The winter wonderlands at Rocky Fork and Paint Creek state parks could quickly turn dangerous if hikers and cold weather fisherman don’t take proper precautions, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR), which encourages both Ohio residents and out-of-state visitors to exercise caution while hiking or ice fishing.
The recent stretch of cold weather has frozen most of the surface area of both lakes, and with temperatures expected to hover near the freezing point or drop even more by next week, ODNR Natural Resources Officer Adam Somerville told The Times-Gazette it’s important to remember that ice should always be considered dangerous.
“We like to say that no ice is safe ice. Even if the ice is thick enough to support a person, there could be a crack or a weak spot from an air bubble that will create a weak spot in the ice,” Somerville warned. “With the recent freeze and thaw cycles we have been having, that definitely compromises the ice stability.”
ODNR Director Mary Mertz said that even though the Buckeye State’s natural areas are beautiful in every season, winter time brings with it the necessity for advance planning before heading out.
The agency offered some cold basic weather safety tips that are common sense, but bear remembering:
• Dress warmly by starting with layers of insulating fabrics and then add a final layer of protective fabrics.
• Keep your head, neck and hands covered by wearing hats, scarves and gloves.
• Remember the Boy Scouts slogan: “Be prepared,” and pay attention to how you feel, and know when to seek shelter.
Ice fishing presents its own set of challenges, and the ODNR advised that ice anglers should prepare and share a “float plan” to let others know when they will be out on the ice and where they will be fishing, where they will park their vehicles and when they will return, and suggested:
• Always fish with a partner or in an area where several other anglers are present.
• Contact a local ice guide or bait shop to inquire about current ice conditions.
• Place the cellphone in a plastic bag to protect it from getting wet.
• Thoroughly check the thickness of the ice before venturing onto a frozen lake.
• Ice fisherman should always wear an approved life vest.
• Avoid areas with feeder streams, springs, bridge pilings, docks, and dam structures since ice at those locations can typically be very thin.
Hiking in the winter brings with it more preparation than hiking in warm weather, such as:
• Prepare by finding out the mileage of trails and their level of difficulty. The ODNR recommends that hikers go online to visitparks.ohiodnr.gov, and select the appropriate state park to see a map of the hiking trails. Contact the local park office for both trail and current weather conditions. The Rocky Fork State Park office can be reached at 937-393-4284, and the Paint Creek State Park store’s phone number is 937-981-7061.
• Check the weather forecast and have a plan if severe weather strikes. If inclement weather is expected, reschedule your trip for another time.
• Be sure to let others know where you will be hiking and what time you will return.
• Stay on the designated trail and follow the trail signs.
• Bring snacks and bottled water since the cold, dry air of winter can dehydrate hikers quickly.
• As a precaution, keep in mind that during the winter, frequently used trails can become packed down and icy, even if other parts of the trail are clear. Be aware of potential slick spots and always use caution while hiking.
• Wear sturdy waterproof boots and warm socks while hiking. Hand warmers can help on longer hikes.
Reach Tim Colliver at 937-402-2571.