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What to do in winter: Snowshoeing, hiking, birding, skating at NY State Parks

Whether you’d rather search for migrating birds, take a guided stroll, or strap on snowshoes for a wintry trek, the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation probably has a program scheduled for you this winter - and it’s free.

“People enjoy getting outside, even if it’s winter, because it’s healthy, both mentally and physically,” Parks Naturalist Carol Rogers said. “People enjoy joining us and knowing they’re not alone out there, and I know of people who have made friends through the programs and now meet for coffee. It’s a great opportunity to meet other people.”

Winter scenes in DeVeaux Woods State Park at DeVeaux Woods State Park in Niagara Falls, N.Y., on Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2016. (John Hickey/Buffalo News)

For the adventurous, the state parks will offer the opportunity to try snowshoeing from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday, Jan. 7 at DeVeaux Woods State Park in Niagara Falls, followed by another chance from 10 a.m. to noon on Sunday, Jan. 8 at Beaver Island State Park on Grand Island.

More snowshoe outings are planned for 10 a.m. to noon Jan. 14 at Reservoir State Park in Lewiston; from 10 a.m. to noon Jan. 28 at Whirlpool State Park in Niagara Falls; and 10 a.m. to noon Jan. 29 at Buckhorn State Park on Grand Island. Participants must call 282-5154 for the Niagara County parks and call 549-1050 for the two Grand Island parks to register for these free programs and information on where to meet. Rogers said the state parks have several pairs of snowshoes for participants to use.

Rogers said it’s also very important to register because the snowshoe programs are tentatively planned, and may move to another park if not enough snow is available at the planned site.

For children, the “Where the Wild Things Grow Eco-Kids Series” has proven a popular draw, according to Rogers, and it resumes from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on the second Saturday of each month, all at DeVeaux Woods. It begins Jan. 14 with the topic “How Do Animals Stay Warm?” That is followed by “Can You Walk on Snow?” on Feb. 11 and “Is It Spring Yet?” on March 11. The series offers hands-on learning, a game or hike, and a craft, and all ages are welcome.

The “Rise and Fall of the Honeymoon Bridge” will be the topic of a presentation from 2 to 4 p.m. Jan. 28 at Niagara Falls State Park, followed by a short walk to the site along the gorge rim.

“Niagara’s Ice Bridges” will be discussed from 10 to 11:30 a.m. Feb. 4 at DeVeaux Woods, while “Birding on the Niagara River” will get people outside with their binoculars from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Feb. 11 at Beaver Island. Participants will visit the lagoon overlook as well as a few other viewing areas. Call 282-5154 to register for both programs.

“Let’s hope for a good birding day,” said Rogers, who leads the expedition. “The birds aren’t active when we have high winds. We may still see Tundra Swans, because they head back by the end of February or beginning of March. We may see migratory waterfowl, like the greater black-backed gull -- which are easy to spot on the ice.”

A “Cabin Fever Break-Out” is planned for 10 a.m. to noon March 4 at Buckhorn Park, with a brisk walk through the park’s great trail system, along creeks and the Niagara River, on the agenda. Call 549-1050 to register.

The “Basics of Birding” is designed for families with children ages 8 and older and will be presented from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. March 18 at DeVeaux Woods. The basics of bird identification and equipment one might need will be the topics. A short walk in the park will follow.

The “First Signs of Spring Walk” is scheduled for 1 to 3 p.m. March 25 at Earl W. Brydges Artpark State Park in Lewiston, to wind up the Winter Series.

Call 282-5154 to register for any of these free programs, unless otherwise noted.

Rogers encourages the public to visit the parks’ website at: www.nysparks.com for more information. “It has all been updated and everything is there, including descriptions of each park, upcoming events, and even a link to Google maps for directions,” Rogers said.

In addition, Rogers reminds skaters that the ice rinks at DeVeaux Woods and Reservoir Parks are now open to the public, weather permitting. The rinks are open 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday at both sites for free skating. Hockey is not allowed and rentals are not available. A pavilion with restrooms is available at Reservoir.

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