Winter’s officially here and, along with it, all the opportunities for outdoor recreation that make Northern Michigan a great place to spend this time of year. It’s also as good a time as ever to be mindful of the ways we can recreate responsibly, particularly when it comes to our own safety and the wellbeing of others with whom we share the outdoors.
Huron Pines is part of the Michigan Recreate Responsibility Coalition, a group of more than 50 agencies, businesses and nonprofits developing and sharing best practices to protect each other and our natural landscapes. We’re brought together by a mutual love of the outdoors and a desire to help everyone stay safe outside and protect the places we play.
In the summer, this meant encouraging people to plan ahead for facilities like restrooms at parks to be closed, to bring and wear masks where appropriate, and to practice physical distancing and leave-no-trace principles. With winter weather settled in, people face new obstacles getting outside, all of which can be overcome with a little planning.
The Recreate Responsibly campaign has launched some winter-themed guidance to help people get outside safely over the coming months. Here are a few of those recommendations along with some of this author’s own, learned from personal experience. They are good reminders that, even though many of us are equipped with all-wheel drive cars, GPS navigation and modern outdoor gear, it’s best to be prepared.
Respect your physical limits and those of your companions.
Activities like snowshoeing and cross-country skiing are physically demanding. It’s easy to get excited over a fresh snowfall but remember to give your body time to adjust to this exercise. Start with short trips and work your way up to longer outings. Keep a pace that’s doable for all members of your group.
Know your vehicle’s limitations.
Traction and ground clearance are two factors to consider on snow-covered roads but there are others. Is your route plowed all the way to your destination? Do you have extra fuel? Having a tow strap or shovel is useful only after you get stuck — avoid needing to use them in the first place.
Dress in layers.
Multiple layers worn under a waterproof outer shell allows you to shed clothing while exerting energy snowshoeing, skiing or pulling a tired-out child in a sled. Staying dry and comfortable means you’ll be able to enjoy your time outdoors for longer.
Let others know your travel plans.
Tell someone where you’re going and when you’ll be back. Allow yourself a reasonable window of time in case you’re running late but set a firm deadline so that, if others haven’t heard from you by then, they will assume something is not right and can take action.
Don’t rely on your phone.
Phones are electronic devices that can fail. Batteries die and signal is spotty or nonexistent across large parts of Northern Michigan. Paper maps require neither, so bring one of the area you’re planning to explore.
Be prepared for an emergency.
Pack a basic first-aid and survival kit with bandages, ointment and means for obtaining water (a straw and water-purification tablets) and starting a fire (lighter or matches). A mint tin is well suited for a kit since it is durable and compact enough that you’re likely to bring it along. In a bad situation, having a small emergency kit is better than having none at all.
Leave no trace.
Keep our winter playgrounds clean by packing out trash and pet waste. Be respectful of the land and others who use it.
It’s a wonderful time to be outdoors. Taking a little effort to plan and prepare will make it all go right even if something goes wrong. This is how we recreate responsibly.