In winter, the woods reveal treasures unseen in summer: A woven cup of grass topped with a marshmallow cap of snow (a summer nursery for a goldfinch family!); Scarlet stems of red-osier dogwood accenting the river’s edge…
As you slip your cross-country skis into the packed and groomed trail at St. Patrick’s County Park, your lungs fill with crisp, fresh air. With a few glides and strides you are in the woods where last night’s fresh blanket of snow creates the perfect canvas for animal tracks. Squirrel footprints crisscross between trees and rabbit tracks scurry under briar bushes.
Tucked in the shrubs, several shallow depressions disclose the bedding location of a family of white-tailed deer. They likely scampered off when the “watchdog of the woods,” a blue jay, called out a warning about your presence in his winter domain.
If you listen, you’ll hear the golden leaves of a young beech tree rattling in the breeze – it’s one of the few trees in the woods that clings to its leaves through winter. A black-capped chickadee chatters “dee-dee-dee” above your head. Is she welcoming you to her quiet, snowy world, or commenting on that funny hat you are wearing?
A refreshing new world awaits you on skis, a respite from daily routines and schedules. Go fast for a vigorous workout, or “shoosh” along slowly at a leisurely walking pace. It’s your choice… your day to relish the snow.
If you don’t own your own skis, you can rent them at St. Patrick’s County Park on the north side of South Bend. Over 4 miles of mostly flat, “classic” groomed trails are easy on beginners and a large section is groomed for “skate” skiers, as well. The trails here join to adjacent Madeline Bertrand County Park in Berrien County, Michigan and trail passes purchased at either location are valid within each park, providing endless opportunity to explore the woods and the St. Joseph River landscape in winter.
Ski rentals and groomed trails are available at St. Patrick’s County Park, Wednesdays-Sundays, 11am-4pm, snow conditions permitting. Visit sjcparks.org for details.