A winter to enjoy outdoor explorations

This article was written by Emily Bowers, Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board Naturalist, North Mississippi Regional Park

We often think of winter as the time of year when nature in Minnesota is inactive. Trees lose their leaves, other plants die back, many animals go dormant or migrate, and humans tend to stay inside more often too. However, winter is still teeming with life, if you go out and look for it! The winter season is an exciting time to explore outside and observe wildlife. There are no leaves to block the view and a crisp canvas of white snow keeps an excellent record of animal activity that we don’t often notice other times of year.

Tracks are one of the easiest animal signs to spot, but animals also leave many other clues for us to observe—feathers, scat, nipped twigs, nests and burrows, and pellets containing bones and fur to name a few. Winter bird watching can be just as exciting as any other time of year! Those birds that stick out the harsh winters are quite active throughout the day, often more gregarious, and less fearful of humans. This behavior makes it a lot easier for us to observe them at closer distances and to learn their habits. Whether actively watching their behaviors or observing their past movements by following a set of tracks in fresh snow, wildlife observation is a unique way to connect with nature during cold winter months. So step outside and enjoy the season, with the help of exploration resources in Minneapolis parks, you’ll get the most out of this special time of year!

This winter visit the Adventure Hub at Kroening Interpretive Center to borrow outdoor exploration activities and materials for free! Items available for checkout include: snowshoes, trekking poles, fort building kits, outdoor art kits, and nature observation kits such as bird watching, animal tracking and stargazing. Adventure Hub operating hours are Wednesdays 10 a.m.-2 p.m., Thursdays 4-8 p.m., Saturdays 10 a.m.-4 p.m., and Sundays noon- 4 p.m. Materials must stay within park boundaries and are only available for same day checkout and return. Select Recreation Centers will also have materials to borrow throughout the winter season. Available hours and activities will vary depending on the site.

Get outside and into Nearby Nature, with self-directed, nature-based activities designed to enhance the experience of park goers of all ages while exploring parks. All Nearby Nature activities are free and no materials or registration is necessary. Get activity locations each week at the Minneapolis Parks Neighborhood Naturalist page on Facebook. Share experiences and photos through the hashtag #NearbyNatureMpls or send feedback to nearbynature@minneapolisparks.org. Visit the Kroening Interpretive Center Facebook page for more fun ways to connect with nature in our community.

Saturdays from 1-3 p.m. are Family Fundays! Join us outside for active, nature fun in the park! Explore a different seasonal theme each week through self-directed scavenger hunts, nature walks, and interactive skills development such as bird watching or animal tracking. All ages and experience levels welcome to enjoy the outdoors while activating bodies and minds in discovery. Naturalist staff will be onsite to provide sanitized materials and introductory instruction for activities that will be self-directed by individual households. Held each week at both Minnehaha and North Mississippi Regional Parks. Themes and activities will be announced weekly on the Minneapolis Parks Neighborhood Naturalist Program Facebook page facebook.com/neighborhoodnaturalist.

Kroening Interpretive Center Outdoor January Programs

  • Bird Watching: Winter Woodpeckers – Saturday, Jan. 2 from 3:30-4:30pm. Free. Ages 8+.
  • Winter Survival Challenge – Thursday, Jan. 7 from 5-7:30 p.m. Free. All ages.
  • New Moon Stargazing – Thursday, Jan. 14 from 6:30-8 p.m. $3. Ages 8+
  • Outdoors: Northern Life – Saturday, Jan. 16 10:30-11:30 a.m. Free. All ages.
  • Noticing Nature Hike – Thursday, Jan.21 from 6-7 p.m. Free. Ages 8+.
  • Noticing Nature on Snowshoes – Friday, Jan. 22 from 10-11:30 a.m. Free. Ages 18+.
  • Snowshoeing Full Moon Hike – Thursday, Jan. 28 from 6:30-8 p.m. $3. Ages 8+.

Registration is required; sign up for programs at minneapolisparks.org/register. Upon registration, participants agree to maintain social distance (6 feet) at all times and adhere to the current Minnesota state face covering mandate (Face covering exceptions may apply to certain MPRB activities).

Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board program buildings remain closed to the public until further notice due to the impacts of COVID-19. The MPRB’s priority is the health and safety of our park visitors and our employees. Visit minneapolisparks.org/coronavirus or sign up to receive email updates at minneapolisparks.org/subscribe by selecting “COVID-19” in the “News Updates” section.

Do you have a question about nature in your own backyard? Then send it our way by emailing northmississippi@minneapolisparks.org and it could appear in a future article.