Nighttime forest fun for the whole family

Credit: Jessica Hansbauer

Credit: Jessica Hansbauer

oonlight bathes the winding trail as an owl calls out softly in the darkness, the sights and sounds of the park after dark offer unique opportunities for adventure.

“It’s a whole new world at night,” said Erin Rowekamp, Five Rivers MetroParks naturalist. “New creatures and new experiences.”

Shorter fall and winter days do not mean you have to cut short your outdoor adventures. The MetroParks are open until 10 p.m. through the end of October and close at 8 p.m. starting Nov. 1. Nighttime MetroParks adventures are not only possible, they are encouraged.

“Some people think they aren’t supposed to be in the park after dark but, if the parks are open, we encourage people to get out and explore day or night,” Rowekamp said.

There are structured MetroParks group programs for children and adults alike, but a spontaneous night in the park can be fun for all ages.

“It doesn’t have to be something formal,” Rowekamp said. “It’s just fun for kids and their families to explore together.”

Preparation is key

A little preparation can go a long way toward creating a safe and enjoyable night out.

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Being familiar with the park or a particular trail is helpful. Perhaps explore the park by day before trying to navigate at night.

Dress for the weather – preferably in layers – with sturdy footwear and a hat or gloves for chilly nights.

“And bring a light, either a headlamp or flashlight,” Rowekamp said.

Sights and sounds

“At night, you will see different things, different creatures,” Rowekamp said. “In some cases, you will hear them but not see them.”

But with the crunching of leaves in the fall and snowy animal tracks in the winter, park visitors will know they are not alone. Spiders, in fact, frequently get to work at night hunting for food and building their intricate webs.

“With a flashlight, you can sometimes spot the sparkles that are actually spider eyes,” Rowekamp said.

With darkness descending earlier, there are plenty of opportunities to experience a moonlit adventure.

“And the really neat thing is when kids have this sort of experience, they feel more empowered – the parents too,” Rowekamp said.

Fun after Dark in the MetroParks

Nocturnal Adventure

What: A night hike just for preschool families. Discuss the differences between night and day, talk about our fears of the night, and explore pelts of nocturnal animals. Venture out in search of screech owls and attempt to lure one in close for children to see.”

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When: Nov. 12, 7-8 p.m.

Where: Hills and Dales MetroPark, Paw-Paw Shelter

Who: Children 3-6 and their family

Cost: Free

Spider ID Workshop

What: Learn common spiders of MetroParks with an interactive presentation with live specimens. Explore their biology and behavior and get a good look at the black widow and brown recluse spiders. Each participant should bring a spider from home to identify in class. The workshop will end with a 45-minute night hike in search for spiders in the wildflower garden.

When: Nov. 19, 6-8 p.m.

Where: Cox Arboretum, Mead Westvaco Theatre

Who: Age 14 and older

Cost: $5

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