Editor’s note: Introducing Ranger Ramblings, a new column written by a rotating lineup of park rangers from the City of Colorado Springs Trails, Open Space and Parks (TOPS) Division.

Did you resolve to get more active and spend more time outside this year?

It can be hard to stay motivated when it’s cold out and leftover holiday goodies are inside where it’s warm, but here are some ideas on how to enjoy our local trails, open spaces, and parks this winter.

The winter season allows us to see our natural environment a little differently. The lack of leaves on many trees and shrubs can make spotting wildlife, like birds, easier. Always follow Leave No Trace principles and give any wildlife you see lots of space.

Winter is also an opportunity to explore your artistic interests. Fresh snow on red rocks and green pine trees can make a striking contrast in a photograph, painting or drawing.

Early sunsets mean more time to stargaze. Bundle up, pack a thermos of hot chocolate, and enjoy the show. Mark your calendar for the next new moon on Jan. 24, meaning the sky will be dark for optimal stargazing. Remember though, City parks close at 9 p.m.

If you have an aspiring ranger in your family, be sure to check out the Trails, Open Space and Parks (TOPS) Junior Ranger Nature Pack. This is a free program specially designed for ages 7-13. The pack includes a self-guided activity book that helps you get out, explore, observe, describe, and engage your senses at popular TOPS properties like Red Rock Canyon Open Space, Stratton Open Space and Ute Valley Park. Participants can earn “Park Expert” stickers or even a revered Junior Ranger badge, complete with a swearing-in ceremony. Visit coloradosprings.gov/parks to reserve your free pack.

Join staff for our guided Families in Nature Winter Hike on Jan. 20 in Ute Valley Park. While exploring the park, you’ll learn how plants and animals survive the cold through several interactive activities. The hike is about one mile, takes around 90 minutes, and costs $5 per person. Registration is required and spots are limited, so sign up online today.

If it snows, make time to go sledding, build snow sculptures, or construct a snow fort. You can use small plastic tubs or a shoebox to create bricks for your fort. Remember to practice Leave No Trace by removing any snow creations you build in our parks, so the area is beautiful and safe for other visitors.

Snow also provides the opportunity to find signs of wildlife. Hit the trails after a recent snowfall, and you’ll likely find animal tracks. It’s amazing to see the variety of wildlife that share our trails. Snowshoeing is a fun way to leave unique tracks of your own and helps you explore your favorite parks in a new way.

Getting out in winter may require a little more planning than in other seasons. Keep safety in mind while you’re exploring the parks and bring water, snacks, sunscreen, and sunglasses. Although you are probably wearing more layers this time of year, it is easy to forget about sun protection and end up with sunburn on your face or neck.

Also remember to bring a trail map, whistle, and something brightly colored, like a bright bandana or jacket, so you can be easily spotted. Let someone know where you are going and when you plan to be back.

Look ahead at the weather forecast and bring layers for wet or windy conditions. A good pair of microspikes or other shoe traction devices along with trekking poles can keep you safe on icy trails.

Most importantly, don’t forget to bring your excitement and curiosity to guide your exploration of the wintry landscapes in our city’s trails, open spaces and parks this season. Happy trails and enjoy your winter experiences in Colorado Springs’ great outdoors!

Anna Eick is the education technician for the City of Colorado Springs Trails, Open Space and Parks (TOPS) Division.

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