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Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2017

Winter hike at Van Meter State Park

Posted Sunday, January 25, 2009, at 10:30 AM

Cattail fuzz swept by breezes coming off the marsh at Van Meter State Park are caught on leaves and twigs.
New Year's Day activities traditionally include watching football on TV, eating everything in sight before weight loss resolutions go into effect and enduring hangovers.

Since I don't have cable TV, dinner wasn't until 6 p.m. and don't drink to excess, even on New Year's Eve, that left me with a whole day to spend and no specific plans and nothing particular to do.

I wouldn't have thought of going on a nice long hike.

It wasn't all that cold out. The high reached 47. But like most folks -- I assume -- I don't think of winter as prime hiking weather.

Lucky for me, I have a friend, Dennis Hopkins of Blackwater, who thinks any time is a good time to get outside and hike or bike or canoe or camp. He periodically drags me out of the house to see the what's happening on the other side of the walls.

We've gone on a number of bike rides along back roads and seen arious out-of-the-way sights in Saline and nearby counties. So I wasn't surprised when he dropped by New Year's Day and said, "Let's go up to Van Meter and wander around."

More photos at:


The park may not get as much publicity as Arrow Rock -- its charms are more subtle, its events smaller and quieter -- but it is one of Saline County's treasures. Still, I had managed to live here 4 1/2 years and still had not been further than the visitor's center. Until Jan. 1.

Apparently I'm not alone in thinking January is not peak hiking season, because the only living things we saw (of the human variety, anyway) were the park's administrator, Connie Grisier and her husband, Martin. After a brief exchange of pleasantries, they left Dennis and I to the company of the birds and squirrels, which were available in quantity.

We stomped all over the park, from the look-out docks that protrude into the marshland to the Old Fort earthworks, the burial mounds and the lake.

Things can be seen on a winter hike that are generally hidden by the greenery of summer. Frozen fungi stand out against the dark bark of fallen trees. Wispy cattail seeds collect on tree trunks, branches, fallen logs, twigs and anything else that gets in their path. Even hikers.

Other sights: Numerous deer tracks in the soft trails; a scramble of feathers in the path, possibly the site of some brief violence followed by dinner; occasional trunks shaved clean of bark by local bucks.

What struck me most was the vines.

Entwined in the forest of trees is a another forest, vines of all sizes, sometimes in thick tangles that provide a dense cloak for small trees, sometimes with enough girth that they appear to be full trees slithering up the sides of full trees.

Vines were everywhere, making odd loops and strange nests. Vines are present just about everywhere, I suppose, but usually are not so evident, tending to blend with their hosts as they insinuate themselves, so it was interesting to see what a prominent place they play in the woods of Van Meter.

So my new years resolution this year: Don't stop hiking just because it's winter.

On the Net:

Showing comments in chronological order
[Show most recent comments first]

Van Meter is a wonderful park. I have taken my family there to walk several times. The first time we went they thought I was nuttier than normal. The second time they were pumped and ready to go. No wildlife in your photos. I suspect most animals were hiding from the winter elements or maybe from you. I have seen wood ducks, king fishers, baltimore orioles and bald eagles along with all the standard Missouri critters there. Great pics. Nice pick-me-up for a cold day.

-- Posted by broke-n-busted on Sun, Jan 25, 2009, at 4:57 PM

Thank you Eric. I camped out there with a Scout group over fifty years ago. I partied there when I got older. On my occasional visits back home I sometimes find time to visit the park for a bit.

It truly is a park for all seasons. Sorry,I can't resist a pun.

-- Posted by Oklahoma Reader on Mon, Jan 26, 2009, at 12:44 AM

Thanks Eric for the great photos. There is a huge tree in the background of your first shot. Did you or Dennis note what kind it is?

The vines are almost objects d'art. Wild grape perhaps? My son-in-law makes walking sticks from trees which have been choked by wisteria. Wisteria twines so tightly the tree trunks can become quite twisted.

I hope you didn't brush up against any poison ivy. I made the mistake of thinking it was "dormant" in the winter. Left my doctor wondering "how on earth did you get poison ivy in January?"

-- Posted by upsedaisy on Mon, Jan 26, 2009, at 8:50 PM

I wish I could say what kind of tree it is, but my tree identification skills are rusty and I was never very good at identification without leaves to go by. Pitiful, I know.

I want to go back and take more photos focusing on the vines. They really do create strange, beautiful shapes.

I lucked out with the poison ivy. If I'd stumbled upon any I'd have known about it! I guess I too assumed it was not a threat in winter. Guess I'll be more careful next time in case my luck runs out.

-- Posted by Eric Crump on Tue, Jan 27, 2009, at 5:19 PM

Due to the poison ivy comments I could not resist coming back for one more comment regarding this wonderful natural park.

As mentioned in my prior comment I long ago enjoyed a scout camping trip at the park. As I was writing that posting a memory of the trip came to my conscious mind. I didn't mention it in my posting because I thought it superfluous.

Several of us got into a patch of poison ivy, and were bewailing our fate. Someone, it may have been our Scoutmaster Norman Frazee, pointed out the jewel weed (a member of the impatiens family) growing near the ivy. He suggested we break the stems of the jewel weed, then rub the juice on our afflicted areas. I don't know whether or not it was the power of suggestion, or the juice, but our poison ivy problem was alleviated. Since that time I have often noticed jewel weed growing as a companion plant to poison ivy in damp areas at the edge of woodlands.

-- Posted by Oklahoma Reader on Tue, Jan 27, 2009, at 11:52 PM

Dear Editor,

Please bring back the hat.

-- Posted by SecretAgentMichaelScarn on Thu, Jan 29, 2009, at 12:02 AM

Cheetah, jewel weed juice works on itch weed even better than on poison ivy.

-- Posted by Oklahoma Reader on Thu, Jan 29, 2009, at 1:15 AM

nice hat.

-- Posted by SecretAgentMichaelScarn on Tue, Feb 3, 2009, at 7:10 PM

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Eric Crump is a former editor of The Marshall Democrat-News. He lives elsewhere now but still loves Marshall and Saline County. He's trying to catch up on all the stories he should have written while he was on staff.
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