If you’re a dog owner, a hiker, a runner, a bicycle rider, a bird watcher, a playground enthusiast, the parent of a playground enthusiast, or even just the outdoorsy type then you’re more than likely familiar with a little malady I’ve come to think of as Favorite Park Burnout Syndrome.
Parks are built so we can have a safe and close to home way of enjoying nature, but they’re also meant to give us a little excitement. They’re our outdoor gyms and weekend escape locales, our jogging paths and fence-less zoos, but after too many visits they can begin to feel a bit stale.
To dogs, every park trip is fresh and new.
They become second homes, but that’s not how a park should feel. Driving to the same spot every single visit, knowing the location of every bump in the path, every fallen tree, and every water fountain as well as you know the arrangement of furniture in your living room. Adventure requires at least a few surprises. Like an overplayed song, the park begins to lose its soul.
Familiarity breeds contempt. Having near-photographic recall of an area creates
Favorite Park Burnout Syndrome.
I struggle with this myself. I bike, hike, and have two dogs with more energy than any suburban backyard can handle, which means I’m more than a little familiar with all the local parks. And I mean all of them.
Having lived in the Richmond area for over 37 years, I could navigate the paths of Bryan Park park blindfolded. I’ve been to Crump Park in Glen Allen so many times I could probably guess the number of steps it takes to get from the lake to the Sheppard family house (422). When I close my eyes I can see the entire James River Park trail system in Google Street View style (a.k.a. Terrain360.com style). And I’ve been to Belle Isle so many times there aren’t many wingless animals that could find their way from the east bank to the west faster than me. There’s no cure for cabin fever when you’re already outside.
But there is a way to prevent it. Winter.
Just as people go on and on about Spring; the newness, the freshness, the green, the colors (blah, blah, blah), winter is equally worthy of gushing descriptions, and just as vital to enjoying the outdoors. Winter shows the true beauty of nature without the makeup. Winter is the velvet rope that keeps one kind of person out of the parks and lets another kind in. A nice long walk in summer makes you long for the car, but a nice long walk in winter makes you long to walk some more.
The JRPS trails, like Buttermilk (shown here) are often much more lightly traveled in winter.
Winter makes old parks feel new. All along Buttermilk Trail, startlingly attractive views of the river can be seen through the framework of the now leafless branches. Mud puddles along the path we would usually think of as dirty, path-blocking obstacles can now be enjoyed as a cool, shiny invitation to test out the skate-ability (or, if the ice is too thin, the water resistance) of a new pair of hiking boots. All those annoying, stinging, biting insects…. gone. And you know that section of the park that’s kind of your favorite, but maybe gets a little too crowded during the summer months? Right now it’s as barren as the surface of the moon. All thanks to a gray sky and a chilly breeze.
So pull up out your extra thick socks, lace up your boots, grab the big coat, and put on (or go scrounging around the bottom of your closet for) your warmest gloves. A low temperature isn’t a reason to stay away from the parks. It’s a whole new way to enjoy them.