As the coronavirus pandemic dragged on through most of 2020, the staff at Howard County Conservancy saw a huge increase in the number of hikers and walkers using their trails. Unable to offer any programs or answer questions as the Nature Center’s doors remained closed, the staff started looking at ways to connect with their guests.
“We’ve had so many new visitors come and find us,” said Meg Boyd, executive director of the Howard County Conservancy. “We want them to keep coming back.”
While virtual events, including guided tours, nature talks and “how-to” classes, take place on its Facebook page, the conservancy also offers in-person events. These include school’s out/science programs every Wednesday, field experiences with learning stations and guided hikes, including Wild Walks and Serendipity Hikes.
Participation is limited and social distancing and the wearing of face masks are required. A portable toilet with hand sanitizer is also now available in the parking lot.
For the new year, the conservancy is hosting a new winter challenge. Beat Cabin Fever! challenges families to either hike, run or walk 50 miles, or to complete a bingo card that includes such squares as “Find a plant with a seedpod” and “Give a tree a hug!”
“It is really designed to encourage people to get active in the winter,” Boyd said. “With COVID, we had such a huge influx of people … we did not want it to stop.”
Individuals or families who register for the challenge, which runs from Friday through Feb. 15, will receive a free limited-edition winter hat.
“We wanted to make sure people had the equipment they needed to stay warm,” Boyd said, with a chuckle, of the fleece-lined hat that features the Howard Conservancy logo. “It is quite nice. Very comfy.”
Participants can complete their 50-miles however and wherever they want, Boyd said. The bingo card is like a scavenger hunt, Boyd said, with the majority of the items located on the conservancy’s grounds. Participants are encouraged to take photos of their experiences and post them on the conservancy’s social media platforms.
Prizes will be awarded through a raffle-type give away, Boyd said.
Lou Meyer and his family have participated in many of the conservancy’s programs over the years and have enjoyed hiking its various trails. Now, the Ellicott City-based family of four is planning to tackle both of the Cabin Fever challenges, Meyer said.
“We are at the conservancy so frequently,” said Meyer, whose 5-year-old son attends a weekly nature camp. “He knows the Hodge Podge Lodge and the beaver dam. When he gets excited, my daughter gets excited.”
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The conservancy, Meyer added, was a “tremendous resource” for the county, with its various activities, events and outreach programs.
“It started out as a way to get the kids outside. It has been a big part of our life,” Meyer said. “It is such a unique place. They have done a tremendous job putting some interesting programs together to get folks outside regularly.”
Janssen Evelyn, an honorary chair on the conservancy’s board, is looking forward to the distraction the challenge will provide.
“I am looking forward to doing this during the dog days of winter,” said Evelyn, an avid gardener who can’t wait for spring. “This is an excellent way to get people outside. Even though it is cold, just wear your long johns and your boots. You’ll stay warm and get some exercise.”
Admission to the conservancy and its trails is free, Boyd said, and donations are always welcome. The challenge, too, was designed as a fundraiser, with individuals encouraged to donate $40 to participate and families $60, with proceeds used to help keep the trails maintained, open and free for everyone to use.
“It has been a challenging year for everyone,” Boyd said, of 2020. “We had to cancel most of our programs. It has been a struggle to work through it. We’re looking forward to 2021.”
To register, go to howardnature.org.