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The Swaner EcoCenter's guided snowshoes hikes are a way for people of all ages to enjoy an outdoor winter activity. Participants learn about snowshoeing, local wildlife and the surrounding area during the excursions, which average about an hour. (Photos courtesy of the Swaner EcoCenter)
You don't have to be an alpine or cross-country skier or a snowboarder to enjoy outdoor winter activities.

Nor do you have to be a thrill-seeking bobsled, skeleton or luge athlete to enjoy the brisk chill and fresh air found in the Wasatch Back at this time of the year.

All you really need is a pair of snowshoes and place to hike.

That's why the Swaner EcoCenter offers guided snowshoes tours every Saturday morning at 10 a.m.

The hikes usually run about an hour and are low-impact in cardio, but high in education, said Sally Tauber, the EcoCenter's director of business development.

"They are great for all ages and for out-of-town visitors because we don't go on steep trails or run up and down hills all day," Tauber told The Park Record. "We know, particularly in Park City, that every trail goes uphill, and if you're from Atlanta, that's not very easy."

The slow and relaxed pace, however, gets participants onto the preserve where they not only learn to use snowshoes, but also learn about the natural area.

"We do animal tracking and look for signs of where they might live," Tauber explained. "We also look at snow crystals and explain to participants how the snow forms together."

The guides also talk about the history of the preserve and the ecosystems found in and around the grounds.

"It's a wetlands out there, so we hike on an area that is elevated a bit, but participants still see a lot of wildlife there," she said. "And since it's winter, you can see the animal tracks better."

Animal tracks are the tour's major draw.

"The Naturalists teach how to determine if the tracks are made by a coyote or fox as opposed to a dog," Tauber said. "We have had a quite a few coyotes, a fox and six or seven bull elk for quite a time out in the far corner of the preserve."

The increase of animal life is due to the preserve's re-vegetation project.

"To do that, we are bringing water through the preserve," Tauber said. "When that happens, we get more birds, frogs and salamanders, and, as we all know about the chain of life, we get larger animals in. So, it becomes a haven."

Although hikes on the Swaner Preserve have been going on for quite some time, the regular guided hikes started two years ago.

"In the past, we did tours that were by appointment only and those covered the same subject matter," Tauber said. "Then we offered the guided tours on Thursdays and Saturdays."

Due to the uncharacteristically dry winter last year, the EcoCenter cut back on the tours.

"We just decided to do them on Saturdays, because we didn't know what the snow impact was going to be," she said. "Then, boom, it got cold and we got a lot of snow."

Consequently, there has been a good group of people for every hike this season.

"People come from all over," Tauber said. "We get people who come in from the countryside and from Vernal, and we have people who meet up with friends and go to lunch."

Some people use the tours as a way to celebrate their birthdays or to meet up for a hike.

"The hikes take about an hour to finish, but if you have a bigger group, it may take a little longer, just because everyone has to put on their snowshoes to get started," Tauber said. "But that gives them time to do other activities afterwards."

The hikes are $5 per person for people who are not members of the Swaner EcoCenter, and members can participate for free.

The EcoCenter also rents out snowshoes for $5 a pair.

"We take preschool-aged children on field trips, so we have snowshoes that will fit little kids, but we recommend that parents determine whether or not their children are capable of accompanying them on the winter hikes," Tauber said.

Also, the EcoCenter staff appreciates reservations that can be made by phoning (435) 649-1767 ext. 0 or by emailing swanerecocenter@usu.edu.

"They just have to tell us the date and how many people are planning to come," Tauber said. "That way we can make sure we have enough people on staff to fulfill the need."

Although this year has seen an increase in participants, the hikes haven't been limited to a certain amount of people.

"We usually get between five to 10 people," Tauber said. "That's not a super big group, but we sure have been steady."

In addition, to the guided hikes, the Swaner EcoCenter offers a self-guided tour on its Wetlands Discovery Trail.

Once people sign up, the staff gives them the combination to the gate, and during regular operating hours on Wednesdays through Saturdays, between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., they can go out onto a designated trail on the preserve and back.

"We also offer private, guided tours that are by-appointment and depending on the availability of a Naturalist," Tauber said. "Those tours cost $15 per person and requires minimum of six people, and we would be happy to do those on a full moon as long as a Naturalist is available."

The Swaner EcoCenter, 1258 Center Dr. at Kimball Junction, will host guided snowshoe tours of the Swaner Preserve on Saturday, Feb. 2, from 10 a.m. until 11 a.m. Participants will look for and learn about the local wildlife. The tours cost $5 for nonmembers and free for members. Snowshoes are available for an additional $5. For more information, call (435) 649-1767 ext 0 or visit www.swanerecocenter.org.