Lots of winter activities at Sarett

Published 12:08 pm Friday, December 20, 2013

Sarett 11 JM_aj

Staff naturalist Mike Mahler at Sarett Nature Center. Leader photos/Jill McCaughan

Celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, Sarett Nature Center has a long history of providing a wide variety of programs and activities for nature-lovers year-round.

“This is the place to come for the winter,” said Chuck Nelson, long-time director of the nature center at 2300 Benton Center Rd., Benton Harbor, Mich.

While Sarett helps to provide environmental education classes to over 25,000 students each year, the staff also makes sure that there are plenty of winter activities designed for individuals and families.

“We schedule stuff just for kids who’ll be at home and for moms who want to get out with them,” Nelson said. “We have winter snow games where we do lots of tracking and stuff for little kids, and measuring temperatures, and taking snow in and melting it and seeing how much water there is for the amount of snow that you pick up. Winter fun stuff. It’s all on our website. That’s the way to find out about everything. And it’s an easy one to find. It’s www.Sarett.com. We’re also on Facebook.”

In order to make the 1,000-acre preserve accessible to visitors in the winter, the Sarett staff has been working hard to clear trails for both snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. Sarett also caters to those who enjoy sledding, with staff members packing down a trail that makes climbing the sledding hill easier.

“We do have Pear Hill, and that is open for sledding in the winter. If people want to come out during the week, they can. Our trails are open from dawn to dusk,” said Mike Mahler, a staff naturalist who first began working at Sarett in 1997. “You should bring your own sled. It’s nice because on the hill where we have the sledding there are no trees. There’s nothing to worry about running into. There are probably four or five different paths they could take to sled down, and it’s not bad walking back up.”

In fact, Sarett has a special day of sledding at Pear Hill planned for Friday, Dec. 27, from 1 to 3 p.m. The cost is $1 for children, ages 7 years and older. Parents should call 927-4832 to register.

Snowshoeing is another activity that the whole family can enjoy at Sarett, as it requires neither experience nor special skills. While there are hundreds of pairs available to rent, Sarett even offers a class for people who would like to make a pair for themselves.

“For our class, we always make the Ojibwe snowshoes. It’s a four- or five-week class. We run it in October and into November,” Mahler said. “The class costs about $80. It’s a fun class. And, at the very least, if people don’t use them, it’s something they can put by the fireplace or hang on their wall and take some pride in knowing that they made something.”

“Snowshoeing is good because folks can use our regular trails,” Nelson said. “It’s a great activity, and we’re doing it full blast.”

“We never intended it to be an activity for preschoolers and first-graders and second-graders, but that’s our biggest use for snowshoes now. So, that’s why we just got a whole other set of tiny snowshoes,” Nelson said. “We like to say that if you can walk, you can snowshoe.”

A third way to explore nature at Sarett is by cross-country skiing.

“January and February are when we schedule nothing but snow activity, and it’s pretty well filled up with cross-country skiing and snowshoeing going on at the same time,” Nelson said. “Then, on the weekends, it’s a family activity and also a time for people who just like to ski.”

“Over the Christmas break period, we’ll also be open if people want to come in and rent cross-country skis and snowshoes,” Mahler added.

“You are welcome to bring your own skis. A lot of people do. We groom the trails. It’s about 8 miles of ski trails. We have some nice hills, and we have plenty of flat areas. So, if people want to avoid hills, they can do that,” Mahler said. “Usually, during the wintertime, we’ll schedule ski lessons a couple times, and that’ll be on the schedule on our website.”

According to the staff at Sarett, learning to cross-country ski is fairly easy.

“If you can walk, you can cross-country ski,” Mahler said. “You usually do a lesson in about an hour. You can even do it in less than that. It’s pretty easy,” Mahler said. “You can see birds, and if you’re lucky, you can see deer, rabbits and squirrels. It’s a good way to get out in the wintertime and enjoy nature in the winter.”

For those families who find that they enjoy skiing in the daytime, Sarett  provides the opportunity to try skiing at night as well, offering a few night skis and an event that they call the “Gourmet Glide.”

“The Gourmet Glide will be in January. If there’s snow, we’ll have 60 or 70 people come out for that. We’ll have a bonfire across the road,” Mahler said. “We’ll have hot cider and hors d’oeuvres. Everybody will ski the loop a couple times, and then we’ll head back in for a big potluck. It’s a fun, fun evening.”