A.W. Marion State Park, Southern Ohio Wildflower Pilgrimage and more outdoors news from Central Ohio.

Weekend Warrior: A.W. Marion State Park

Most of the action at A.W. Marion State Park happens on a small recreational lake, so winter's kind of a ghost town at this Circleville preserve. The bait shops close. The park office lies cold and dormant. Boaters head home before first frost.

Hikers, on the other hand, should stay put and walk the stunning five-mile Hargus Lake Perimeter Trail.

I can't think of a better cold-weather trek within an hour's drive of Columbus. You know you've got a winner when a trail has frozen over with hundreds of footprints - proof that it was worth a trip even in poor conditions.

Much of the trail hugs the contours of Hargus Lake, tracking around small inlets, coves and lagoons. Beautiful backwater scenes - ones you feel like you're the first to find - are common. You'll often see great vantages of the shoreline, with pines and oaks covered in snow.

In other places, the trail departs from the lake into the surrounding countryside. What's not still working farmland is a patchwork of wooded hills dotted by waterfalls, ravines and slow, pleasant elevation changes.

Don't forget water, a few snacks and plenty of storage space for a healthy number of photos.

Web: ohiodnr.com

Flower Power

Up to 75 Ohio species will be on display during the annual Southern Ohio Wildflower Pilgrimage, to be held April 16-18 in theArc of Appalachia Preserve System.

The system includes 14 conservation sites on the leading edge of the Appalachian foothills, with headquarters at the Highlands Nature Sanctuary, about 20 miles east of Chillicothe. Its old-growth forests, caves and rare plants stretch into northern Kentucky.

During the weekend, naturalists will lead 12 field trips to see dwarf larkspurs, Dutchman's breeches, wood poppies and other spring beauties. Limited lodging and evening programs are available at Highlands, but most drive straight to field-trip sites.

A weekend pass costs $114. Individual trips cost $30.

Web: highlandssanctuary.org

Green Grants

The Solid Waste Authority of Central Ohio will award a series of grants to nonprofits, charities and other groups eager to undertake projects that reduce waste, increase recycling and the further reuse efforts.

"These green stimulus funds plant the seed in communities and show how being green fits in with our everyday lifestyles," Ron Mills, SWACO's executive director, said in a release.

Grant recipients are required to provide a 25-percent cash or in-kind match. The application deadline is April 1, and grantees will be notified by May 4.

Web: swaco.org

Tax Relief

Uncle Sam is giving back. You can, too.

When you're filling out your tax refund, consider helping the Ohio Department of Natural Resources by checking the "Nature Preserves, Scenic Rivers and Endangered Species" box.

Funds from this program have led to land acquisition, trail improvements and increased educational opportunities. Most recently, donations have saved numerous bogs and fens, important ecological remnants from the state's glacial history.

Those wishing to donate should check line 25B of the 1040 form or line 18B on the 1040-EZ.

Web: ohiodnr.com

Outdoor Tip of the Month

Most experienced gardeners will tell you that the first step to a low-cost, successful garden is a soil test. Like a doctor's visit, these tests determine which nutrients you should add to your plot to ensure maximum yields. Test now, and your results will return in time for your cool-weather planting. Call Calmar Labs in Westerville at 614-523-1005.