Draper parks are a winter wonderland for hikers and bird-watchersDec 14, 2018 11:43AM ● By Katherine Weinstein
Mehraban Wetlands Park in early winter. (Katherine Weinstein/City Journals)
By Katherine Weinstein | [email protected]
In the middle of a Draper neighborhood, Mehraban Wetlands Park offers a taste of the natural world on a winter afternoon. A recent visit found dark-eyed juncos bathing in puddles of melted snow, magpies flitting around bare tree branches and mallard ducks gliding on the pond. Mehraban Wetlands Park (11815 S. Riparian Dr.) is just one of the many parks in the Draper City park system.
This winter, many people in the Salt Lake Valley will head to mountain resorts to enjoy skiing and snowboarding. However, there are also low cost or free opportunities for outdoor winter recreation to be had more locally. Draper City Parks provides nearly 100 miles of hiking trails and parks to explore, even in the winter time. The Parks and Recreation Department offers a snowshoe and hiking class starting in January. Winter is also an excellent time of year for bird watching as many species migrate to the valley.
Draper City Trails and Open Space Tech Coordinator Rick Anton said, “Our winter programs are just about getting people outside and helping them to realize the opportunities for recreation even in the winter.” Anton has worked for Draper City Parks for five years and enjoys being a part of the city’s efforts to encourage a healthy lifestyle.
Draper City Parks snowshoe hiking class
Beginning Wednesday, Jan. 9, Draper City Parks will offer an introductory-level guided snowshoe hiking class. This will be a four-week program featuring a new trail every week to introduce participants to the winter recreation opportunities in their own backyards.
The trails are chosen based on weather conditions. “If there is little or no snow we will choose a trail with the best conditions, such as the South Maple Hollow area,” said Anton. Draper City Parks will provide snowshoes and poles along with information from the guide on area history as well as plants and animals that might be encountered along the trail.
Classes are held on Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to noon. Individuals age 14 and older are invited to sign up. The cost is $25 per participant.
Visit the Draper website for online registration or sign up in person at the Draper Parks and Recreation Office at 1020 E. Pioneer Rd. The office is located on the bottom floor on the west side of the building. The phone number to call for more information is 801-576-6571.
Tips for hiking in the winter time
Anton’s list of what to bring for the snowshoe hiking class on the city parks website is a good preparedness guide for anyone who wants to head outdoors for a hike in the winter. He specifically notes that wearing layers of clothing other than cotton is very important as cotton absorbs perspiration and can cause hikers to experience a drop in body temperature.
For the winter snowshoe hiking class, or any hike in winter weather, participants will need:
Winter boots — waterproof and insulated
Water (two quarts is recommended for 2–3 hours of strenuous activity outdoors)
Beanie or other type of warm hat
Sunglasses and sunscreen
Draper residents are especially fortunate to have such a variety of environments to explore within the park system. “Draper has a wide diversity of ecosystems from mountains to grasslands, to wetlands and the Jordan River,” said Anton. This variety makes Draper parks ideal for bird-watchers to see many avian species, from songbirds to birds of prey and waterfowl.
Bryant Olsen, conservation ecologist at Tracy Aviary in Salt Lake City, explained that “well over 200 species of birds make their home in the Salt Lake Valley in the winter time.” Bird-watchers can find “more ducks in the winter than in summer because we have milder winters,” said Olsen. Deep snow cover and ice that lasts for too long on their foraging habitats presents a challenge to the survival of waterfowl, who eat a diet of aquatic plants, grains, insects and worms.
Many species of ducks make the wetlands, ponds and rivers of the Salt Lake Valley home during the winter months. Olsen specifically mentioned mallards, common goldeneyes, wood ducks and hooded mergansers as common to valley parks in the winter time.
Birds of prey, or raptors, also increase in number in the Salt Lake Valley during winter, again because of milder temperatures and less snowfall. “We have a lot of birds coming in from areas to the north such as Idaho, Wyoming and Montana,” said Olsen.
The most commonly seen raptors include Cooper’s hawks, sharp-shinned hawks, red-tailed hawks and merlins. American kestrels are often seen in wide-open park spaces. Great-horned owls and western screech owls inhabit suburban parks as well, although they are usually very well camouflaged. All of these birds feed on small mammals and other birds, which are easier to hunt when there is less snow.
Visitors to Draper’s parks and trails in the winter also have a good chance of seeing dark-eyed juncos, scrub jays, magpies and house finches in addition to varieties of chickadees. Anton also mentioned that Mehraban Wetlands Park is “a great place to watch for migrating species such as the red-winged blackbird” at this time of year.
While bird-watchers often need to get up very early in the morning to see birds in the summer months, in the winter time, “birds start to become active around 9 a.m. after the sun warms things up,” said Olsen.
Bird-watching is a good hobby for people of all ages not only to get outdoor exercise but to cultivate an appreciation of nature and wildlife. Before setting out, beginner bird-watchers should do a little research on species common to the area. A good set of binoculars and a field guide to help with bird identification are essential to take along on a bird-watching hike. Free field guide apps are available online and easy to download.
Draper’s parks and trails, with their diverse and well-preserved ecosystems, are ideal for hikers and bird-watchers of all ages. Getting outside and enjoying nature is a great antidote to the gray days of late winter.