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Comfortable in the woods

More than once in this space I have encouraged readers to get out and enjoy the natural beauty we so often take for granted in the Mid-Ohio Valley. I have suggested they should seek the joys of hiking on our many fantastic trails. An incident this past week made me realize I should clarify.

I have been hiking for as long as I could walk. I was raised by people who made sure I knew my way around the woods, and that I was always prepared. As a small child, I learned not to be surprised when, on a hike with my parents, we all stopped walking and I was suddenly asked to point in the direction I would need to walk to get back to the car. Sometimes I would be asked if I could hear which direction the road might be, based on the distant sound of cars, or if I could find a nearby stream or waterfall based on the direction of the sound of running water.

I hike with a backpack full of stuff I have never (yet) needed: flashlights, poncho, snacks (OK, I always end up eating those), extra water, extra jacket … you get the idea.

And a map. Whether it be paper or screen shots of an online trail map, I know not to trust cell service when I’m out in the woods. I know which color blazes will guide me through the trail (or trails) I intend to take.

My reaction, then, upon reading that a wildfire was burning 22 acres of the Wayne National Forest because some hikers got lost and set a signal fire was perhaps a bit unfair. I have hiked the Green Wood and Scenic River trails multiple times, and was having a difficult time understanding how anyone could get lost out there. But a fairer minded co-worker of mine pointed out it is easy to lose a trail when the leaves are down, as they are now.

Fine, I said, but there are blazes on the trail, for exactly that reason. Or, if you can’t find blazes, if you walk in just about any direction for a couple of miles you hit a road or someone’s property. Heck, these days, you can practically follow the gas lines.

But I suppose the reason I feel as though I would be calm enough to carry out such a thought process in a moment like that is because of the lifelong relationship I’ve had with the woods around here. People who are out exploring for the first time in their lives are likely doing so without the voice of their dad in the back of their heads saying “Pay attention to where you’re going! Did you pack a light?!”

Several months back, I was driving to a different trail head that is part of the same trail system in that area, and stopped on my way to confirm with a gentleman who was driving the opposite direction that I was nearing the trail. (This was on the kind of dirt back road where you can get away with that sort of thing.) He gave me a judging look and asked a bunch of questions to make sure I knew what I was doing, because he said he has had to be part of “lots” of rescue efforts out there.

I was surprised at the time, but it seems I should not have been.

I still hope people will get out and explore. The Green Wood and Scenic River trails are beautiful (with the exception of a 22 acres scar nature will begin to heal immediately). But please, folks, read the maps and know where you are going before you set out, and how long the trail is. Make sure someone else knows where you are. Take a whole bunch of stuff you will probably not need. Understand your surroundings. And pack a light that can be used both as a signal, or simply a means of seeing the trail if it takes longer than you think to make your way back to the car. Don’t set a fire you don’t know how to contain.

Most importantly, if you do not think you will remain calm enough to figure out how to get out of the woods safely, and without causing damage to the forest or creating a major inconvenience to rescue crews, start smaller. Get comfortable with the woods or go with someone who has been there before.

It’s worth the effort.

Christina Myer is executive editor of The Parkersburg News and Sentinel. She can be reached via e-mail at cmyer@newsandsentinel.com

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