Monday, February 7, 2011

Winter by Candlelight

Every winter, without fail, an epidemic sweeps across our great state of Minnesota. It’s not spread person-to-person - quite the contrary, in fact; it is partly spread by the lack of contact with one another. Symptoms include irritability, forgetfulness, drowsiness, and intense boredom. It is most prevalent in the dark days after Christmas, during the statistically coldest month of the year, January.

It’s Cabin Fever.

There is a cure, however, and more and more people are discovering that it works. It’s simple, just a two-word prescription: Get outside.

The Friends of Wild River State Park wish to help to administer this treatment. Every year since 1992, on the Minnesota side of the St. Croix River, the Friends host the Wild River State Park Candlelight Ski, Snowshoe, and Hike, an event that takes place after that early January sunset - around 5pm - and, as the name would suggest, includes six miles of candlelit snowy trails for cross-country skiers, snow-shoers, and hikers - families, couples, and friends.

This year, about 1,300 people braved the single-digit Fahrenheit temps to breathe the fresh air, gaze at the nearly-full moon in the clear night, hear the crunch of the snow underneath their feet, and treat their cabin fever. Winter looks and feels a lot better when you’re out in it, playing in the snow, and it’s a warm feeling to be among so many others in the cold, making the most of the dark season’s beauty.

As beautiful as it is, the single-digit temps still infringe on fingers and toes. So up on Amador Prairie, one of the better star-gazing points in the park, an over-sized bonfire roared in the snow, quickly warming the surrounding park-goers.

Inside the Trail Center, another asylum from the cold, live acoustic guitar music was played while friends and family gathered for an indoor picnic. Every year, there is a cross-country ski raffle, all the proceeds of which go to support recreational and educational programs in the park.

A one-mile ski, snowshoe, or hike from the Trail Center, through the snow-covered prairie, into the deciduous forest, the moon still lighting the way through the bare trees, lies the Visitor Center. Inside, refreshments, acoustic music, a warm fire, and a showing of a live screech owl delighted folks in the warm and busy center.

Candlelight events are a bright way to get people, families, and whole communities out of their homes, where the walls seem to start closing in, to be outside with their neighbors. If you happen to be in Minnesota, many other state parks hold candlelight events. Find a list of upcoming events on the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources website. If you don’t live in Minnesota, check out your own state’s park resources.

Tessa Hill, president of Kids for Saving Earth, helped coordinate and volunteered at the event. As a board member of the Friends of Wild River State Park, she believes that it is very important to help preserve and increase the quality of our parks. With the help of several volunteers from the North Branch High School Honor Society, hundreds of people were introduced to the beauty of this park, and are thus more likely to support it and work to protect it. Tessa encourages all of you to volunteer, support, and enjoy your parks.

How do you support your parks? How do you treat Cabin Fever during the cold winter months? Comment below!

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