Looking to get outside to beat the winter blues this year? Fox Island may be just the place for you.
The 605-acre park offers a wide variety of cold-weather activities that will let folks get back to nature, even during the colder winter weather. Cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and trail hiking are among the most popular activities at the Allen County park, located at 7324 Yohne Road.
“On a good day, there are a couple hundred people out here,” said Ron Zartman, Park and Education Manager for the Allen County Parks Department. “A lot of people are out skiing, and about 50 to 100 are out hiking.”
He also noted that park use has been down slightly this year, thanks mostly to the unusually frigid temperatures. But also, there must be at least 4 inches of snow on the ground for people to be able to cross-country ski, Zartman said.
Skiers can bring their own skis, or even rent them from the park. Cross-country ski rentals are by the hour. For those 12 years old and under, the cost is $5 per hour. Anyone over that age pays $6 per hour.
Zartman noted that the benefits of getting out at Fox Island are multi-faceted.
“The biggest benefit,” said Zartman, “is just being out in nature. People can go out there to find solitude and find a variety of habitats and wildlife.”
The history of the park is a long and storied one. Archeological evidence shows that the park’s land was once used by the Native Americans. Remains of a frontier-era home has also been discovered on the land.
In the 1800s and before, the land was used as a portage frequented by the French, English and Native Americans as they traveled from Lake Erie to the Wabash and Mississippi Rivers. Later, the land was used to harvest lumber, and a Christmas tree farm was even once located on the park’s property.
Before 1971, the land suffered through much abuse and misuse. But, in that year, an effort to preserve the land was pushed, and it became Allen County’s first park and nature preserve. It officially opened with the name Fox Island in 1984, according to Zartman. In 1986, the first buildings were constructed in the park – the Vera Dulin Wildlife Observatory, named after a long-time park volunteer.
One skier who recently traversed the trails at Fox Island was Deanna Davis Arnold.
Arnold, a 55-year-old pretrial services coordinator at DeKalb Community Corrections, said she has frequented the park and its ski trails with a group of mothers and their children.
“It’s a wonderful place for kids,” Arnold said. “Unspoiled and vast. It’s structured but also allows for privacy.”
Upcoming events at Fox Island include the Great Backyard Bird Count, on February 16, 17 and 18. Birders from around the country will observe the wide variety of bird species found in Allen County. Bird scientists – more properly called ornithologists, will use the collected data to compare bird survival rates from year to year.
On April 2, the park will host the Junior Indiana Master Naturalist Day Camp. Designed for kids ages 9 to 12, the camp is aimed at youth who “are really nuts about nature and outdoor play.”
Students will learn about reptiles, butterflies, spiders, birds, frogs, local geology and soils, plants and much more.
People can check on the current cross-country ski conditions by visiting the Parks Department website, at www.allencountyparks.org.
Arnold said she just likes the opportunity the park gives to get outdoors.
“It’s a great place for groups to meet up and get outside for fresh air and exercise without worrying about traffic,” Arnold said.