Nature Notes

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Backpacking for beginners

It's a big step to go from an afternoon jaunt in the park to a few self-sufficient nights outdoors. Luckily for Buckeye novices, Ohio has a number of good beginners' trails and an upcoming series catered to those starting the sport from scratch.

Columbus Outdoor Pursuits will offer its four-part Beginning Backpacking School on consecutive Saturdays starting April 11. In addition to classroom sessions, which run 9 a.m. to noon, the course includes a practice hike May 3 at Highbanks Metro Park and a weekend trip May 16-17 around Lake Vesuvius in Southeast Ohio.

Cost is $50 for members, $80 for non-members.

Expert instructors will cover pre-trip planning, gear selection, food, wilderness first aid, basic orienteering and other subjects designed for those eager to spend a few days on the trail.

Web: outdoor-pursuits.org

Newark preserve perfect for winter hiking

Two weeks ago, hankering for a nice winter walk, a friend and I bolted from Columbus and headed on a very sunny drive for the Dawes Arboretum, one of the region's premiere nature preserves.

The bad news: about two feet of melted snow sopping the trails. The good news: a peaceful, tree-filled setting with much to offer during hibernation season.

The conservation space is known for its astounding collection of trees, lovely water features and environmental stewardship. Things really pop when it's warm, but the six miles of hiking trails wander through conifer gardens, a bizarre Cypress Swamp and other things with appeal that's immune to cold weather.

Things should be a bit drier by now.

If you're going this weekend, bring binoculars for the bountiful birds and check out "Maple Syrup Madness," an educational series about everyone's favorite pancake topping. It runs through Saturday, March 7.

Web: dawesarb.org

Help wildlife with stroke of a pen

Next month, when filling out the form that itemizes all your mandatory contributions to state government, you can give freely to something with immediate local impact.

Ohio's 1040 income tax return has two opportunities to help protect the state's natural resources: Line 27 benefits wildlife conservation, and line 28 benefits nature preserves and scenic spaces. On the 1040EZ form, the check-offs are found on lines 19 and 20, respectively.

Over the years, contributions to these funds have protected wetlands, migratory birds, rare plants and much more.

Web: ohiodnr.com

Metro Parks highlights

The start of a new season means a new slate of outdoor activities at the Metro Parks. Here are three not to miss.

Woodcock Walk

6 p.m. Saturday, March 7

Blendon Woods, Westerville

Romance is in the air during this 1.5-mile hike around Thoreau Lake, a favorite place of courting woodcocks. Meet at the Nature Center.

Howl at the Moon

7 p.m. Sunday, March 8

Highbanks, Lewis Center

Dogs are welcome during the 3.5-mile night hike at this popular park. Leashes should be no longer than six feet. Meet at the Nature Center.

Wetland Ramble

7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 14

Battelle Darby Creek, Galloway

Rangers will lead you into wetland habitat to search for all sorts of amphibians. Dress for a muddy hike. Meet at the Indian Ridge bulletin board.

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Outdoor Tip of the Month: Soil testing

Even some veteran gardeners ignore or forget soil testing, but a preliminary reading of your garden dirt can help grow fruitful, healthy plants. Most tests examine pH, acidity and mineral content. Companies such as CLC Labs in Westerville (614-888-1663) will send you free info and a testing kit, which you return for results. Costs usually depend on the type of analysis. For tips, contact Franklin Park Conservatory's Growing to Green program at FPConservatory.org.