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the tamarac winter hike is a chance for people of any age to strap on a pair of snowshoes (or boots if there isn't significant snow) and explore the Minnesota wildlife in the winter. Explorers will investigate animal tracks, hibernation and how some animal's feet help them travel in snow.

Tamarac Winter Hike

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Wintertime in Minnesota doesn't just mean freezing, cold temperatures -- it means a quiet hibernation, wildlife adaptation and amazing survival stories.

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It's not just snow covering the ground -- it's evidence tapped into that snow that reveal a thousand stories about the animals that surround us.

Tamarac Wildlife Refuge sits at our back door like a big storybook, left unread, that contains the exciting adventures of thousands of species.

Experts at Tamarac will be sharing those stories during their Winter Hike, coming up on Sunday, January 8.

The event is free and open to the public.

"We're going to meet at the Visitor's Center," said Park Ranger Kelly Blackledge, "and from there we're going to start looking for stories in the snow."

Those stories include examining animal tracks and what they indicate.

"For instance, we'll take a look at rabbit tracks to see what direction they're traveling," said Blackledge.

"People usually think they're going one way, but because of the way they hop, with their back feet swinging in front of their front feet when they land, it throws people off -- they're actually going a different direction than what they think."

Wildlife experts will also be digging into the idea of hibernation.

Blackledge says out of the approximately 50 mammals they have around the refuge, only four of them are truly hibernators.

"Often times people think certain animals hibernate, when really they're just what we call torpors -- animals that take really long naps," she says. "So we'll examine what makes a real hibernator."

Blackledge says while ground squirrels truly hibernate, chipmunks do not, as they wake up periodically throughout the winter to snack on their nuts and seeds.

"Some of the true hibernators include woodchucks, bats and ground squirrels," says Blackledge, adding that the ground squirrel has an active heart rate of 80 beats per minute, but drops down to four or five when it's hibernating.

"Some scientists don't even consider bears true hibernators, because their body temperature and heart rate doesn't drop very much, so it's still a bit of a mystery," says Blackledge.

Another thing hikers will explore during the event is the feet of wildlife and how they travel in winter.

"Some have big, furry feet so they can walk on top of the snow, or grouse have specially designed feet so they can walk on top of the snow," says Blackledge. "So if we get some more snow by then, we'll make our feet big too, with snowshoes."

Blackledge says Tamarac does have some children's snowshoes to loan out for free, but adults should bring their own.

If there is no significant snow for the event, she says they'll simply hike the roughly half mile of wilderness.

She advises dressing in layers, as the hike is expected to take about an hour.

She also says if it's extremely cold, they will move activities indoors.

"This is the time of year when people get that cabin fever," says Blackledge. "Families visiting for the holidays are gone, and this is a great chance to get right outside and explore nature."

Hikers interested in taking part in the free Tamarac Winter Hike should show up at the Visitor's Center on Sunday, Jan. 8 at 2 p.m.

For more information, call 218-847-2641.

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