Ranger tips to navigate the winterscapes

By Kristen Wicker

Photo: Hikers at Englewood MetroPark take in the view while taking a buddy out on the trail

Winter doesn’t officially begin until the winter solstice at 5:44 a.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 21—the day with the shortest period of daylight, when the noon sun is the lowest it will be all year. Yet, cooler temps have already set in, and now is the time to get ready for the season when the Earth’s axis is most tilted away from the sun, giving us the coldest season of the year. Wildlife has prepared for winter by growing thick coats of fur and storing food—and you should prepare, too.

To do so, Five Rivers MetroParks Chief of Rangers Mark Hess offers these winter safety tips:

1. Hike, bike, ski, and do outdoor activities with a friend when possible. Avoid going alone.

2. If hiking or going outdoors alone, let someone you trust know exactly where you are going and when you expect to be back. For example, if you’re going hiking or cross country skiing, identify which trail or trails you’ll be using and the name of the park. “If you become injured in cold weather, it is imperative that we know where to start looking,” Hess says. “Time is of the essence in cold weather.”

3. When participating in any outdoor activity, make sure to dress in layers so you can control your body temperature. You don’t want to sweat too much in the sun and then get very cold in the shade. Make sure you have high-quality hats, gloves, socks, clothing—and especially boots or other cold-weather-appropriate footwear.

4. “If the trail looks too challenging, or gets too challenging, cancel for the day and go back to your car,” Hess instructs. “You can still spend time outdoors; take a walk in the neighborhood instead.”

5. Have a fully charged cell phone and keep it on you in an inside pocket where it will stay dry and warm. “Keeping your phone secured in an inside pocket keeps you from dropping it or losing it if you fall,” Hess says. “Cold weather also drains the battery more quickly.”

6. Bring water. It is easier to dehydrate in the winter than you might think, as the cold air is often very dry.

7. Do not walk across frozen creeks, rivers, or lakes. “You may think the ice is thick enough,” Hess warns, “but the thickness can vary widely, and the water current under the ice might be strong.”

8. Sled in designated sledding areas only. In your Five Rivers MetroParks, these can be found at Germantown, Englewood, and Taylorsville parks.

9. Never turn your back on the sledding hill. “You may find yourself flying up in the air after a 12-year-old on a large inner tube takes you out,” Hess says.

10. Most injuries in the winter come from falling. Wear good boots and watch your step. Don’t make any risky moves on the ice.

11. Be cautious around outdoor fires and carefully monitor children.

12. If you want to go ice fishing, first learn from someone with experience who knows the lake and how to check the ice. The best winter fishing areas in your MetroParks are Carriage Hill MetroPark’s Cedar Lake and pond, the ponds at the 500 Old Springfield Rd. entrance in Englewood MetroPark, and the fishing ponds at Possum Creek. MetroParks staff members do not monitor ice conditions.

13. Ice skate in a controlled environment, such as the MetroParks Ice Rink at RiverScape, open daily through the end of February. Consider wearing a helmet, elbow pads, wrist protectors, and knee pads. Take a few lessons. A “learn to skate” adult course will be held at RiverScape MetroPark starting Sunday, Jan. 8. Registration is required: to register or for more information, please visit

14. Do not skate on lakes or ponds. They often have varying and unpredictable thicknesses of ice.

15. “Don’t overdo it,” Hess says. “The cold weather and cold-weather activities can put a bigger strain on your body and drain your energy more quickly.”

16. Take regular breaks and check on one another often. This is especially true for older people. Lots of heart attacks occur during snow-shoveling.

17. Call for help as soon as you think you might need it. “Don’t wait,” Hess says. “Again, time is of the essence in the cold weather.”

While it’s important to keep safe, there are many ways to explore the outdoors in colder temps. From ice-skating to sledding, cross-country skiing to hiking, it’s fun and easy to get out and live this winter. Build a snowman, make a snow angel, or have a snowball battle. Look for animal tracks in the snow. Take advantage of the beautiful and dramatic scenery to take photos that will last even when the snow has melted.

For more information, please visit

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