In recognition of the United Nations designation of 2010 as the Year of Biodiversity, the Four Rivers Environmental Coalition and The Rock River Times presents this bi-weekly series to help readers discover the amazing array of plants and animals in the rivers, prairies and woodlands “in our own back yard.” FREC is an alliance of 35 member organizations “dedicated to educating and advocating for the plants, animals, natural resources and ecosystems of the Four Rivers Region.” Please visit fourriver.org.
By Jessie Crow Mermel
On-Farm Educator, Angelic Organics Learning Center
The snowflakes are twirling down, accumulating a lovely blanket of white, and I am getting excited. I eagerly await the snowfall each year so I can click my boots into my Nordic skis, grab my poles and head out onto the trails. Many folks only experience nature in winter when they are begrudgingly shoveling the snow or whizzing past it on sleds or snowmobiles.
Winter is a wonderful time to get out and enjoy peaceful recreation in nature. Cross country skiing provides a beautiful blend of invigorating, calorie-burning exercise (it burns more calories than any other sport) with the meditative peace and solitude the winter landscape provides.
Fortunately, it is both easy and affordable to learn the skill of skiing and head out on the trails. Local outdoor recreation store Paddle and Trail has resurrected the touring center at Sinnissippi, offering rentals for children and adults. I took my 9- and 6-year-old boys there recently for their first experience. We all had a blast, even though their skis were up in the air as much as they were on the ground!
Paddle and Trail’s Rick Barton has extensive cross country experience. He told me the groomed trails at Sinnissippi are a great place to learn for adults and children.
If you are feeling a little timid and would like instruction, they offer lessons at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. on Saturdays while there is snow, but call Paddle and Trail (815-636-9066) ahead to register.
The Sinnissippi touring center is not just for beginners; many advanced enthusiasts enjoy this playground as well. In fact, they will be reviving the fun races from 4 to 7:30 p.m., Wednesday evenings while there is snow. Sinnissippi was chosen for its great landscape for skiing, its Nordic skiing history, but also for its central location in Rockford.
Located in the city, Sinnissippi doesn’t offer the same quiet winter solitude as other areas offer. The Rock Cut concession stand by the boat launch is also offering sales, rentals and instruction. There are 26 miles of trails on site to explore, but they also offer their rentals to be taken off-site.
Jim Talkington, owner of the concession stand, said they also have PSAI certified instructors there every Sunday at 1 p.m. and every other Saturday. Drop-ins are allowed, but it is preferable to call ahead.
In addition to the ski rentals and sales for adults and children, they also have the café open. So when you are done gliding the trails, you can stop back in to sip some hot chocolate or have a bowl of soup. Rentals of skis and snowshoes are also available to groups for weekday packages at discounted rates.
The Forest Preserve District and Boone County Conservation District also offer many great opportunities for skiing, from the Kishwaukee River complex in the southeastern corner of the county to Sugar River in the northwestern corner. Visit http://www.wcfpd.org/activities/cross-country-skiing/ for a list of all the ski trails in the forest preserves.
Paddle and Trail will also be offering rentals for full-moon and candle-lit skiing in January and February in the area.
There are so many possibilities for winter nature experiences close to home. So dress in layers (because you’ll be working up a sweat!), and head out to experience the beauty of the Rock River Valley in winter.
For more information from Paddle and Trail, call (815) 636-9066, and for Rock Cut, call (815) 885-4740.
Jessie Crow Mermel is an on-farm educator at Angelic Organics Learning Center, co-leader of Holistic Moms Network of Rockford, outdoor enthusiast and environmental activist.