WHETHER one prefers rugged trails or paved walkways, the Ohio Valley is bursting with opportunities for local residents to enjoy the outdoors during the winter months.
Winter is also a great time for winter bird watching and animal tracking.
"While it's tempting to stay inside and cozy, winter is a great time to venture outdoors. Children, especially, enjoy learning about winter animals and how they survive," Schrader Center Director Eriks Janelsins said. "It's very easy to see animal tracks in the winter, and children have fun seeking them out for themselves.
"When children see tracks, the first thing they want to know is what animal made the tracks. They become naturally curious, which makes for a great teaching opportunity for parents," he said. "We have field guides available to help in the animal identification process and information that gives a glimpse into the lives of winter animals."
In Belmont County, walkers and nature lovers of all skill levels can enjoy the National Road Bikeway. The St. Clairsville trail is the only rail trail in Ohio with a tunnel. This is not to be confused with being the only bike trail in Ohio with a tunnel as there are several.
This trail is the only rail trail and St. Clairsville is proud of the distinction. The tunnel is 532 feet long and 40 feet high. The tunnel restoration for the bikeway maintained the cave-like interior. Interior lighting was installed with lights that reflect 90 percent of the light down onto the trail and 10 percent up to the ceiling. The northern end of the tunnel features a two plaza overlook allowing the user an 80 foot high view of the bike trail at the top level.
For those seeking more of a challenge, the trails of Barkcamp State Park offer several different trails depending on skill level.
The Lakeview Trail offers two miles of moderately difficult hiking. The Woodchuck Nature Trail is an easy half-mile trail. The Hawthorn Trail is .6 miles of moderate hiking and the Hawk Trail- is considered easy and is a half a mile long as well as being handicap accessible.
The bridle/snowmobile trail is24 miles long and has a moderate difficulty rating.
A special paved trail winds through the pioneer village, enters the adjoining mature woodlands and provides access to the Antique Barn. Interpretive signs are placed along the route explaining the cultural and natural history of the park.
In the camp area, a bit of American history is preserved. The Antique Barn was built in the 1800s by Solomon Bentley, an orchardman of renown. One variety of apple that he marketed was the "Bentley Sweet." The barn is now home to summer naturalist activities and historical displays.
A resurrected log cabin and other pioneer structures near the barn take visitors back to an even earlier era.
The A.B. Brooks Discovery Trail System at Oglebay Park's Schrader Enviromental Education Center encompasses five miles of trails that include wildlife viewing venues, waterfall observation decks and learning stations.
Trails can be just as enjoyable in the winter months as they are during warmer weather.
Schrader Center trails are a great place for families, novice winter hikers and those seeking a less-strenuous hike close to home.
In addition to self-guided hikes, the Schader Center has structured outdoor activities available for the public such as the annual Christmas Bird Count & free Nature Scavenger Hunts.
The Nature Scavenger Hunts are a wonderful way for local families to explore the center and the park as a family.
Participants receive a pack equipped with an exploration guide to direct your nature adventure as well as tips on locations to explore. Those completing the scavenger hunt to receive a prize. The program is ongoing from noon to 4 p.m. Wednesday Sunday at the Schrader Center. It is free and open to the public.
Winter hours of the Schrader Center are Wednesday-Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. Call 304-242-6855 for more information.
The Wheeling Heritage Trails also offer miles of paved walkways for winter walkers and bike riders.
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