Winter outdoor opportunities
Sledding, hiking, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, ice skating
By Angie Landsverk
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues into the winter months, local parks officials encourage people to explore area trails and parks.
“With COVID-19, there is still the recommendation to be outside, be active, get fresh air,” said Andrew Whitman, Waupaca’s parks and recreation director.
He said people are fortunate to live in a area where there are many opportunities to be active outdoors during the winter months.
The city’s River Ridge Trail system encompasses 24-plus miles, Whitman said.
“It is open all winter,” he said. “If there is light snow or no snow, we encourage people to walk on the trail all year.”
The Parks and Rec Department plans to continue grooming the trail’s loop around Swan Park this winter, as it has the past few years.
Whitman said people can use that groomed loop for hiking, snowshoeing and even cross-country skiing.
The sled hill at Swan Park also opens once there is enough snow.
In addition, the city plans to make an ice skating rink near the lower shelter on Shadow Lake once the ice is thick enough.
“We will hope for good ice and do our best to maintain it,” Whitman said.
Shadow Lake is a also a popular spot for ice fishing.
The department is running a Virtual Youth Ice Fishing Tournament from Jan. 11 to Feb. 14.
It is open to anyone age 18 and under, said Kassandra Humke, the city’s recreation program supervisor.
“Participants will try to catch the biggest Northern, Bluegill and Perch with prizes awarded for the biggest fish caught in each category,” she said.
Bank First is donating the prizes.
Participants are able to fish anywhere, as long as they adhere to state laws and physical distancing recommendations, Humke said.
“In order to enter your catch into the tournament, photos will need to be emailed in to the Park and Rec with a secret code that will be emailed out the first day of the tournament,” she said.
The cost to enter the tournament is $10.
People may register at www.waupacaactive.net, by calling the department at 715-258-4435 or by stopping in at the Rec Center.
The department’s plan for this winter includes a medallion hunt as well.
Whitman said this activity involves hunting a medallion on public property somewhere in the city and then giving clues.
The winner gets a prize.
With 250-plus acres of parks in the city, the idea is to help people discover more public spaces in Waupaca.
John Harris, Waupaca County’s parks director, also has some winter outdoor recreation ideas.
“We operate and maintain a Winter Recreation Trail that is open to the public on the grounds of the Waupaca Country Club,” he said.
A map and details are posted on waupacacounty-wi.gov under Parks and Recreation.
“This trail is open, when snow conditions are acceptable, to skiing (classical and skate), fat-tire biking and snowshoeing,” Harris said. “There is a fee for this trail.”
He noted that Hartman Creek State Park has ski trails as well as groomed single-track fat-tire bike trails.
In addition, most sections of the Ice Age Trail are open to winter hiking and snowshoeing.
“Our parks are open to foot traffic all year, even if the gates are closed to vehicle traffic,” Harris shared. “Taking a walk around the park road at Keller Park is nice way to get outside. Most of the road is used as a snowmobile trail so it is groomed which makes walking much easier. Bring a pair of snowshoes or skis and do some exploring.”
He said the Iola Winter Sports Club is also open to the public and offers skiing, snowshoeing and ski jumping, as well as other activities.
Another outdoor option this time of the year is ice fishing.
Harris describes it as a “fun activity that can be done with a minimum investment in equipment.”
There are many water access points in the county park system that allow the public a place to access the best fishing areas. he said.
The parking areas at some of the more popular ones are plowed.
Some people may discover new outdoor recreation activities as a result of this time.
Mitch Swenson said Waupaca and the surrounding area offer many opportunities to satisfy the growing popularity of silent sport activities.
He is the vice president of tourism at the Waupaca Area Chamber of Commerce and Convention and Visitors Bureau.
The bureau launched a 72-page “Silent Sports Guide” several years ago, Swenson said.
The intent was to direct silent sports enthusiasts to some of the most noteworthy venues in the greater Waupaca area.
He said the project was a collaboration.
It involved pulling resources together with the help of representatives from many organizations, including the county, city, Friends of Hartman Creek State Park, Cronie’s Bike Trail, Bike Iola, Jorgens Park and the Iola Winter Sports Club.
The guide, which has maps and descriptions of area facilities, was updated in 2019.
Printed copies are free and available at the bureau’s office, 315 S. Main St., in Waupaca.
People may also visit WaupacaMemories.com to view the guide online.
“I think the pandemic has opened the eyes to people that we do need to get outside more,” said Whitman. “I hope people continue in the future to use the trails and parks and realize how lucky we are to have all these things to do,”