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Bubolz Nature Preserve

Outdoor activities to beat the winter blues 

Many people anticipate spending less time outside in the dead of winter, but with the COVID-19 pandemic limiting indoor activities, it might be time to rethink that approach. Getting outside, even during the winter, is crucial for our physical and mental health especially this year.

“During this dynamic time, we encourage people to get outside,” says Luke Schiller, director of education at Heckrodt Wetland Reserve in Menasha. “Nature makes you feel better by boosting your social and emotional wellbeing.” 

Luckily, there are plenty of nature sites in the Fox Cities that offer activities and beautiful scenery all year round. One prominent location for winter activity is Appleton’s Bubolz Nature Preserve. Set on 775 acres, Bubolz Nature Preserve has over eight miles of trails that can be used year round. In the wintertime, skiers, snowshoers and hikers are welcome to utilize the trails. Skis and snowshoes are available to rent onsite. 

Jenn Bronk, development and marketing manager at Bubolz, explains that a lack of outdoor activity in the winter is linked to seasonal depression. 

“The days are shorter and are often more gloomy. As a result, people in Wisconsin are especially prone to getting less vitamin D from the sun,” she says. “Scientific research has shown that spending time in nature provides many great benefits for mental health, including anxiety and depression.” 

Bubolz launched its Need for Nature initiative to combat these mental health issues through ecotherapy. Ecotherapy programs include everything from mindfulness activities and arts and crafts to year-round recreation like hiking, skiing and snowshoeing. 

Bubolz Nature Preserve will continue to offer modified winter activities to fit social distancing protocols. The third annual Brewski, Bubolz’s largest winter event, combines beer, skiing and snowshoeing with participants stopping for brews along the trail. Due to COVID-19, this year beer will be handed out in six-packs to take home. The event will take place on February 12 from 5 to 9 p.m. 

Bubolz Nature Preserve

On February 20 from 9 to 11 a.m., Bubolz will host a family-friendly ski clinic, where participants will learn the basics of cross country skiing. The moonlight ski and snowshoe event on February 26 means that snowshoe and ski rentals will be open later than usual, from 5 to 8 p.m. Guests can use either the 1-mile snowshoe path or the 1.5-mile ski trail, both of which will be illuminated by the moonlight. If snow conditions aren’t ideal, these events will be canceled or turned into moonlight hikes.

Snowshoers and hikers should also spend a day at Menasha’s Heckrodt Wetland Reserve. Heckrodt’s 76-acres offer three and a half miles of trails open for public use year-round. The wetland is accessible by elevated boardwalks used for snowshoeing and hiking. Snowshoes are available to rent Tuesday through Friday. On February 27, Heckrodt is hosting a snowshoe adventure day where guests can enjoy campfires along with snowshoe related activities. 

In an effort to get children outdoors, Heckrodt constructed a Children’s Canopy Walk that opened this winter. The treehouse-themed playground is accessible year round and contains clubhouses with their own themes, such as the life cycle of a tree. There’s also a rustic camp-style kitchen, custom-made log slide and a mini zipline.

1000 Islands Environmental Center in Kaukauna offers another option for those wanting to spend a winter day outside. Set on 350 acres, the center’s seven miles of trails meander along the Fox River, an ideal spot for birdwatching. Guests are welcome to snowshoe and can rent equipment for on-site or off-site use from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Throughout the winter, guests can snowshoe and hike up until 11 p.m. when the trails close. Snowshoes are available when there is at least six inches of snow.   

In addition to the psychological health aspects that nature can provide, Debra Nowak, director of 1000 Islands, explains that spending time outdoors has other benefits. 

“From a social aspect, time spent outdoors, from hiking to birdwatching or camping, can create tighter family bonds, support youth education and promote stewardship,” she says. 

1000 Islands Environmental Center

Nowak also points out that outdoor winter activities offer unique experiences not found during other seasons. 

“Things are calmer and quieter during the winter months and gives great opportunity for wildlife spotting. In addition to bald eagles, visitors are treated to beautiful scenery including wintering ducks, owls and some beautiful ice formations along the river,” she says.  

During this winter season, 1000 Islands is offering guests numerous programs, some virtual and some in-person. On February 12 and March 12 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., families attending the storybook walk can read a family-friendly book on a self-guided walk set up with reading stations. The moonlight hike on February 26 from 6 to 8 p.m. allows for guests to hike by the light of the moon before stopping by a bonfire. Due to COVID-19, these events are subject to change. 

Worth the Drive: Iola Winter Sports Club

Skiers and snowshoers interested in spending a day outside of the Fox Cities should consider hitting the trails managed by Iola Winter Sports Club. 

Phil Johnsrud, president of Iola Winter Sports Club, explains that the club is mostly run by volunteers and receives minimal funding. “Our trails are clean and smooth. They are always taken care of, even in the summer.” 

The club maintains four separate trails, each with their own level of difficulty. The green trail is just over a mile and is mostly flat. The blue trail is more hilly and is about three miles. Both the green and blue trails have lighting for nighttime skiing. For people who want a more challenging skiing experience, the black trail is just under seven miles and has bigger hills. The new purple trail is a flat, two-way trail, about 1.2 miles in length that winds through the pines and loops around an open prairie. It will be available for beginners, warm-ups, cool-downs and skijoring. 

Iola Winter Sports Club also has a snowshoe trail, which consists of a ¾ mile innerloop and a two and a half mile outerloop.

Day and night passes are available in addition to annual memberships. For more information, visit iolawintersportsclub.org.

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