Get out­side in the New Year

Maryland Independent - - Sports - Jamie Drake jamiedrake­out­doors@out­

Con­nect­ing with na­ture is an essen­tial part of healthy liv­ing. Be­ing out­doors low­ers stress, re­duces blood pres­sure, and staves off de­pres­sion. You prob­a­bly know that your body needs Vi­ta­min D to keep your bones strong. But did you know that your body can make Vi­ta­min D from sun­light? Bi­o­log­i­cally speak­ing, hu­mans are de­signed to be im­mersed in na­ture. And sadly, many of us only spend mere min­utes a day out­side.

2017 is just around the cor­ner. The days be­tween Christ­mas and New Year’s are a good time for re­flec­tion and in­tro­spec­tion. And Jan. 1 usu­ally marks the be­gin­ning of what many of us hope will be last­ing changes in our lives for the bet­ter. If you are mak­ing any res­o­lu­tions for 2017, make spend­ing more time out­doors one of them.

The re­ally cold weather hasn’t hit us yet, so there are lots of op­por­tu­ni­ties to spend time in the fresh air on Jan. 1. Start the year off right and plan an out­ing with fam­ily or friends. Here are a few ideas to help you plan for New Year’s Day, out­doors-style.

Bike rid­ing is a fun ac­tiv­ity that kids al­ways en­joy. And over the last decade there have been ma­jor im­prove­ments to in­crease ac­cess to bik­ing trails in South­ern Mary­land. The In­dian Head Rail Trail in Charles County is a 13-mile bike trail built in an aban­doned rail­road cor­ri­dor, which makes for some great scenery. Of course, there’s a good chance of catch­ing a glimpse of wildlife, too.

In Calvert County, the Ch­e­sa­peake Beach Rail­way Trail has been around since 2011 and goes along the shore of Fish­ing Creek. The board­walk, built in 2011, is 1.5 miles and big enough to ac­com­mo­date bi­cy­clists. Bring along your binoc­u­lars and cam­era be­cause there is some out­stand­ing bird watch­ing to be had at the end of the trail. You might even see a bald ea­gle or two.

Maybe the beach is more your scene? I might pos­si­bly love the beach in win­ter more than in sum­mer. There are no crowds and less peo­ple means a more peace­ful visit and a bet­ter chance of see­ing birds and other wildlife. Plus, if you en­joy fos­sil hunt­ing, win­ter is a good time (es­pe­cially af­ter a storm) be­cause less peo­ple will be hunt­ing for the same trea­sures you’re look­ing to find.

If you like to mix hik­ing with beach­comb­ing, then Calvert Cliffs is the des­ti­na­tion you seek. There’s a nearly 2-mile walk from the parking lot to the beach, which makes get­ting to the wa­ter’s edge a bit chal­leng­ing if you have small chil­dren or a stroller to push. Don’t for­get, once you walk out there you’ll have to get back. My kids don’t need any en­cour­age­ment on the out­go­ing walk, but get­ting back is another story, one that usu­ally in­volves piggy-back rides and me ques­tion­ing my de­ci­sion to have a large fam­ily.

Brownie’s Beach is another good choice for a pic­turesque lo­ca­tion and is much, much

closer to the parking area. Dress for cold weather if you de­cide to visit Point Look­out; it’s al­ways about ten de­grees colder there and the wind can make it feel even frostier in the win­ter. I’ve never vis­ited Point Look­out and come away empty-handed. There are usu­ally a few pieces of sea glass for the pick­ings.

If you’re feel­ing more ad­ven­tur­ous and beach­comb­ing isn’t an ex­cit­ing enough way to ring in the New Year, you could al­ways take a quick dip, splash, or swim in the frigid wa­ters of the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay. The town of Ch­e­sa­peake Beach holds its An­nual Po­lar Bear Plunge on Jan. 1. The event takes place at 1 p.m. at the board­walk and Bay Av­enue. Af­ter­wards, warm back up with some hot co­coa and roast marsh­mal­lows around a bon­fire.

It’s al­most never a bad time to drop a line in the wa­ter. Ice fish­ing has al­ready be­gun in earnest in many of our north­ern states, but you won’t have to crack any hard wa­ter to get at the fish in the lakes and ponds of South­ern Mary­land. Even in win­ter, bluegill rarely dis­ap­point. They tend to hun­ker down in deeper wa­ter when it’s cold, but they are still go­ing to eat and a small piece of nightcrawler or meal­worm weighted with just one of two tiny split shot should do the trick. Cold wa­ter-lov­ing pick­erel are ac­tive at St. Mary’s Lake and make for an ex­cit­ing re­trieve. You’ll want to use 2-4” min­nows or div­ing crankbaits to hook one of them.

Of course, a hike is a tra­di­tional and easy way to get ac­quainted with the nat­u­ral world. The Mary­land Depart­ment of Nat­u­ral Re­sources has been host­ing “First Day Hikes” for sev­eral years. In 2016, a record-break­ing 2,177 across Mary­land par­tic­i­pated.

I took my daugh­ters to St. Mary’s River State Park last year for a brisk and in­vig­o­rat­ing two-mile ranger-guided hike around the lake. If you have a four-legged friend you’d like to in­clude in your out­door ad­ven­ture, dogs on leashes are wel­come. And if two miles aren’t enough, hik­ers can con­tinue the 7.5 mile loop around the lake. Now that’s what I call a hike! This year’s hike com­mences at 10 a.m. and any­one who plans to at­tend is asked to regis­ter for this free event by call­ing 301-872-5688.

Green­well State Park is host­ing its own unique hik­ing event on Jan. 1 that’s per­fect for fam­i­lies with chil­dren of any age. The hike be­gins at 10 a.m. at the foun­da­tion of­fice (straight down the long drive­way, take the first right) and will last about an hour. The 1.5 mile loop in­cludes the Sen­sory Trail and par­tic­i­pants will hike along open fields, wooded trails, and get an up-close view of a tidal pond. I’ve seen more wild tur­keys this year than I can ever re­call, and the fields at Green­well are a good place to look for those wily gob­blers.

And if a reg­u­lar old hike is too “con­ven­tional,” then Small­wood State Park’s first day hike is for you. This hike is 1.5 miles and will take ap­prox­i­mately 1.5 hours. That’s a pretty slow pace, right? Well, it would be, ex­cept hik­ers will be stop­ping along the way to do yoga, too. Yoga is good for the body and mind, and do­ing it out­doors in a nat­u­ral set­ting is even bet­ter. This hike starts at 11 a.m. and hot choco­late will be pro­vided in the Dis­cov­ery Cen­ter af­ter­wards. Call 301743-7613 to regis­ter for this free event if you are plan­ning to at­tend.

How­ever you de­cide to cel­e­brate the New Year, make be­ing out­doors a part of your plans for Jan­uary 1st and the rest of the year.

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