.
Parents can teach kids how to read those maps. That way, instead of stressing at the question, "Where are we," they can help figure out where they are, Cogbill said.
Consider taking a first aid kit and a flashlight -- both of which come in very handy for accidents, she said.
And it's a good idea to tell someone where you and yours are headed, including when you expect to return, she said. In case something bad happens, someone has information that will help.
"Especially with longer hikes," she said. "Let someone know where you are going and when you'll be back. That way, if you're going to an area with no good cellphone signals, someone will know to come looking for you."
Boots made for hiking?
There's always a temptation to invest in a good pair of hiking boots, but unless someone is planning on a lot of hard hikes through rougher trails, a good pair of tennis shoes should suffice, said Cyndi Cogbill, public service assistant for the Missouri Department of Conservation.
"All you need is a good, sturdy shoe to support your feet," Cogbill said. "Some tennis shoes are lightweight and flimsy, and those won't work. But I wouldn't invest in good hiking boots until you find out if your children really enjoy hiking."