Get outside in the New Year
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.