5 Great Things to Do in Spring - MelyndaCoble.com

5 Great Things to Do in Spring

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Spring Skiing Festivals

The days are longer, the sun warmer, buds are unfurling and insects are hatching, but it’s not time to store those skis, yet. Around the state, spring skiing festivals are in full swing, ushering in the change of seasons.

The common denominator in spring skiing seems to be craziness. Skiers and winter enthusiasts shed inhibitions—and sometimes common sense—along with their heavy jackets.

The 4th Annual Spring Run-Off at Big Sky Resort has folks navigating across (or into) a 100-foot pond on skis and snowboards on April 14th. If plunging into water doesn’t sound appealing, there is still music, food, drink, and an after party.

At Red Lodge Mountain Resort they also celebrate the end of the ski season with food, music and drink. But, they add a little something extra to the mix—the Locals Dash for the Pass Race. In an effort to win a season pass for the following year, skiers race from the top of a beginner run to the Bierstube pub. There they de-boot, dash into the restaurant and stuff their faces with yucky foods like jalapenos and cold French fries before washing it down with a pint of beer.

For those with sensitive stomachs and a charitable heart, Red Lodge also hosts the White Stag Race as part of the end of the season celebration. Guests “bet” on skiers to finish first and all the money is given to a non-profit organization. And on April 21st, the very hearty can skin to win in the Grizzly Peak Challenge. Before racing down the 3-mile ski hill, they must first climb 2,400 feet to the top. Prizes are given to the first person up, as well as the first to descend.

Don your light layers and get out early before the snow turns soggy and mushy, and enjoy great spring skiing. Then head to the lodge for an end of the season party.

Big Mountain hosts a Rites of Spring Party 406.862.2900
Big Sky Resort 406.582.4772
Red Lodge Mountain Resort 800.444.8977

Mushroom Hunting

Mushrooms and fungus and toadstools, oh my! That brown, nondescript lump lurking under last autumn’s leaf litter might just be the crux ingredient in tomorrow night’s dinner. There’s a whole world of delectable, dangerous, delightful fruiting bodies hidden on the forest floor just waiting to be discovered by an intrepid hunter.

After the snow melts and spring rains fall, mushrooms—the reproductive part of a much larger, underground fungus—begin to sprout straight from the ground. In general, they can be found throughout the forest, under logs and leaves and occasionally right out in the open.

But the best place to search for mushrooms is in areas that burned last summer or fall as they provide ideal growing conditions, especially for tasty morels. Be careful, though, because many edible mushrooms have toxic look-alikes. Only those who are experts in identification should pick mushrooms.

A visit to the local National Forest Ranger District office can lead to many places to explore. Pour over maps with Forest Service staff to find out where fires prepared the land for perfect mushroom growing conditions. Then grab a mushroom identification guide and spend the day—or a few hours—looking for hidden treasures.

If you aren’t an expert, but want to hunt shrooms safely, take a hike with a fungal expert.
Members of the Western Montana Mycological Association (just sign up at their website www.fungaljungle.org) can participate in a morel mushroom hunt with those in the know. Dates depend on the weather. It’s also easy to hook up with other fungi-ophiles at the website.

Wildflower Walk

As swollen creeks rush full from snow-capped peaks and critters care for their new young, spring wildflowers begin to pop from the ground. Gracefully bowing glacier lilies and flushed throated spring beauties follow retreating snowpacks; in moist soil, rosy wild onions being to unfurl and in open fields prairie smoke nod their pink heads.

Head into the woods, prairies or mountains this time of year and new life abounds, but nothing puts on a spring show like wildflowers. Around the state U.S. Forest Service biologists lead curious flower lovers searching for rare and common blooms. In some places they team up with local nature centers or outdoor schools to bring a unique perspective to flower-finding.

After meeting at a trailhead, groups head into the field with plant identification guides and magnifying glasses. Most Forest Service walks include an introduction on how to use a wildflower guide, a quick lesson on what flowers to expect where and one-on-one assistance on identifying found flowers.

By the end of the walk, everybody can tell fairybells from fairy slippers—buttercups from balsamroot—and know a little something about the botany, medicinal uses and the significance of the flowers as well.

The Montana Wilderness Association also leads hikes around the state—some of them focused on wildflower identification. These walks explore mountains, canyons, prairies and forests and cater to all levels and ages of hikers.

Local gardening clubs and botanical societies are good sources for spring wildflower walks and identification slide shows. By tapping into local knowledge—garnered by years of exploring—much can be learned.

In addition to being able to pick out and name spring flowers, learning about local wildlands through one of their most beautiful inhabitants can instill a connection that lasts throughout the season.

Montana Native Plant Society http://www.umt.edu/mnps/
Montana Wilderness Association 406.443.7350 ext. 107
U.S. Forest Service http://www.fs.fed.us/

Biking in the Parks

Crisp morning air, steamy hot springs and bison grazing on just emerging grass blades await springtime cyclers in Yellowstone National Park. Capping the north end of the state, Glacier National Park is home to cascading waterfalls, mountain goats with fluffy white kids and returning bird songs.

Both Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks open their roads to bicyclers, roller bladers, walkers, joggers and other non-motorized users in early spring—before cars are allowed access to the roads. It’s a way to experience the Parks that few people take advantage of, but more should.

Summer crowds can make biking the National Parks challenging, if not dangerous (and in many places not allowed), but in the spring the roads—and the Parks—belong to those willing to work for it. Instead of driving from one designated look-out point to the next, barely noticing what’s in between, bikers get the chance to enjoy their journey at a slower pace and notice the small details.

The plowing begins on the Going to the Sun Road in Glacier National Park the first week in April. Plows start at the bottom and work their way up to the pass, clearing the way for bikes as they go. The road opens for cars in late May or June. Camas Road is also open to bicycles, but it isn’t plowed, so bikers may hit drifts of snow along the way.

From about mid-March (depending on the weather) until the third Tuesday in April, the road between the west entrance to Yellowstone and Mammoth Hot Springs is plowed and open to non-motorized traffic.

Glacier National Park 406.888.7800
Yellowstone National Park 307.344.2109

Kite Festival

No one knows exactly how kite flying got started, but it is believed that kites in one form or another were hanging in the sky in China over 2000 years ago. Rumor has it that the first kite was born when a Chinese farmer tied his hat to a string to keep it from flying away in the wind.

The kite sailed from China to Korea to India, and eventually on to the United States, morphing forms with the uses different cultures expected from it. Today, the kite is an intrinsic part of Helena’s rites of spring.

Child Care Partnerships (CCP) hosts the 17th Annual Kite Festival in Ryan Park May 6 from 12-4 p.m. The kite festival is CCP’s way of giving back to the community each year and brightening up the sky with every color of the rainbow.

Everyone attending the festival is given a kite if they don’t have their own. And while kite flying is the central part of the day, there are a plethora of family-centric activities as well.

St. Peter’s Hospital puts on a child car seat clinic, food vendors doll out yummy treats, Clydesdale horses pull wagons full of kids (and their parents) and faces are painted. Each year holds different surprises, but live music, good food and multihued kites can all be counted on. The history of the kite lives on in Helena.

Child Care Partnerships 406. 443.4608

Distinctly Montana
April 16, 2007

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