Animal behaviorists tiptoe around the words “play” and “fun” and they may be right. I’m sure the games of tag and follow- the-leader are some sort of bonding or socialization behavior. And maybe balancing sticks on their noses or juggling pebbles is just coordination training which helps otters become effective hunters. And the sliding on snow and ice clearly is an efficient way to travel.
But it sure seems to me that otters are having a great time, playing in the snow and fishing through the ice— just like the people who make Door County their winter home.
In a maneuver known as a “belly slides,” otters bound through the snow, then drop to their stomachs and more or less toboggan across the snow or ice. Then they bound three of four times again and glide. A good glide will move them between five and fifteen feet across the snow.
I wouldn’t suggest the we humans go lunging onto the snow, but cross country skiing is similar because it involves propelling oneself and then gliding across a reasonable flat snowy surface.
Of course, otters don’t stop with cross country. They also do downhill. If they can find a steep bank, they create a slide. Last winter, Rich Propsom, our Land and Facilities Manager, found several otter slides along Big Creek just north of the little bridge on Utah Street. That makes sense, because even in deepest winter, that spring-fed stretch of Big Creek has open water which the otters need so they can go fishing.
Otters are voracious eaters, yet they stay slender. Humm. Must be the exercise. (Health magazines suggest that skiers can burn up to 500 calories per hour during a vigorous workout.)
But sliding into near-freezing water? Not a problem for otters. They (like experienced skiers) “dress” in layers. Their outer fur is like a waterproof shell: the inner fur is soft, dense, and fluffy so it provides excellent insulation.
So with an otter as a role model, dressed in layers and perfectly equipped for winter recreation, Door County residents and visitor can get the health and fitness benefits which come naturally to wildlife. And they can do it at Crossroads.
Last summer and fall, Rich ( with help from Friends of Crossroads) created two different trail systems….one for those that ski; the other- Multi-Use- is for those that snowshoe, ride fat bikes, walk pets, or hike. While there are a few places–bridges and intersections– where the systems overlap, most of the trails are completely separate.
Ski trails at the Big Creek Preserve will be groomed whenever snow is adequate and where possible, the Multi-Use trails will be packed. Trails at The Cove and the Ida Bay preserve are open, but not be not groomed nor will the parking areas be plowed.
Once there is enough snow to groom the trails, Ski for Free will be offered. Ski equipment and snowshoes will be available from our Ski Distribution Center (a.k.a. the Maintenance Building), free of charge, on Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays from 1:00-3:30. This program is staffed and sponsored by Friends of Crossroads and volunteers from Door County Silent Sports.