Bored with run­ning, bik­ing or hik­ing? Try these out­door ac­tiv­i­ties

Merced Sun-Star - - Livingston Chronicle - BY RICHARD CHIN

Need ideas for new ac­tiv­i­ties? Here are sug­ges­tions for things to do in the parks, in the woods and on the wa­ter, rang­ing from vig­or­ous to in­do­lent.

IN THE PARKS

• If the paved bike trails are too crowded, maybe it’s time to give moun­tain bik­ing a try. Look around your area for moun­tain bike trails, where you of­ten won’t en­counter other cy­clists ex­cept at the trail­head. A moun­tain bike or fat-tire bike works best, and some peo­ple are even try­ing elec­tric-as­sist bikes de­signed for off-road use.

• If or­ga­nized sports have to be can­celed this summer, a lot of fields won’t be oc­cu­pied by soc­cer or soft­ball games. Why not put them to use by fly­ing a kite?

An ideal place to set a kite aloft is a wide open park field with­out many peo­ple or trees around. You can also try fly­ing one from the shore over a lake, sug­gests Dave Herzig, board mem­ber of the Min­nesota Kite So­ci­ety. Watch­ing a kite danc­ing in the wind is calming, Herzig says. “There seems to be some­thing re­as­sur­ing about it.”

For begin­ners or some­one who hasn’t flown a kite since child­hood, Herzig rec­om­mends get­ting a delta-style kite made of rip­stop ny­lon, which can be found on­line or at a lo­cal kite store. And never at­tempt kite­fly­ing near a power line or when there’s a chance of light­ning.

• You just need a cou­ple of stout trees and you could be gen­tly rock­ing in the breeze, read­ing a book, tak­ing a nap or watch­ing the clouds drift by thanks to a new gen­er­a­tion of light­weight, portable and com­pact ny­lon ham­mocks used by ev­ery­one from back­pack­ers to ur­ban hip­sters.

Ham­mocks can be set up in min­utes with ad­justable straps that can be at­tached to any pair of trees a suit­able dis­tance apart. They’ve been so pop­u­lar that many park sys­tems in the state have web­sites de­voted to ham­mock eti­quette and best prac­tices for sling­ing your ham­mock so it won’t dam­age the trees. Use straps at least an inch wide, and at­tach to tree trunks at least 12 inches in di­am­e­ter, sug­gests the Min­nesota Depart­ment of Nat­u­ral Re­sources.

IN THE WOODS

• In­ter­est in buy­ing bird seed and watch­ing birds took off af­ter 9/11, ac­cord­ing to Sharon “Bird­chick” Stiteler. The Min­nesota-based bird­ing ex­pert and na­tional park ranger ex­pects some­thing sim­i­lar to hap­pen in the wake of the coro­n­avirus cri­sis. “It is the orig­i­nal so­cially dis­tanc­ing sport,” Stiteler says.

Bird-watch­ers tra­di­tion­ally used binoc­u­lars and a field guide to spot and iden­tify the birds they’ve seen. But now there are on­line tools like Mer­lin, a free phone app de­vel­oped by the Cor­nell Lab of Or­nithol­ogy, that will help iden­tify the bird you’ve seen by an­swer­ing a few ques­tions or by us­ing a pho­to­graph you’ve taken. The web­site eBird.org, also run by the Cor­nell Lab of Or­nithol­ogy, has a clear­ing­house of re­ports of sight­ings and bird­ing hot spots.

Stiteler says begin­ners can spot some­thing in­ter­est­ing at the edge of woods, near lakes, wet­lands, rivers or streams, or even in their own back­yards. Early morn­ings or late after­noons or evenings are the best time to watch birds, Stiteler says. And one place where she says there’s of­ten lots of good birds but few peo­ple: ceme­ter­ies.

• Smart­phone apps like SkyView or Star Walk also have made it eas­ier to fig­ure out what you’re look­ing at in the night sky. Just point your de­vice at the sky and it will tell you what you’re look­ing at.

Mike Shaw, a St. Paul as­tropho­tog­ra­pher, also rec­om­mends the Min­nesota As­tro­nom­i­cal So­ci­ety web­site (mnas­tro.org) to help plan your night view­ing, or the book “Night Sky With the Naked Eye: How to Find Plan­ets,

Con­stel­la­tions, Satel­lites and Other Night Sky Won­ders With­out a Tele­scope,” by Min­nesota au­thor Bob King.

Shaw, a del­e­gate to the In­ter­na­tional Dark-Sky As­so­ci­a­tion, says gaz­ing at the night sky is some­thing that can be done any­where. “It just helps make a con­nec­tion to the nat­u­ral world,” he says.

“For­ag­ing and mush­room

• hunt­ing are the con­sum­mate so­cial-dis­tanc­ing ac­tiv­ity,” ac­cord­ing to Tim Cle­mens, a Twin Ci­ties for­ag­ing in­struc­tor and pres­i­dent of the Min­nesota My­co­log­i­cal So­ci­ety, a group de­voted to the study of mush­rooms and fungi. Cle­mens says you can hunt for edi­ble mush­rooms, berries and nuts in many state parks and wildlife man­age­ment ar­eas and even in your own back­yard.

Cle­mens plans to of­fer work­shops and in­struc­tion, by on­line videoconfe­rencing if nec­es­sary, through his busi­ness, Iron­wood For­ag­ing Co. (iron­wood for­ag­ing.com). Cle­mens also rec­om­mends a cou­ple of books, “The For­ager’s Har­vest,” a guide to edi­ble wild plants by Sa­muel Thayer, and “Mush­rooms of the Mid­west,” a fungi field guide by Michael Kuo and An­drew Methven.

ON THE WA­TER

• If you don’t own a ca­noe, it’s not too late to buy, bor­row or rent one to get on the wa­ter, sug­gests Emily Broder­son, pres­i­dent of the Min­nesota Ca­noe As­so­ci­a­tion.

Broder­son says you can learn pad­dling ba­sics by look­ing at in­struc­tional videos on YouTube. But al­ways wear a life jacket and go with a friend, she says.

• If you’ve been miss­ing do

ing laps in your gym’s pool, try jump­ing in a lo­cal lake. Some parks have re­stric­tions on open-wa­ter swim­ming or may have closed the beaches, but many lakes are good venues for ex­er­cise swim­ming, ac­cord­ing to Dave Cameron, a swim coach at the YWCA in Min­neapo­lis who swam across the English Chan­nel twice.

Cameron sug­gests that peo­ple new to lake swim­ming stay in des­ig­nated swim ar­eas or near shore. When you’re ready to ven­ture far­ther out into the lake, al­ways swim with another per­son or a group, wear a brightly col­ored swim cap and tow a swim buoy to in­crease your vis­i­bil­ity to boaters.

The buoys also typ­i­cally fea­ture a wa­ter­tight con­tainer where you can store your keys or phone.

A wet suit or neo­prene shorts can help with warmth and add buoy­ancy. Ear plugs and nose clips can help pre­vent al­ler­gic re­ac­tion to pollen that gath­ers on the wa­ter’s sur­face. Never swim when there’s a chance of light­ning.

Dreamstime/TNS

An ideal place to set a kite aloft is a wide open park field with­out many peo­ple or trees around.

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