Now that the leaves have fallen and snow is accumulating how can you enjoy winter in west Michigan? Strap on a pair of snowshoes and venture outside. Outdoor enthusiasts are trekking through woods and fields on a few inches to several feet of snow. Snowshoeing has gained popularity in west Michigan, however it is thought to have originated about 6,000 years ago in Central Asia.
The equipment required are a pair of snowshoes and 2 ski poles for additional support and balance are optional. When wearing snowshoes you do not fully sink into the snow making it easier to walk over a deeply snow-covered landscape. Walking in snowshoes is like a wide march, lifting one foot high enough to clear the other foot in the snowshoe. This becomes natural with a few steps. Snowshoes are worn by securing the bindings over boots. The bindings are a heel strap, an over the instep strap and some types have a padded double strap toe piece.
There are several types of snowshoes for a variety of uses. Two common types are traditional wooden frame and aluminum frame. Common wooden frames are the Alaskan or Michigan styles which is made of rawhide or neoprene webbing and is long and narrow with a tail for balance in the deep snow. A common aluminum frame is the modified bearpaw which is oval shaped with crampons on the underside to provide traction when trekking uphill or on hard packed snow or ice.
Recommended clothing is a pair of sturdy winter boots, 2 pair of socks (a lighter pair under a wool pair for warmth and wicking out the moisture), warm layered clothes, and gaiters which fit around the calf and top of the boot to keep the snow out of the boots and pant legs.
Snowshoes can be purchased at sporting goods stores. Renting is also an option at Blandford Nature Center, Pigeon Creek Park, Hemlock Crossing and Wittenbach Wege Center. The staff can offer advice on type of snowshoes for your anticipated use as well as fit.
A local gem for outdoor winter activities in our community is the Wittenbach Wege Center (WWC) located at 11715 Vergennes SE, Lowell, MI. It consists of the 87 acre Wittenbach Agri-science Center and the 61 acre Wege Foundation Natural Area for Study of Ecology. The WWC functions as an outdoor classroom for Lowell Area Schools and the greater Lowell community. The property consists of hardwood forests, a pine plantation, restored native prairies, open meadows, and wetlands. Take advantage of the 5 miles of nature trails on snowshoes for all ages. Bring your own or rent a pair at the center for $5 Monday-Friday 9-3 and Sunday 1-4. Snowshoeing is an event at the WWC annual WinterFest on February 4, 2023. Other WinterFest activities include: beginning orienteering class, winter bird projects, archery, ice candle demonstration, trail games, scavenger hunts, and a virtual winter waggle 5K that can be completed anytime during the month of February.
Contact Courtney Cheers for event or rental information at firstname.lastname@example.org or 616-987-2565. All events are posted on their Facebook page (Wittenbach Wege Center – Agriscience and Environmental Education) and posted on the WWC front door.
References: The quiet art of snowshoeing, Mother Earth News, November/December 1986.
Courtney Cheers, WWC Director, interviewed by Karen Walker, October 17, 2022