Swaner Preserve weekly nature walks give public a chance to mingle with wildlife | ParkRecord.com

Swaner Preserve weekly nature walks give public a chance to mingle with wildlife

Groups meet Saturday mornings

Spring is magical at the Swaner Preserve and EcoCenter.

It's the time of the year when the 1,200-acre wildlife habitat and wetlands begins to come alive, said Jennifer Groves, Swaner Preserve and EcoCenter visitor experience and program leader.

"It's exciting because things are greening up and birds are coming back," Groves told The Park Record.

It's also the time when the EcoCenter begins to offer guided weekly Saturday-morning nature walks at 8:30 a.m.

"We actually do nature walks all year around," Groves said. "During the winter we offer snowshoeing on the Preserve. In the spring, summer and fall we do walks."

The goal for these walks is to offer participants a glimpse of the preserve where the public doesn't typically have access.

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"We get down and walk around the part of the preserve that is our wetland habitat," Groves said. "We go with a naturalist and people can see the Preserve on a different perspective."

One of the main things participants will see is wildlife.

"The sandhill cranes, in particular, are a favorite," Groves said. "We have seen some territorial disputes this year, and some mating dances that are spectacular.

"The cranes will hop, trumpet and sometimes throw sticks. It's quite special to see, and we've been able to spot that behavior."

In addition, the Preserve is home to a heard of 23 bull elk that people have been able to spot on the walks.

"We have a lot of raptors out there lately as well," Groves said. "We think we have seen some sharp shinned [hawks] but we have definitely seen some red-tail hawks.

"Also, the western chorus frog will begin chirping pretty soon as they enter their mating season. And all of this makes this a fun time to do the walks."

The Saturday nature walks usually run between and hour to an hour and 15 minutes.

"If we have a group that needs more accommodations, however, or if people don't feel like walking that far, we do tailor the walks to fit their capabilities," Groves explained. "For example, if we have mostly families with young kids, we might go in a different direction. Sometimes if we have senior citizens who aren't interested in doing the big loop we do, we might give them a cut-off point or just shorten the whole thing if we have a group of seniors."

The loop starts at the EcoCenter and often ends up on the Preserve's Wetlands Discovery Trail, a public path that is open during EcoCenter hours: from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Wednesday through Sunday.

"The trail itself is a self-guided trail and we put on scavenger hunts for the kids and it's typically dryer than the parts on the wetlands that are on the preserve," Groves said. "We like to end up on that trail so people can see they can use it during those hours."

There is no age limit for the walks.

"We have parents brining infants and toddlers in backpacks all the way up to senior citizens," Groves said.

Still, Groves wanted to make some suggestions.

"Since it is the spring and the wetlands are particularly wet, I would recommend waterproof boots if you have them," she said. "The part of the Preserve we take our guests is mostly dry, with an occasional mushy area."

Groves also suggested walkers bring their own water in a water bottle.

"The naturalist who guides the walks always carries a backpack with extra water and granola bars if anyone needs them," she said.

The naturalist also carries field guides and we bring binoculars for anyone who wants to use them.

"If anyone has their own pair of binoculars, they are welcome to bring them," Groves said. "I think binoculars are almost imperative to bring along this time of the year. We have a 1,200-acrre preserve and we cover about 850 acres of wetland habitat and there are often things we can't see in the distance with the naked eye. There are times when we do on occasion get close to some of the wildlife."

Sometimes binoculars aren't needed.

"It depends on the day because animals go where they like on the Preserve," Groves said. "We have done nature walks where we get pretty darn close to some sandhill cranes or to a herd of elk."

Another suggestion is to dress accordingly.

"The walks take place rain or shine," Groves said. "Obviously, we wouldn't go out in a severe thunderstorm, but we've gone on walks during light rains. So, I would tell people to dress for the weather and in layers, because it can get warm out there."

The last suggestion is to bring a camera.

"We also love it when people take pictures of the wildlife and scenery," Groves said.

Although RSVPs aren't required, Groves said they help naturalists plan for the walks.

"It's so helpful if people call or email the EcoCenter ahead of time, because if we get a group that has more than 15 or 20 people, we like to bring in an additional naturalist," Groves said. "Now, if we have tourists or people who are new to Park City and have just heard about the walks that Saturday morning or late Friday night, we don't mind if they just drop in."

While there is nothing like the experience of actually taking a walk on the Preserve, the Swaner EcoCenter's website also provides some other nature-viewing opportunities.

"We have a webcam on our website, swanerecocenter.org, and if people click on it, they might be able to see some of the activity on the Preserve," Groves said. "Our administrator Leslie Roberts does her best to keep things in sight of the webcam. We also have videos of activities we have seen in the past this year."

Swaner EcoCenter and Preserve naturalists lead weekly nature walks on the Swaner Preserve at 8:30 a.m. every Saturday. The cost is $5 for nonmembers and free for Swaner EcoCenter member. To register, visit http://www.swanerecocenter.org.