ST LOUIS PARK, Minn. — It’s time to explore the winter wonder of Minnesota.
This week we are staying in the Twin Cities and visiting the Westwood Hills Nature Center, which offers so many activities and plenty of nature to see.
Let’s take a look at what this rural oasis right in the heart of St. Louis Park has to offer.
There we met interpretive naturalist Becky McConnel. Her days are usually spent mentoring, training and working with volunteers and junior naturalists or caring for the animals on the grounds but for us she volunteered to be a tour guide.
"It's a great time to come out and enjoy the wintertime in this 160 acre preserve in the city of St. Louis Park." McConnel said.
There are about three miles of trails in the preserve, and one trail goes all around the lake. At this time of year, the lake is covered with over a foot of ice.
We grabbed some snowshoes and a kick-sled, both of which you can rent on the premises, and hit the trail.
It was a beautiful clear, sunny day, and the trail system was nicely packed. It was the perfect condition for the kick-sled. The faster you kick, the faster you go - just be warned, cornering isn't as precise as you may think.
While on the trail, you can see squirrels darting from tree to tree. Their nests are built high up some of the tallest trees. And there are birds everywhere.
I couldn't see the birds, but I heard their chirping throughout the woods.
"They’re starting what we call their spring songs. So that's the chickadees whistling." McConnel said.
We saw some tracks in the distance off the trail, so we decided to lace up the snowshoes to get a closer look,
"In the winter time we are mainly looking for tracks or signs of animals," McConnel said. "These are from a deer. This is where a deer cut off the trail and ran, bounding through the snow."
Even though there were signs of wildlife all around us, I only saw squirrels.
"The best time to see the wildlife is early in the morning." McConnel said.
Just my luck, I was there at midday. I decided with my daily exercise quota met by kick-sledding, snow shoeing and hiking around the preserve, it was time to head inside and check out the interpretive center.
I walked in the doors at the same time as a pre-school group that Becky and the staff are going to entertain for the rest of the morning.
"Today they are going to learn about winter birds," McConnel said. "So they’ll see some pictures of winter birds, hear their calls and then watch a puppet show before we go outside for a hike."
It was a little chaotic in the center with 20 pre-schoolers running around. They had a great learning experience ahead of them, so I checked out some of the displays containing native species to Minnesota and the live animal area before I exited back into the preserve for some solitude.
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