Get outside and into nature with Snowshoe Discovery Tours of Canaan refuge

RICK STEELHAMMER | Gazette photos
Hikers hit the trail following a stop on an earlier Snowshoe Discovery Tour, sponsored by White Grass Ski Touring Center and Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge.
Dave Saville of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy gives a talk on the history of Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge during a previous Snowshoe Discovery Tour.
Participants in a previous Snowshoe Discovery Tour walk through a stand of red spruce trees in Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge.

For outdoor enthusiasts suffering from cabin fever during the winter doldrums, White Grass Ski Touring Center and Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge are offering a free cure: Snowshoe Discovery Tours.

Held on Sundays and holidays from December through March, the tours depart at 10 a.m. from the White Grass lodge off Freeland Road in Canaan Valley, where snowshoes are supplied, and move onto adjacent Refuge land.

The tours are led by a variety of experts in the fields of nature and local history, and generally last about two hours.

White Grass, West Virginia’s most popular cross-country ski area, extends its more than 30 miles of trails onto refuge property when it is covered with snow and cushioned from damage, through a special winter use permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The 16,000-acre refuge encompasses about half of all West Virginia’s wetlands on the valley floor, but extends into a mixed hardwood forest on the slopes of Cabin Mountain, and a red spruce forest near the mountain’s 4,100-foot summit.

Themes for the Snowshoe Discovery Tours have included the natural history of the valley, tree identification, the history of the Canaan Valley Wildlife Refuge, geology and climate.

No special skills are needed to sample snowshoeing — just average fitness and a willingness to plod outside in the cold and snow.

Those taking part should dress appropriately for the weather. When snow conditions aren’t favorable, participants substitute hiking boots for snowshoes.

Snowshoe Discovery Hikes remaining on this season’s schedule include one starting at 10 a.m. today focusing on the conservation and restoration of the region’s high elevation forests, led by Mike Powell, stewardship manager for The Nature Conservancy. On Feb. 16, White Grass owner Chip Chase will lead a one-hour walk at a leisurely pace to talk about the natural history of Canaan Valley.

On Feb. 22, ornithologist Casey Rucker will take participants to a variety of locations where birds find food and shelter when the snow flies. Animal tracks spotted along the way will be identified.

Thanks in large part to thousands of annual skier visits to the trail system at White Grass, winter is the busiest season for visitors to Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge.

For more information or to confirm a scheduled event, call White Grass Ski Touring Center at 304-866-4114, or visit its website at www.whitegrass.com.

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