By Carrie “Mudfoot” Stambaugh
A winter devoid of deep snow is the worst kind of weather in my book. If it’s going to be cold, there might as well be snow to decorate the barren landscape and provide some recreation opportunities.
Noticing a mild case of cabin fever had set into my soul over last few weeks, I took advantage of a spurt of unseasonal warm days mid-month to visit one of our local parks Greenbo Lake State Resort Park for an afternoon.
Greenbo is one of my favorite destinations in all seasons. It’s a quick drive away, and offers a host of activities and sceneries. I love paddling the clear waters in spring and fall and sitting in the cool shade along the shoreline in the hot summer watching the dogs swim. As with most places, the hiking is best in spring and fall, but the winter offers a different view of the familiar landscape and often a few surprises too.
On a sunny Saturday afternoon, I set out with my favorite hiking companions – my dad, husband and our two Golden Retrievers – all of us were eager to shake off our winter blues. The sky was brilliantly clear but a cold wind persisted in reminding us it was still the dead of winter.
Our chosen path for the day was the Michael Tygart Loop Trail, named for the frontiersman who settled here in the 1700s. Park maps and online descriptions of the trail indicate it is a 7-mile loop. However, if the loop is completed from its shared trailhead at the Jesse Stuart Lodge, I’ve mapped it at 8.7 miles.
After splitting from the Fern Valley Trail, the MTLT follows along the lakeshore before crossing the park road and ascending to the ridge above the Buffalo Furnace Cemetery. The hike is not a difficult one, but there are some rolling elevation changes that can get your heart pounding. (My Fitbit logged the hike as the equivalent to climbing 124 flights of stairs!)
In all seasons, the highlight of the hike is the Pruitt Fork ravine and valley. It follows what is in my opinion the low point of the hike, a short road walk. The unassuming Pruitt Fork grows in size as it weaves its way through the ravine and down into the valley, where you pass the ruins of former homesteads.
In the cold shade of the ravine, we noticed several tall ice formations where natural springs flow out of the hillsides and into the creek. These sculptures, with their intricate and delicate details, are momentary natural wonders.
Thick frost iced leaves on the forest floor, which was cool and damp. Only the songbirds calling to one another as they fluttered overhead broke the silence and breathed life into the dark here.
When we reached the point where the now-widened Pruitt Fork joins the main lake, we found it to be frozen solid, the afternoon sun shimmering on the sheer flat surface. A short distance around the lake, however, the ice gave way to water. Waves whipped by the wind lapped at the frozen edges creating a melody of rhythmic chiming.
The dogs did not hesitate to take advantage of the open water. After a few quick polar plunges, separated by rolls in the sunshine warmed leaves, they rejoined us on the now slightly muddy trail above the lake.
By the time, we looped back around the northwestern shore of the lake retracing our footsteps back to the lodge; both canines and humans were noticeably tired and ready for an evening inside by the fire. It was a perfect mid-winter reprieve.
Now back inside with a light layer of snow on the frozen ground and a cold wind howling, I think back to that afternoon in an attempt to try prevent yet another round of cabin fever from setting in.
Mudfoot’s Meanderings is published monthly in The Greater Ashland Beacon. This article was published Feb. 3, 2015