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TMCNet:  Plenty to do to beat winter blues

[January 28, 2013]

Plenty to do to beat winter blues

Jan 25, 2013 (Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- WAVERLY, Iowa -- Some Iowans spend the bitter cold days of January cursing Old Man Winter. Braver souls make the most of the great outdoors.

Kip Ladage, a Tripoli outdoorsman and photographer, makes a point to venture out daily, camera in tow. Wildlife and nature are favorite subjects.

"Frost on pinecones, snow on pinecones, patterns on ice," Ladage said. "There are all sorts of things to take pictures of.

"You just have to have an open mind and an open eye and be out there to see it." While the lack of snow puts a damper on winter recreational staples like sledding and snowshoeing, outdoor enthusiasts insist there's still plenty to do.

Gateway Park in Cedar Falls offers free outdoor ice skating. Frozen rivers and lakes are dotted with ice fishers.

Cabin rentals at Fontana Park south of Hazleton are popular and almost full in February, said Sondra Cabell, a Buchanan County naturalist. Park patrons also turn out to ice fish and upcoming programs about backyard bird feeding and a sleigh ride quickly filled up.

"We get a lot of people that come out just for the winter," Cabell said.

She understands the draw.

"I love winter. I love the fact that when you go outside you are experiencing things that are different than other seasons but often times it's so much of a hush," Cabell said. "It's a chance to reflect and enjoy the peace and quiet." For the past six years, Dale Matthias has helped organize an up-and-coming tradition in Frederika. Earlier this month, 90 people registered for a three-person best shot snow golf outing.

Participants venture out onto a frozen river that, ideally, is covered with snow. Golf balls are exchanged for tennis balls and players try to hit the ball onto the green -- err, make that ice patch. Flags mark the spot and an ice fishing auger makes a semi-deep hole.

"It's kind of a unique idea but it's sure been a lot of fun, a lot of laughs," Matthias said.

Waverly's Hazard Mitigation and River Uses Commission, inspired by Frederika's twist on golf, hoped to bring the winter activity to their town but the lack of precipitation hindered their efforts. The city's Leisure Services Department coordinated winter-friendly activities for the first Snow Fest, offered today and Sunday, though snow-dependant events were cancelled or modified.

"The overall idea is to stay active even in the winter and these are different types of activities," said Tab Ray, director of Leisure Services. "You can try them and not do them later on and you can try them and do them later on." Tonight, the public is invited to turn out for Sweets and Star Gazing at 7 p.m. at Red Cedar Park in Waverly. Wartburg College physics and astronomy professor Charles Figura will be on hand with telescopes and binoculars to point out constellations. Boy Scout Troop 90 will serve up peach cobbler cooked over bonfires.

A chilly, January evening may not provide the most comfortable conditions for sky viewing.

"It's conducive for astronomy. It's not conducive for the astronomer," Figura said.

Those willing to brave the weather may be in for a treat. Cold air and cloudless skies generally make for clearer viewing. Earlier sunsets mean sky watchers don't have to stay up so late to get a good show.

"It's always a lot of fun to look up at the sky and learn something about it," Figura said.

Embracing winter is as simple as putting on lots of layers and a positive attitude.

"Winter is what you make of it. You can choose to stay inside and wait for spring, or you can get outside and play," Ladage said. "I choose the latter and the winter goes fast." ___ (c)2013 Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier (Waterloo, Iowa) Visit Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier (Waterloo, Iowa) at www.wcfcourier.com Distributed by MCT Information Services

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