DAVIS - In higher elevations, where rhododendron thickets coincide with nearby clearings or timber cuts, the sighting of a snowshoe hare is possible, but rare. Not that Lepus americanus is a rare hare, but in wintery conditions with blankets of snow, it is difficult to spot an evasive animal with a white winter coat.
"Adaptation and camouflage are nature's ways of giving smaller creatures an advantage from predators," said Paulita Cousin, naturalist at Blackwater Falls State Park. "It is a rare sight to see a snowshoe hare, but at the south side cabin area toward Lindy Point at Blackwater Falls, there is a chance if you're very, very quiet and lucky."
It's easier to find a place to snowshoe, the activity, than to spot snowshoe, the hare. Blackwater Falls and nearby Canaan Valley Resort state parks are good areas for the activity, as weather permits.
Snowshoeing relies on natural snowfall and accumulation. The equipment allows for walking on top of natural snow in hare-like fashion.
"When people wear snowshoes they create large feet and pads, much like the hare," Cousin said. "However, we recommend brightly colored apparel when snowshoeing, tubing or skiing so that, unlike the hare, you can easily be seen."
Snowshoeing is a challenging but satisfying winter activity. Snowshoes have been used for more than 6,000 years and were an early form of transportation.
"The natural snowfall in the Tucker County area is exceptionally good for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing," said Dave Vance of Canaan Valley Resort State Park. Snowshoe equipment rentals are available at Canaan Valley and Blackwater Falls State Parks.
Health benefits of snowshoeing include: it is an outdoor winter activity; anywhere there is snow, you can snowshoe; it is a cardiovascular exercise; it is strength training and muscle movement that is a low impact activity; "lift and step" and you've mastered the technique; you can add poles and increase the intensity of the activity; snowshoeing burns more calories than walking or running at the same speed; snowshoeing is an "at your own speed" activity; and snowshoeing is winter fun.
According to the National Wildlife Federation, hares and rabbits are related, but there are differences. Hares tend to be larger than rabbits and have longer legs and bigger ears. When threatened, rabbits typically freeze and rely on camouflage, as compared to hares that use their big feet to flee and avoid danger. Rabbits are born blind and helpless. Hares are born fully furred and ready to run.
Snowshoe hares are white in winter season and are generally a reddish-brown color at other times of the year. Regardless of the season, the hare's ear tips are always black as an identifier. They are nocturnal and more apt to be observed at dawn and dusk.
In West Virginia, snowshoe hares may be found in Randolph, Pocahontas, Tucker and northern Greenbrier counties, according to wildlife personnel at West Virginia's Division of Natural Resources.
To learn more about winter destinations and outdoor winter activities at West Virginia state parks, visit www.wvstateparks.com.