By: Iris Marzolf

My favorite Venture Outdoors program I’ve attended thus far is the Winter Tree ID hike in January at Frick Park.
It was an educational hike, so participants got a two-for-one deal—exercising while learning how to identify trees without leaves. Winter tree identification is a lot easier and more engaging than one would think. My opinion of trees in winter is generally negative; they look like dull brown skeletons. They’re all the same. Ugly.
BUT ACTUALLY trees are like people; certain types look the same, and they all have unique characteristics depending on how they grew up. Without leaves, you can appreciate this fact all the more. You’re forced to look at bark types, branching patterns, fruits, seeds, buds, and growth form.
Tree ID Hike 1
It was one of those rare winter days with sun, blue sky, and balmy 50-degree air. There was magical golden light gushing everywhere.
Tree ID Hike 2
Our trip leader, Henry, is a local ecologist. He was able to give information that went way beyond simple tree identification such as what diseased trees look like and how trees have a “leading bud.” He looked like the kind of person who drinks afternoon tea every day. He got bonus points for his orange pack and green jacket that perfectly complemented the flora. I don’t know if he was consciously aware of his textbook ecologist attire, but he was so flawlessly put together that he could’ve been in a magazine ad for Nature’s Chic.
Tree ID Hike 3
Work it, Henry.
Random people kept stopping and listening in on the hike. I think it says something when people are attracted to what you’re doing because it looks fun and interesting. Some participants had already been on a Winter Tree ID hike, but they wanted to go again. I also think it says something when there’s second-takers.
Tree ID Hike 4
We got packets of pictures and descriptions so we could a) use them to help us with identification while on the tour and b) use them to help us remember what we’d learned after the tour. Henry also showed us a book that we could buy if we were really into winter tree identification.
The hike was extremely informative, and there were quirky things we saw along our way that made Frick Park seem like a fairyland.
Tree ID Hike 5
Tell me this doesn’t look like mystical creatures could be living here.
Tree ID Hike 6
I have no idea who put the circle on top or why, but doesn’t it look cool? Natural art. I love the green leaves trailing down the side of the stump, and the vine crossing the wooden circle.
Tree ID Hike 7
This is a fairy door, which until this hike, I didn’t know was a thing. Fairy doors are usually put at the base of trees and then people can leave gifts or notes for the fairies behind them. According to one of the hike participants, there are fairy doors hidden all over Frick Park. Sounds like a great idea for another hike. Finding the Fairy Doors anyone??
My favorite part of the hike was how hands-on it was. We were encouraged to get up close and personal with the trees. Part of the experience was examining branches…
Tree ID Hike 8
touching the various textures of bark…
Tree ID Hike 9
and checking for buds…
Tree ID Hike 10
There was so much to look at. Branches, roots, bark, buds; you were looking up and down and close and far. The hike taught me to look at trees during the winter in a new way and see them in a more positive light.
Tree ID Hike 11
It was informative, you got exercise, and there were neat things to see. 10/10 recommend.