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Strap on some snowshoes

Mike Terrell - January 11th, 2010
Strap on Some Snowshoes...... and embrace your inner snowperson to get fit this winter
By Mike Terrell
Maybe this is the year you want to try snowshoeing? It’s healthy and a great way to prevent that dreaded winter ailment known as cabin fever.
There’s no easier way to get out into the woodlands and the scenic, silent beauty of a Northern Michigan winter. That’s probably why snowshoeing is literally the fastest growing snow sport today. Over six million people across the nation will strap on a pair of snowshoes and take a hike this winter.
“If you can walk, you can snowshoe, and even chew gum at the same time,” laughed Jeff Swanson, at Don Orr’s Ski Haus in Traverse City where they sell and rent snowshoes. “It’s really easy to pick up. We have a lot of first timers come in to rent the equipment and give it a try. There isn’t much of a learning curve.”
Unless you want to purchase a pair of snowshoes immediately, you can rent them at just about any of the outdoor/sporting goods outlets in the region. The cost is fairly nominal.

If you decide to purchase a pair be prepared to pay around $100 to $150 and up for good snowshoes. You can even get them with step-in bindings. I have a pair with one-snap bindings. No fumbling with frozen straps and frozen fingers. They are wonderful. Just make sure you have a good pair of warm boots to wear while snowshoeing.
If you are new to snowshoeing, you might want to start off with some easy outings along well known trails in some of our many area parklands.
Do stay off cross-country ski tracks, since snowshoeing damages the ski trail. All state land trails are open to both cross-country skiers and snowshoers, but it’s still a matter of being courteous to each other in sharing the trails by walking off to the side of a ski track. State land trails in northwestern Lower Michigan which are groomed strictly for skiing this winter are the VASA near Traverse City, the Cadillac Pathway, and Ogemaw Hills near West Branch.
The beauty about snowshoeing is that you can explore areas that you might not enter during warmer months. Here are a few suggestions for some of my favorite snowshoe outings in the northwest corner of the Lower Peninsula:

• Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore has three scenic trails that offer 1 1/2 to 2-mile out-and-back outings. Empire Bluffs is a 3/4 mile one-way trail that offers stunning overlooks of Empire, the valley and the Lake Michigan shoreline.
Pyramid Point Trail is about the same length and also offers panoramic views of the shoreline and Manitou Islands. Both trails emerge on sandy bluffs 300 or so feet above the lake; a bit of a climb, but worth it.
The Tweedle/Treat Farm Trail, located just south of Empire Bluffs off Norconk Rd., is the easiest of the three. The mile-long, one-way trail takes you through an early 1900s historic farm, with buildings still preserved, and over to the edge of a bluff overlooking Lake Michigan.

• Deadman’s Hill Overlook offers panoramic views of the Jordan River Valley, and snowshoes are perfect for the 3/4 mile trek to the overlook. The access road off U.S. 131, north of Mancelona, is plowed part way back. From the overlook, perched on a tall bluff about 400 feet above, you look out over the eastern end of the valley. Distant snow-covered hills blend into the horizon.
If you are up for a really good workout take the Jordan Valley Pathway down into the valley and back up. There’s a 3-mile loop. It’s a strenuous outing, but the beauty of the valley in winter and quiet solitude – if no snowmobiles are around – is priceless.

• The North Country Trail offers numerous snowshoeing opportunities. One of my favorite sections is near Tippy Dam north of Wellston. The NCT parallels the Manistee River, and you can access the trail where it crosses Drilling Rd., just north of Sawdust Hole Campground and the dam on the north side of the river. You park along the road, and it’s about a mile down to the river off the bluff. The NCT continues for another mile right along the river before it starts back up a wooded bluff on the far side of the valley. You could continue on, but I normally turn back at this point for a 4 mile round-trip outing. It’s beautiful and quiet, very tranquil.

• Go ‘old school’: Ever wanted to build your own pair of classic, wood-framed snowshoes? Hartwick Pines State Park is hosting a weekend build-your-own-snowshoes workshop Jan. 30-31. The cost is $160, which covers all materials. Detailed instructions on how to finish your shoes is given if they are not completed in class. The deadline to register for the workshop is Jan. 16. Call 989-348-2537 to reserve a spot or for more information.

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