A Place I Love
Winter Snowshoeing at Cathy's Trail
by Ellen Lott, Project Manager with The Nature Conservancy in Pennsylvania
My snowshoes hang on the wall of my garage awaiting winter’s first deep snowfall. Six inches is my minimum for snowshoeing and most winters accomodate my preferences.
When it happens, I go right out the back door of The Nature Conservancy’s Hauser Nature Center where I work. There’s a great trail right behind the building. Just past the ballfields, a small wooden sign marks the trailhead for “Cathy’s Trail,” named for a sunshiny volunteer who shared her time and talent with us even when her time was ending due to illness. Cathy would love this trail, as I do. Snowshoes make it possible to enjoy it year-round.
First-time snowshoers . . . be aware that although snowshoes make walking in snow easier, it’s not necessarily easy, so don’t plan to go far on your first adventure. Second suggestion . . . be ready to peel off layers. Consider bringing a small pack for discarded clothing.
The beauty of Cathy’s Trail is that it has two loops. So you can head back for hot chocolate after a short or long hike
I suggest practicing on the ½-mile scenic Meadow Loop (which is more like a square) to find a comfortable gait. Watch for tracks of snowshoe hares, whose giant hind feet can be up to a foot long. In winter, their brown coats turn white; making them easy to spot when there’s no snow. The trail markers are easy to follow. They are made from tamarack trees thinned from the meadow to maintain healthy shrub habitat for birds such as woodcocks who, in the springtime, display their magnificent courtship flight overhead before plummeting back to earth to dance in the cover of the meadow’s thick underbrush.
The second loop of Cathy’s Trail—the 1.7-mile Forest Loop—offers a whole different landscape. It takes you into the forest where the single-track path winds among conifer trees, past a boreal swamp and over a small boulder field remnant. Red spruce and hardwoods signal a transition as you head back toward the meadow. Be sure to stop, pause, listen and look occasionally. If you see broken twigs at the foot of a hemlock, look up; a porcupine could be huddled high above you!
Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t share a little-known fact: snowshoeing by moonlight is a magical experience. It sharpens your senses—especially your sense of wonder. On Cathy’s Trail, the Meadow Loop is easy to navigate at night. But even on the brightest nights, the Forest Loop can be quite dark. Take a flashlight but only use it as necessary. On clear, cold winter nights, listen for owls hooting. It’s their courting time.
For me, snowshoeing isn’t about exercise; it’s about being and enjoying outdoors even in the midst of winter. By day or night, is a wonderful way to enjoy winter.