Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Trail of the Week Special; Enhance Your Hiking

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Trail of the Week Special; Enhance Your Hiking

Article excerpt

Walking a trail is fun in its own right. But make it more interesting: Become an authority on something. A lot of resources are on your computer and in your library, and most are free.

For starters, check out the Missouri Department of Conservation Nature Shop. A library of publications ranges from free to reasonably priced. Find many of the books and brochures at MDC visitors centers. In Illinois, check the Illinois Wildlife and Nature Viewing Guide and Illinois DNR Publications.

Here are a few suggestions.

Nature study: plants

Can you tell an oak from a maple? And what are those wildflowers on the side of the trail and in the distance? Is that poison ivy?

Where to start * Begin with the MDC Field Guide. You can be an authority on specifics or broad topics: trees and shrubs, native grasses, invasive species, mushrooms.

Raise the bar * The St. Louis Community College continuing education system offers classes in nature study through the year. Call 314-984-7777 for specifics. A free online university called Coursera, also has courses in nature study. Check out a seven-week course in October: "What a Plant Knows" offered by the University of Tel Aviv.

Nature study: mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, bugs

You can tell a lot about a forest by which animals thrive there. They eat different things, like different kinds of water, handle light and dark differently, and are just fun to watch. How many kinds of hawks are there in Missouri, and how do you tell them apart? And when you look into a pond, what's that looking back at you?

Where to start * Back to the MDC website on common animals from pests to big mammals, lizards and varieties of frogs. Wouldn't it be nice to know that the animal tracks you're following aren't a skunk?

Raise the bar * Coursera has a course "Animal Behaviour and Welfare" from the University of Edinburgh. Five weeks starting July 14.

Geology

Those rock outcroppings and caves and even rolling hills have meaning and history, from the dirt where you're standing to the rock you're climbing.

Where to start * The Missouri Geological Survey with the Department of Natural Resources has segments for professional researchers or newbies. …

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