BY BARB BERGGOETZ
A Champagne cork pops. Hot chocolate warms the hikers, as does a small fire in the park shelter. The group shares fruit and cheese and whatever else anyone has brought for lunch.
It’s a New Year’s Day tradition for Bloomington Hikers. The local hiking club celebrates each new year with an invigorating trek around Three Lakes Trail at Morgan-Monroe State Forest. “We generally do the whole 10-mile hike,” says group leader Fred Hanson, 70. “We get a pretty good turnout.”
While many people retreat from the cold, for 16 years these hikers have relished the expansive views, serenity, clean air, and snow-covered countryside of winter hikes. The group hikes every Saturday morning, year-round, in almost any weather, unless the wind chill is below zero or the snow is deep.
During winter, Hanson says, it’s interesting to see the ice formations along the canyon walls of McCormick’s Creek State Park trails and the Rock Shelter Trail at Morgan-Monroe State Forest.
“It’s just wonderful to get outside in the winter. I think it’s better than summer hiking,” says Carole Danner-Johns, 73, who has hiked with the club since 2001 and met her husband, Kent, on club hikes. “With the leaves off trees, it looks totally different. You can see the lay of the land.”
Club members, she says, hike for many reasons: to socialize, exercise, meditate, relieve stress, and enjoy nature.
Typically, 8–10 people join the weekly hikes, though sometimes as many as 20 show up. They meet at 9 a.m. at a central location and carpool to trail heads in the Charles C. Deam Wilderness Area, Yellowwood and Morgan-Monroe state forests, Brown County and McCormick’s Creek state parks, and other nearby locations. Hikes are usually 10–12 miles long, occasionally up to 17 miles. Some members do shorter hikes on Thursday afternoons, usually on the Pate Hollow Trail off State Road 446.
While the club has a core group of middle-age to older hikers, Danner-Johns says they welcome newcomers, especially younger people. The group hikes at a brisk pace of a mile in about 20 minutes, so Hanson says people need to be in good shape. But, he adds, they take short water breaks and a lunch break.
Information about hikes can be found on Google Groups under Bloomington Hikers.