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Fresh air affairs

February 3, 2018 GMT

Winter isn’t all about being indoors. There are only so many cups of tea or hot chocolate — sipped beneath some cozy blankets while one stares out the window at the mind-numbing gray — that one can take. At some point, the covers must be thrown off!

This being rain country, it’s best to hoist on the trusty rain gear and make the best of it by setting out to see and to do something. An impressive selection of open spaces in our communities awaits, many of them featuring regular events at which to get your feet wet, no pun intended. For your efforts, you might see a gorgeous blue heron gliding through the air or watch with your children the slimiest, fattest banana slug you’ve ever seen cross your path. Area parks beckon with nature trails, play structures and plenty of surprises. As the days slowly lengthen, and the mild winter, so far, continues, why not stretch your legs, clear your mind or feel like a kid again? You’ll create a memorable outing to recall fondly when you’re housebound once again.

In Eugene

The city of Eugene’s First Saturday Park Walk starts at 9 a.m. Saturday at Clearwater Park in Springfield. Check out the park’s new disc golf course and enjoy gorgeous views of the Middle Fork Willamette River while you’re strolling along. Upcoming sites and dates for the monthly First Saturday Park Walk are Meadowlark Prairie, March 3; Hendricks Park, April 7 (you won’t want to miss exploring this gorgeous park, especially when the resident rhododendrons and azaleas start to bloom in May); Whilamut Natural Area, May 5 (inside Alton Baker Park, which also is home to Pre’s Trail); Wild Iris Ridge, June 2. Free; eugene-or.gov/139/Recreation.

Amazon Park, 22 Amazon Parkway, is a huge park in the heart of south Eugene. It features several amenities, including a brand new play structure — but the old dinosaur remains — as well as a shared-use trail great for walking and running. Teenagers will enjoy the skatepark, and there are tennis courts, fields for sports play and picnic tables (for those really dry days).

Delta Ponds, on Goodpasture Island Road and Alexander Loop in the Valley River Center area, includes trails and viewing stations to see wildlife in the surrounding ponds, wetlands and channels. Just the bird life alone will make you sorry if you forget your binoculars and the impressive bird check list available at http://rgne.ws/2E2G8Zg.

Take a bike ride on the paths coursing through the city of Eugene’s West Eugene Wetlands, with several entry points, including on Greenhill Road. Also, the Willamette Resources Education Network regularly holds Wetland Wanders and other activities perfect for families. To see what’s planned next, visit wewwild.blogspot.com.

Skinner Butte Park — RiverPlay Discovery Village Playground is a boon for playground lovers, what with its replicas of the nearby Skinner Butte Columns, a Kalapuya summer dwelling, a Pioneer Village, and many more climbable structures and slides all designed to teach youngsters about Eugene’s places and people. Find the park at 210 Cheshire Drive. And while you’re in the area, consider a hike to the top of Skinner Butte, or a short drive to the west side of the butte to watch climbers tackle the real columns.

For more information about other city of Eugene parks and natural areas, visit http://rgne.ws/2nlyiPY.

The nonprofit Nearby Nature organizes Nature Quest adventures for families from its yurt located in Alton Baker Park. The next family-paced adventure is a Rodent Roadshow, from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Feb. 17. Participants will search for rodents in trees, in the ground and under water. Also naturalist Dave Walp shares his pelt collection. $5. Register to attend at nearbynature.org. Folks who enjoy nature and children should consider volunteering to lead Nearby Nature walks. A new volunteer orientation is from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. March 6 at the downtown Eugene Public Library.

River Road Park, 1400 Lake Drive, is an extensive park that has a large playground structure with bridges and slides. Another plus, just in case it starts to really pour outside, there’s an indoor pool, open Saturdays and Sundays; rrpark.org.

In Springfield

Willamalane Park and Recreation District’s Thurston Hills Natural Area Grand Opening Celebration is from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday. Explore the newest trail network in east Springfield, featuring the North Access Trail, a 2-mile route that climbs the hills on the north side, then the 1.3-mile Spine Trail, traversing the upper portion of a ridge, to connect with a multi-use path on the south end. For the celebration, park at the Berean Assembly of God, 147 75th St. in Springfield and shuttle service is available to the trailhead; willamalane.org.

While in east Springfield check out several more parks with unique features, including the Rob Adams Park, 890 Mountaingate Drive. Now is the best time to see the park’s seasonal waterfall, which little explorers can gaze up at from a perimeter nature path that courses through a native wetlands setting. The play structure is pretty cool, too. Or, head to Ruff Park and Magnolia Arboretum, 1161 66th St., where hundreds of tulip magnolia trees will be in bloom as early as late March if this mild winter keeps up. Also, there is a trail encircling the perimeter of the arboretum property and a bridge crossing the creek, a great place to play Pooh Sticks, perhaps. At nearby Lively Park, 6100 Thurston Road, families can enjoy an extensive playground, a nature trail and an indoor pool should the inevitable sudden downpour drive you indoors.

For more information on Willamalane Park and Recreation District parks in Springfield, visit http://rgne.ws/2BDqVbA.

County and state

Mount Pisgah Arboretum, 34901 Frank Parrish Road, holds regular nature walks open to the public for $5 (unless otherwise noted) plus the $4 day-use parking fee. The walks go on rain or shine, and participants should meet at the visitor center. Upcoming outings are as follows: Learn about lichens and their habitats on a Lichens Walk from 10 a.m. to noon Feb. 10. A Winter Twigs Walk is from 10 a.m. to noon Feb. 17. Gail Baker will teach participants how to identify trees and shrubs in their winter stages. Julia Siporin and Joni Dawning lead monthly Bird Walks at the arboretum, with the next walk from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. Feb. 18. Siporin and Dawning share vocalizations, habitat and behavior clues to help participants find winter and year-round bird residents. Open to all levels of birding experience. Bring binoculars. There is an option to continue walking until noon, too. August Jackson leads a Flies and Flowers Walk from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. March 3. Participants will learn how to identify spring flowers and how flies play a role in early pollination of the wildflowers. Younger children might really like the Nature’s Slimy Creatures Walk, at which Jenny Laxton helps to uncover slugs, snails and worms from 10 a.m. to noon March 10; $8 per family, plus day-use parking fee.

A few spots remain for a guided tour of Turtle Flats, a 62-acre floodplain where the Middle Fork and the Coast Fork of the Willamette River meet in the Howard Buford Recreation Area, from 10 a.m. to noon Feb. 17. Chris Orsinger, executive director of Friends of Buford Park & Mount Pisgah, leads the 2-mile tour along gravel roads to see the habitat of river otters, western pond turtles, waterfowl and more. Must be registered to take the tour; bufordpark.org.

Really interested in birds? The Lane County Audubon Society’s next Third Saturday Bird Walk is Feb. 17. All ages and skills are welcome. Bring binoculars. Park location will be posted on laneaudubon.org. $3 donation is appreciated. Also, the Audubon Great Backyard Bird Count is from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. Feb. 17 at Row River Nature Park in Cottage Grove. Participants will search for a variety of species and count as part of a nationwide effort to record a real-time snapshot of bird populations. Wear weather appropriate clothes and bring binoculars, a bird ID book, snacks and water. Park by the former BMX track at the east end of the big parking lot on Row River Road. Call 541-767-9717 to RSVP; coastfork.org.

Lane County’s Armitage Park, 90064 Coburg Road, is set right against the McKenzie River just north of Eugene. It features the Crilly Nature Trail, a half-mile stretch along the river and within the campground woods. The park requires a $4 day-use fee. For a list of other county parks that require a day-use fee, visit http://rgne.ws/2fOGmXi.

Elijah Bristow State Park off Highway 58 in Dexter presents a beautiful network of trails adjacent to the Middle Fork Willamette River. The trails are open to hikers, and some paths are designated for horseback riders. The trails vary in length to suit adventurers’ needs (for runners, the Bristow Trail Runs are Saturday). Note that some paths are impassable in the winter if the river runs high. No day-use fees here.

North of Eugene, the William L. Finley National Wildlife Refuge, 26208 Finley Refuge Road, is holding its Winter Wildlife Field Day from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. March 10. This year’s theme, appropriately, is “Our Big Backyard.” There will be activity stations, an obstacle course, guided nature walks, arts and crafts, and more. Free; fws.gov/refuge/william_l_finley.

For coastal explorers at seaside state parks, watch for Spring Whale Watching Week, March 24-31. Volunteers will be stationed at parks (a list of sites is at oregonstateparks.org), including the Heceta Head Lighthouse State Scenic Viewpoint north of Florence, to answer questions about whale migration. There is a $5 day-use fee at Heceta Head, where even just plunking down on the sand to watch the storms roll in, or walking up to the lighthouse may be outdoor adventure enough.

Follow Christine on Twitter @CSherkRG. Email christine.sherk@registerguard.com.