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How to get the most out of fall hikes

Submitted by Rachel Wright on September 26, 2013 – 5:55 pmNo Comment

A sign at Pinnacle Mountain State Park reminds hikers to stay hydrated. Photo by Dallen Shields.

Fall is coming, and with the changing of the leaves comes the changing in activities. Barbecues turn into festive indoor dinners and swimming turns into hiking. Leaves are changing from bright greens to rich hues of red and yellow, and animals are gathering final provisions before winter sets in.

Arkansas is known as “The Natural State,” and hiking allows people to watch Mother Nature at work. Arkansas is full of parks with hundreds of hiking trails for all experience levels. Whatever a hiker’s experience level with a trail, he or she should always be prepared for the unexpected. Here are a few tips to follow:

Plan ahead. Before hiking a trail, pack a bag of supplies. Use a strong and reliable traveling backpack that can hold all necessary supplies. Hikers should always pack plenty of water. This will reduce the chances of dehydration.

“The best way to prevent dehydration is to consciously drink water slowly over several hours before intense exercise,” according to information provided by the American Hiking Society. If the weather is hot or the hiker sweats profusely, water alone will not replace the salts the body sweats out, so be sure to pack sports drinks or salty snacks such as trail mix. Pack a snack even if you are going to be back before lunch time; it never hurts to be prepared.

Pack a first aid kit. You can get a travel-sized first aid kit with individually wrapped aspirin, ointment and antiseptic along with an emergency heat blanket, medical wrap, gauze and adhesive bandages at most drug stores and supermarkets. Pack tools in case you need to start a small, contained fire, especially if you are hiking over night – but always have a way to extinguish the fire properly. You might not plan on staying overnight, but in the fall it starts to get dark around 6 p.m., so pack a flashlight and extra batteries.

Know where you are going. Map out your trail and stick to it. You can get a trail map at the park’s visitor center. Never go hiking on your own; always take a friend. Take a compass (or make sure you have one downloaded on your smartphone) to get your bearings in case you are lost, and always let somebody know where you are going. Do not forget to pack a cell phone; for overnight or extended hikes a satellite phone might work better if you know service is limited where you are going.

An unexpected, but necessary hiking accessory to pack, is a trash bag. A trash bag can have many uses: holding water, insolation and water resistance for inclement weather, an emergency tent, or holding trash. Around fall time, you can get trash bags in bright colors such as florescent orange or green. If you are lost, the bright color will make it easier for searchers to find you.

Dress appropriately. Wear clothing fit for the climate. With fall coming, the weather in Arkansas will start to get cooler. Lake Ouachita State Park Interpreter Susan Adkins recommended that hikers wear nylon, weather-resistant pants to repel water, sunlight and most bugs (take bug spray.)

Wear bright clothing so people can see you. It will soon be hunting season in Arkansas and though hunting in State Parks is illegal, it does not mean poachers are not around or the hiking trails will not cross places where hunting is allowed. Neutral colors blend in with fall colors, and that can be an issue if you are lost or injured.

Also, take an insulated rain jacket. Wear closed-toe shoes that have traction or a grip on the sole, and for difficult hikes wear hiking boots for ankle protection.

Though Mother Nature’s transition from summer to fall is beautiful, be wary of potential dangers. Know what harmful plants are present in the fall, such as poison ivy. Although the weather is getting cooler, snakes are still around. If you are hiking and a snake is in your path, let it cross; it has no interest in attacking you and will go on its way – just watch where you step.

The likelihood of encountering an animal such as a bear or bobcat is rare on frequently used hiking trails, but still possible. If you encounter a wild animal “don’t challenge it, don‘t run away, don’t block the exit [don’t corner it]; it’s not a predator that is out to kill people,” Adkins said. Instead, she recommended that you continue on your way, but keep in mind it is there. Make lots of noise so you do not sneak up on and startle animals. Be aware of your surroundings: boulders, trees, etc., and be wary of poorly marked trails.

“Being aware of your surroundings means taking out the ear buds” says Adkins, “enjoying the sounds of nature is part of the hiking experience.”

For more state park and hiking information, visit arkansasstateparks.com or visit a park office. Pinnacle Mountain State Park is less than a half-hour from the university and has an abundance of mapped-out trails. Parks in Conway, Hot Springs and DeGray Lake are all within an hour from Little Rock with numerous hiking adventures.

Free hiking and camping equipment is available for rent to all UALR students, faculty and staff. Equipment rentals are handled through Campus Recreation and they’ll even provide instruction on tent set-up, using the stove and more.

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