By Coggin Heeringa, Program Director/Naturalist, Crossroads at Big Creek, Inc.
It’s a tad late to dream of a white Christmas, but we at Crossroads are dreaming of a white winter. The snow last week was glorious, and we know that people love to ski, snowshoe and now, kicksled on our trails, but we also know that snow cover is important for our environment.
When people say “snow blankets the ground,” it really is true. Snow is like a blanket or more accurately, like a down comforter or duvet.
Down comforters work because the fluffy down feathers trap air. Pockets of trapped air are insulators. They prevent the transfer of heat, which means they keep the warm in and the cold out.
Snowflakes are mostly air and when they gently fall to the ground, a significant volume of air gets trapped. How significant? Fluffy snow can be 90-95% trapped air and that trapped air keeps the cold from the soil.
Freshly fallen snow (allowing for differences in moisture content, of course) has approximately one R-value for each inch. So, eight inches of fluffy snow would have a rating of R-8. As an insulator, new-fallen snow is just about as effective as wood. Several years ago, during a winter field trip, students from Sunrise School were conducting investigations. One of their assignments was to take the temperature of the air and then to stick a thermometer deep into the fluffy snow and check the temperature.
Because they knew (from experience) that snow is cold, they expected the snow to be colder than the air. Surprise!
Though the kids were amazed, the creatures of the forest know it feels, and actually is, warmer under the snow. The other day, I scared a ruffed grouse out of its snowy roost. Grouse regularly sleep under a blanket of snow. Other birds and mammals sometimes dive into snow to escape bitter winds or predators.
Mice and voles tunnel, taking advantage of the space where stored heat within the soil melts the bottom layer of snow. Alas, these tunnels enable voles to tunnel from tender young tree to tender young tree, and we hope they don’t do too much damage to our 4000 new plantings.
Blankets of snow protect plants from both cold and wind. Plants are more likely to survive and thrive in years like this one (so far) when snow piles up before we get hit by a brutal stretch of subzero weather.
Each winter, when conditions allow, Crossroads offers its Ski-for-Free Program. One of those conditions is “enough snow to create a base.” Skiing in fluffy snow is possible, but difficult. So last winter, Crossroads (using proceeds from our Annual Trail Run) purchased a Ginzugroomer, a machine with a number of innovative attachments to groom and condition the snow. The most important of function of grooming is to compact the snow—to squeeze out the air so the trails are level and firm.
Last Wednesday, enough snow fell that our Land and Facilities Manager Nick Lutzke could groom the trails. While the snow lasts, on weekends, Friends of Crossroads and volunteers from Door County Silent Sports will lend winter sports equipment—free of charge to the residents and visitors of Door County.
When snow and temperature conditions allow, Ski- for- Free is open on Saturdays from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and on Sundays from 12:30 – 3:30 p.m. Please check the Crossroads website or Facebook page for current conditions and Ski-for-Free hours.
Friday, January 14
10:00 Junior Nature Club
Junior Nature Club, a group for preschool children and their companions, will look for animal tracks in the snow this week. Activities will be outdoors and there will be some time for unstructured play. Meet on the porch of the Collins Learning Center. Free and open to the public.
Saturday, January 15
9:30 am – 3:30 pm Ski-for-Free (conditions allowing)
On winter weekends, Crossroads offers our Ski-for-Free program when and if there is enough snow. Friends of Crossroads and volunteers from Door County Silent Sports will help participants find the correct sizes of equipment. We have skis, boots, poles, snowshoes and kicksleds. We keep our trails groomed IF we have an adequate base. Free and open to the public. Crossroads Workshop, 2041 Michigan Street.
2:00 Saturday Science-Snow!
This program is intended for students grade 1 and up, but families and learners of all ages are welcome to join. This week we will explore the properties of snow in the science lab and outdoors, so bundle up. This program is free and open to the public. Masks required. Meet at the Collins Learning Center.
Sunday, January 16
12:30 pm – 3:30 pm (conditions allowing)
On winter weekends, Crossroads offers our Ski-for-Free program when and if there is enough snow. Friends of Crossroads and volunteers from Door County Silent Sports will help participants find the correct sizes of equipment. We have skis, boots, poles, snowshoes and kicksleds. Free and open to the public. Crossroads Workshop, 2041 Michigan Street.
Wednesday, January 19
2:00 pm – 3:00 pm Wild Ones Video-Oak
This presentation is available on-line, but many enjoy gathering to watch the video as screened in the Collins Learning Center lecture Hall. Drawing from his book, The Nature of Oaks (2021), renowned entomologist Dr. Doug Tallamy offers a month-by-month guide to observing and identifying the growth of oak trees and the living creatures that depend upon oaks for food and shelter. Oaks perform critical ecological functions: they support biodiversity, sequester carbon, stabilize soil, produce high-quality persistent leaf litter, and promote healthy watersheds. In this program, Dr. Tallamy presents facts, shares stories, and unpacks myths about oaks, inspiring people to plant and protect these vital, majestic, and long-lived trees.