Brett Sieberer, an interpretive naturalist at the Lowry Nature Center in Victoria, prefers the park when it’s enshrouded in snow, at least when he’s leading a full-moon walk.
“If it’s a crystal-clear night, the whole place lights up,” and shadows spread across the landscape, he said.
Several sites in the Three Rivers Park District are offering full-moon walks on March 5. The monthly walks, which have themes linked to the seasons, emphasize everything from snowshoeing to maple syrup in the wintertime.
The program dates to the 1980s. A children’s book titled “Walk When the Moon Is Full,” by naturalist Frances Hamerstrom, provided some inspiration, according to Lee Ann Landstrom, outdoor education supervisor at Eastman Nature Center in Dayton.
Just as in the book, the idea is to discover the “neat things happening at night,” Landstrom said.
During the guided walks, people’s eyes adjust to the dark. The naturalists don’t use flashlights, as “there’s enough ambient light,” she said.
The mile-long walk is leisurely, but it’s also educational. “We talk a little bit about special astronomical events,” she said. “Then we talk about phenomenology, happenings in nature, birds migrating, frogs, flowers in bloom,” depending on the time of year.
Eastman is located in a sugar maple-basswood forest. A naturalist will go over the process of collecting sap and boiling it down into syrup, Landstrom said. Ice cream sundaes topped with homemade maple syrup that’s produced on site will be served.
Similarly, at the Lowry Nature Center, “we talk about the trees, what needs to happen weather-wise for this to work” and maple syrup tapping’s origins with Native Americans, said Sieberer.
Sieberer takes people through a forested area, around the far west end of Crosby Lake and an open prairie. In the winter, groups stroll across the frozen lake.
A cluster of picnic tables that can be found in the middle of a prairie makes for a good respite. “After going through the forest, the prairie seems vastly different. It’s wide open with an amazing view of the moon — a giant, shiny orb,” Sieberer said.
Here, he directs people to “sit and listen for 30 seconds.” One might hear the call of a barred owl or a coyote or even the ice booming on Crosby Lake.
Of the owls, Sieberer said, “We’re getting into the time when they’re pairing up, sitting in their nests.” Sometimes the group gets to hear two owls calling back and forth. “You often just hear silence, which is cool, too,” he said.
In the dark, senses other than sight kick in with fuller force. To demonstrate that point, Sieberer has people guess the contents of bottles filled with spices, cocoa and coffee.
Another way to take in the elements is by snowshoe. At Cleary Lake Regional Park in Prior Lake, participants begin on a groomed trail, according to Josh Sweet, program and facility specialist at the park.
Snowshoeing was a historic mode of transportation in Minnesota and throughout the world. It’s fun to step back in time that way, he said.
Sweet scouts out the trail conditions ahead of time to figure out where the snow is deepest. That’s needed for snowshoeing. The idea is to be able to travel off-trail, uphill and down and through the trees. “It gives people a feel for what it’s like to snowshoe.”
It’s a bit of a workout. “If you spread your weight out more, you can stay on top of the snow more,” Sweet said.
The group spends an hour on the trail, moving from station to station. At one stop, they even do full-moon trivia “to see how knowledgeable people already are about it,” by that point.
Sweet always hopes for wildlife sightings along the way, but that varies.
Regarding the owls and other birds of prey, he describes “what adaptations have to happen so they can survive and thrive when the sun is down, to make them capable of silent flight.”
For example, owls’ eyes and ears are positioned to facilitate hunting in the evening hours.
Sweet likes to imitate the call of a barred owl. He says, “Who who, who cooks for you,” and waits to see if an owl responds to him.
Near the end, Sweet sets up a high-powered telescope in the darkest spot he can find. It gives people a close-up view of the moon — one can even see craters, where meteors have crashed on its surface, he said.
The program is a unique way to explore the park. “I hope people have a lot of fun. That’s the whole point,” Sweet said. “And we also hope they learn something.”
Anna Pratt is a Minneapolis freelance writer. She can be reached at email@example.com.