One of the most common misconceptions about the winter is that it limits the amount of fun you can have at your local and state parks. While it’s true that you can’t enjoy some warm weather activities like swimming, kayaking and sunbathing, there are plenty of opportunities for adventure at your parks. From sledding and ice skating to geocaching and birdwatching to hiking and hunting, there is lots of seasonal fun to be had outdoors during winter.
While you should always take the necessary precautions to stay safe when outdoors (regardless of the season), winter weather does impose some extra risks if you’re not properly prepared. To help you avoid any winter-related risks during your outdoor adventures, we’ve compiled this list of helpful safety tips!
Confirm Any Closures or Restrictions
While most parks continue to operate during the winter season, there may be times when certain parts of the park are closed or access is restricted to the public. This may be due to a variety of factors such as weather conditions, hazardous roads or trails, or other factors that may impose a risk to public safety. So, if you are planning to hike a trail, skate on a lake or go sledding, be sure to check the park’s website or call your park ranger/parks department to confirm that there are no restricted areas before you make your way to the park.
Monitor the Weather
A gentle rainshower during a summer’s day doesn’t typically ruin a good time in the park (it may actually be refreshing if it’s one of those particularly humid summer days in PA). The same can’t be said for winter. While the forecasted snowstorm may end up resulting in a few flurries, you should never take that chance.
It’s always a good idea to start monitoring the weather forecast a few days before your planned park trip. That way you can reschedule your visit if the weather is predicted to take a turn for the worse. Even if the earlier forecast calls for clear weather on the day of your planned visit, it’s always a good idea to check the weather forecast on the day of your trip. You never know when the winds will change and bring colder temperatures, freezing conditions and other risks that could prove harmful to you and others.
Wear Appropriate Clothes
Dressing appropriately for the outdoors is also important. But it’s even more critical in the winter. Since the temperature fluctuates fiercely on winter days, we recommend dressing in layers. If you arrive at the park to find that the weather is more pleasant, you can easily remove that extra shirt or get by with a lightweight fleece jacket. If the temps drop, you can easily put your heavier coat back on. When it comes to winter weather, it’s always best to have too much apparel than not enough.
Pack the Right Gear
Much like dressing appropriately, you must make sure that you have the right accessories in hand before you partake in winter outdoor activities. Even though most phones have a GPS application, bad weather or the remoteness of the park may interfere with its functionality. To avoid getting lost in the park or forests, be sure to pack a map and/or compass to help navigate your way back to safety.
Although you may think sunscreen is strictly for summer, the sun’s rays are even more harmful in the winter – especially if they have lots of sun to reflect off of. Be sure to apply sunscreen to any exposed skin and wear a hat or head covering. Dehydration is still a concern even in the winter, so be sure to bring a reusable water bottle with you and refill it at water stations or fountains when necessary.
Since there’s less daylight in the winter, you should keep a flashlight handy. And packing a first-aid kit is a necessity. Even if you’re just going to the park to enjoy a leisurely walk, you never know when you may slip on a patch of ice and scratch your hand. Remember: it’s always better to be safe than sorry.
Know the Warning Signs of Frostbite and Hypothermia
Exposure to extremely cold or freezing conditions can result in two very serious cold-weather illnesses: frostbite and hypothermia.
Frostbite is an injury caused by freezing conditions that affects the fingers, toes, ears, nose and cheeks. If frostbite is severe, it could possibly result in surgery or amputation.
The warning signs of frostbite include:
- Numbness in the extremities
- Discolored skin or loss of color in the affected area
- Firm, stiff or waxy skin
- Prolonged exposure to extremely cold temperatures can cause the body to lose heat faster than it can produce it. This reduces body temperature which affects the brain causing issues with mobility, coordination and comprehension.
The warning signs of hypothermia include:
- Severe shivering
- Slurred speech
- Shaky hands
If you or anyone in your party experiences any of the above symptoms, please seek medical assistance immediately. Both of these conditions are serious and the sooner they can be treated the better the outcome will be.
Practice Safe Hunting
Hunting season with regular firearms typically begins a few days after the Thanksgiving holiday and lasts until the middle of December. Pennsylvania’s local and state parks/forests offer and monitor plenty of designated hunting grounds for licensed residents.
While all first-time PA hunters are required to take and successfully pass a hunter education course, it’s always a good idea to go over some of the most relevant hunting safety tips as a refresher for others.
- Review and obey all PA hunting, wildlife and gun safety laws
- Wear a hunter orange vest and hat at all times to ensure that you’re clearly visible to all surrounding hunters in the area
- Never shoot at sound or movement – big game is not the only thing in the woods
- Be sure that your firearm has been properly cleaned and sighted to avoid any malfunctions or accidents
- Always identify your target before you pull the trigger
- If you’re an inexperienced hunter, join an experienced hunting party instead of hunting alone
- Report any violations by other hunters to the game warden and/or local law enforcement officials