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Outdoor ideas in Howard County for stepping into the new year

Walk across the Bollman Truss Bridge, an antique iron truss bridge in Savage, during the New Year's Eve or New Year's Day walks organized by Free State Happy Wanderers.
Walk across the Bollman Truss Bridge, an antique iron truss bridge in Savage, during the New Year's Eve or New Year's Day walks organized by Free State Happy Wanderers. (Photo by Nicole Martyn)

Ringing in the new year often means parties and toasts at midnight. For those looking for something a little more low-key or perhaps want to get a jump on a New Year’s resolution, take a hike outdoors and experience nature during the winter.

As president of the Free State Happy Wanderers, Bob Wolfe has helped organize over 20 New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day walks through the Savage area.

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“It’s like the turkey trots on Thanksgiving,” Wolfe said. “It gets people out.”

An American Volkssport Association club, an organization promoting non-competitive 3.1-mile walks that originally started in Germany, the Free State Wanderers welcome anyone to join in for the New Year’s walks, which take place between 8:30 a.m. to noon with a finish by 3 p.m., both days and costs a nominal fee of $3.

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“Walks typically take about an hour,” Wolfe said. “It’s pretty much all on sidewalks with some natural surfaces in Savage Park.”

Close to 300 people have walked in the past, he said. As New Year’s Eve is on a workday this year, Wolfe believes the numbers might go down a bit, though he estimates about 150 to 200 people will come.

“Walks take place rain or shine. We don’t stop for the weather unless it is a hurricane or 18 inches of snow and people can’t get out,” Wolf said. “My wife had to get used to walking when there was a little bit of snow on the sidewalks and it was cold outside.”

He recommends people dress in layers and bring water, which will also be available at the event.

“When you walk, you generate some heat,” Wolfe said. “Wear a hat and gloves.”

Volksmarch members can earn event stamps for both days as the trails are official AVA walks.

“Usually most weekends, there are events that clubs put on,” said Wolfe, mentioning an event in Annapolis that ended near the lighted boat parade and a walk in Baltimore down the Miracle on 34th Street light display.

For the New Year’s walks, there will be tables set up on both days offering information about the club and AVA. There will also be food — including soups, bratwurst and a bake table — for sale.

“All of this is the social aspect,” Wolfe said. “It’s a fun, first thing to do New Year’s event.”

Robinson Nature Center will host a New Year Nature Hike and Cider-Sipping on Jan. 4.

“Things seem dormant and like nothing is going on, but that’s not true,” said Joshua Detweiler, lead environmental educator at Robinson. “There are still mammals active and some plants, too. We have a lot of winter birds that like to stick around.”

While he cannot guarantee the spotting of wildlife during the 45-minute guided hike, he will talk about winter’s effect on animals and the landscape.

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“There is nothing set in stone,” Detweiler said. “Really, there is anything we could potentially see.”

He does know for certain that once back at the center, participants will see how to make mulled cider and get a sample.

The center’s popular Frozen Festival will take place on Jan. 19.

“It’s our big winter event,” Detweiler said. “We’ll have all sorts of activities throughout the day.”

Guided nature walks and a live animal presentation are some of the highlights. An ice cream sandwich bar, costumed characters and frozen experiments are also planned.

A new program this year, Your Family’s Tree, will allow participants to decorate a tree along the center’s trails on Feb. 1.

“Any type of tree you like, as long as you can reach it,” Detweiler said. “Natural materials, like dead leaves and sticks, will be used. We may use paper materials to cut out snowflakes.”

Inside, participants will learn about the numerous species of trees in Maryland and their history while enjoying hot cocoa floats.

“You never know what people will enjoy,” Detweiler said. “We try to keep things fun and exciting.”

The trees will remain decorated until spring, when the first buds appear, so people can enjoy them, as the center’s trails are open Wednesdays through Fridays, all year long, not just during events, Detweiler said.

Freestate Happy Wanderers’ New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day walks will take place Tuesday, Dec. 31, and Wednesday, Jan. 1, from 8:30 a.m. to noon, beginning and ending at Savage Methodist Church, 9050 Baltimore St. $3. 410-437-2164.

Robinson Nature Center, 6692 Cedar Lane, Columbia, offers the following events, 410-313-0400:

  • New Year Nature Hike & Cider-Sipping will take place on Saturday, Jan. 4, from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. $9.
  • Frozen Fest will take place Sunday, Jan. 19, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. $7-$10.
  • Your Family’s Tree will take place Saturday, Feb.1, from 2 to 4 p.m. Register by Thursday, Jan. 30. $30 per family.

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