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Issue Date: December 2010


Foot Soldiers


Alex Ash
Hiking in the winter allows you to get one on one with nature at its most intense. "The extreme geology really stands out," says Pat Morse, Penitentiary Glen's interpretive manager. "You don't have leaves in the way so you can really see the texture of the land."

PENITENTIARY GLEN RESERVATION'S GORGE HIKE

Distance: 1 to 1.5 miles
With the right conditions, you can expect to see Icicle Alley, an almost continuous sheet of icicles along one side of the gorge. The gorge, which cuts the property in half, has extremely steep sides caused by the gradual erosion from the creek that runs through it. "There's a lot of runoff from the land above, and as snow or ice melts, it drips down, causing huge, beautiful icicles," Morse explains. "The icicles really vary. Some are skinny while others can be several feet wide. It goes on for probably a couple hundred feet." Because of its fragile habitat and steep walls, the gorge is a restricted area. Hikers need to be on a scheduled hike, mostly led by trained volunteer guides or staff. Lake Metroparks, 8668 Kirtland-Chardon Road, Kirtland, 440-358-7275, lakemetroparks.com

CUYAHOGA VALLEY NATIONAL PARK'S STANFORD TRAIL

Distance: 3 miles
At the end of this hike within the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, there is a 65-foot waterfall, known as Brandywine Falls. In the winter, it freezes over. "It's magical — the water should be in motion, but it's not. The water is frozen in time, just completely standing still," says park ranger Pam Machuga. "You're hiking to an inspirational destination. It's incredibly rewarding." Although each season brings its own personality to the trails, Machuga prefers winter. "It's so crisp. It looks like a winter wonderland," she says. An added bonus to this hike? While you're there, check out foundations for a grist mill, saw mill and distillery, remains of a small village that stood on the Brandywine ridge in the 1800s. 15610 Vaughn Road, Brecksville, 330-657-2909, nps.gov/cuva

THE BLACK RIVER RESERVATION'S BLACK RIVER TRAIL

Distance: 6 miles
Winter wildlife is the main attraction on this trail. "Sightings of bald eagles, coyotes, beavers and river otters are certainly possible," says naturalist supervisor Gary Gerrone. The trail weaves back and forth across the river and allows for sighting opportunities. The 1,000-foot-long bridge is a perfect observation platform. "If you're quiet and have a little bit of luck, chances are really great you can see a bald eagle ... soaring or perched on a branch in the trees along the river," he adds. Lorain County Metro Parks, Ford Road, Elyria, 800-526-7275, metroparks.cc


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