Dave hurst’s column on winter outdoor activities in the region

What a world. What an era!

Two years into the COVID pandemic, we still don’t know how to respond to SARS-CoV-2 (as it is now called). When we think we have understood, a new variant appears.

Now it’s Omicron, which causes milder symptoms in many people but kills others. The most contagious strain to date, it is spreading through schools, workplaces and even hospitals.

We are all tired, whether we believe in the value of vaccines, the effectiveness of masks and the wisdom of avoiding crowded indoor spaces, or the greater value of freedom of choice.

No deep observation will be made here. Just a small suggestion that has proven safe from variant to variant, for both vaxxed and non-vaxxed, (usually) does not require a mask and reinforces everyone’s feeling of freedom: In this winter season, go outside.

Luckily, it is starting to act like winter at the right time, as many interesting winter events are scheduled for the next couple of months.

These next two weekends will feature the region’s two ice festivals in Somerset and Ligonier respectively. The events have been going on for decades and feature incredible ice carvings, retail store sales, a variety of outdoor activities for all ages, food trucks and free entertainment.

The Somerset Fire & Ice Festival takes place this weekend, January 14-16, and features a “Winter Carnival” theme (SomersetInc.org). Ligonier’s Ice Fest 2022 will take place on January 22 and 23 (Ligonier.com).

State parks have seen an increase in attendance and use over the past two years, thanks to the pandemic. And parks staff have gotten quite creative in their efforts to provide interesting programming.

Parks, for example, organize and offer a variety of free events and activities on select Saturdays to attract people of varying ages and interests.

From 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. this Saturday, January 15, Greenwood Furnace State Park offers “Snowfest and Polar Plunge.” For the daring and the brave, there is a five-mile run and an opportunity to splash around in the lake to benefit charity. Fat-bike demonstrations, ice harvesting, live music, ice skating and broomball, a bonfire and winter camping will also be offered. 814-667-1800.

Canoe Creek State Park has its winter games and polar dip on February 5. While brave souls jumping into the lake for a good cause will be the center of attention, there will be other scheduled winter activities and a “Plunge Town” with food, entertainment, vendors and activities for children. FriendsOfCanoeCreek@gmail.com.

Prince Gallitzin State Park has several scheduled events: There is a “FeederWatch” on January 26, where binoculars and spotting scopes will be available; and a two-mile guided nature walk on January 28.

An atypical nature program is the ‘Paint in the Park’ event on January 29, when local nature artist Brian Ford will teach painters of all experience levels – including beginners – how to create works of art. ‘art. The cost is $40 per person, but all materials will be provided.

Then Prince Gallitzin will have his “Winter Blast” from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on February 12, with a variety of free activities such as sleigh rides, guided hikes, ice skating and broomball, cross-country skiing, ice fishing and snowmobile demonstrations. . For more information on all Prince Gallitzin events, call 814 674-1000 ext. 105.

Forbes State Forest, which wraps around Laurel Ridge, has scheduled a 7 a.m. “Rise N’ Shine” hike or snowshoe hike (depending on conditions) of 1.5 to 2 miles on Jan. 29, and a “Hygge Hike” at 10 a.m. on February 29. 12. The latter is a two-mile hike that will demonstrate that Danish lifestyle, which embraces well-being, comfort and togetherness. Call 724-259-2201 for more information on both.

Since the arrival of COVID, many people have discovered or rediscovered the joys of spending time outdoors. Until this pandemic is behind us, it is also one of the safest and healthiest places.

To respond to this column – or read other columns by Dave Hurst – visit www.hurstmediaworks.com.

Sally J. Minick