Saturday, December 13, 2014

Tyke Hike #7 - Winter Walk

The fog and chill of a mid-winter morning didn't derail 9 hikers from joining in on the final Tyke Hike of 2014. Trekking through a portion of the Plantation Path in the Homestead Hollow of Lapham Peak, we all braved the less than ideal elements to enjoy an hour out on the trail.

As I tell my kindergarten class, I can do snow, I can handle cold, but those wet and chilly days are my least favorite of all the weather Wisconsin brings us. That being said, the conditions were perfect for a Halloween-themed stroll.

The Tyke Hike was joined today by a local celebrity in terms of hiking.  Pat is a fellow member of the Waukesha/Milwaukee County Chapter and is an amazing volunteer in helping maintain the trails we all can enjoy. Besides being the maintenance maiden for Waukesha County's 40+ miles of trails, she organizes Monday Mudders (a group that volunteers in all conditions to work on the trail) and is a Blazin' Babe, one of the wonderful women who works to improve signage for hikers on the trail. It's always inspiring to hear her trail reports at our meetings. She also gives excellent outreach presentations to help support the cause of the trail and increase awareness of it and all that is outdoors. I was fortunate enough to see portion of her presentation as she presented to the 4th graders at the school where I teach. It was awesome to have her join on the hike today.

Well, the inaugural season of Tyke Hikes was a blast  I am looking forward to 2015 and all it brings. Information on the 2015 Tyke Hikes coming soon.

Monday, November 3, 2014

A Look Back to Plan Ahead

It's always important to look back. For me, looking back is the bast way to plan ahead. I have many exciting opportunities connected to the Ice Age Trail in the future, but before I can really go full speed ahead with those plans, I thought it would be nice to look back.

Boy was I right!

As I looked through my pictures of my trail adventures over the last year, I was brought to the warm summer days with my daughter, the first time I ventured out on my own, and the Tyke Hike sessions I've led. I think of the quick paces to beat the sunset, the early morning treks to beat the heat, and the excitement of every new discovery. I remember encountering some wild animals, other hikers, and the many opportunities to walk with friends and family.  While the past is jam-packed with memories, the future has so many more ready to be cherished.

A picture tells a thousand words, so I have included one of my favorite images from each of the Waukesha/Milwaukee County Chapter segments below.
Stoney Ridge




Lapham Peak (with my favorite co-hiker)


Hartland (autumn)

Hartland (spring)



I am not sure exactly where my hiking adventures will take me, though I am working on a few things right now, including. . .

  • coordinating a Summer Saunters program through my school district for summer 2015.
  • getting dates and locations for next year's Tyke Hikes.
  • organizing a school-wide hike along the Ice Age Trail.
  • writing a non-fiction/fiction hybrid picture book promoting the trail.
I also have some more personal goals for the next year, besides successfully completing all of the aforementioned.

I'd like to. . .
  • complete another county's worth of segments
  • add to my very early edition of an Ice Age Trail poetry book
  • complete a "Walk the Wauk" weekend
So much to hike, so little time. :)  Happy Trails!

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Stoney Ridge & Eagle - The Final First Steps

As I have become more and more enamored with the Ice Age National Scenic Trail, my involvement in my volunteer chapter has increased. My motivation and excitement for every new segment has grown My want and desire to share and educate other about it has become more of a passion. Ultimately, I want to hike it all, but every large journey begins with a small step, and I consider this latest hike the final steps on the first leg of this incredible journey: my final first steps.

The first portion of becoming a 1,000 miler started right here in my home county: Waukesha. Finishing these two final segments led to my completion of the Walk the Wauk program. I felt it was especially important to complete my own chapter's segment first not only because of their location being in close proximity to my residence, but because of their importance to my planning for the hiking program I coordinate, Tyke Hikes, and Summer Saunters.

Starting off at the Blue Springs trailhead of the Walworth/Jefferson County Chapter, I took a short road hike to the beginning (or end) of the Stoney Ridge segment. Just as I entered the forest, I saw the first of a multitude of ground dwelling birds throughout the segment. Though they resembled ducks, I knew they weren't. They were quick to dart off the trail every time I tried to get a closer look. My ornithological identification isn't where it can be, but I am guessing they were pheasants, or something closely related, based solely on their tailfeathers. I was also impressed with the diversity of ground cover. Over this three-mile segment, I walked on beds of pine needles, acorns, mud, leaves, grass, and sand.

From there, it was on to the Eagle segment. On this journey, there were wetlands, dry prairies, forests of oak and pine, stands of birch, and rock formations galore, including the exquisitely exposed dolomite that is known as Brady's Rocks. Though trees take most of my attention now, including a decimated oak among taller giants I call The Fallen Soldier, rocks and geology have always been an interest of mine. I was very thrilled to see these amazing rocks.
"The Fallen Soldier"

This picture does no justice to Brady's Rocks.

In the spirit of Halloween, the fog lifted only near the end of my hike. However, the mist wasn't the only element that made this an eerie excursion. With the ground cover so colorful and thick, hearing the movement of birds and small mammals was constant, though the visuals were not. It almost made me feel as if I was being followed. The blasts of gunshots throughout the trail was also a bit nerve-wracking, especially when I turned a sharp corner only to find a startled hunter decked out in orange surprised to see me. Luckily, he wasn't trigger happy. I wore brightly colored closes to help stick out among the dullness of the naked trees, but the sight of the many, many hunters I saw creeping in the tall grasses and near the trail left me a bit unsure at times. Meeting a trio of hunting dogs at different points eased the tension a bit. Beautiful and well-trained Lancelot and Crabcake let me know they noticed me before heading back to their owner while 8-month old Sophie was more interested in playing than training to be a hunter, much to the dismay of her owner.
New IAT mascot???

However, I did make it back to my vehicle safely and with the clouds clearing and plenty of time left in the day, I headed out for more outdoor adventures, making stops at the nearby Paradise Springs Nature Area and the Kettle Moraine State Forest Headquarters and Natural History Museum.

A wonderful day to complete a much-anticipated goal and an overall feeling that this "end" is just the beginning.

Friday, October 24, 2014

I have Walked the Wauk

The first leg of my 1,000 miler journey is complete. I have finished the Walk the Wauk program. I have lots of pictures and stories to share soon.

I also have some great news about my planning for my Summer Saunters and Tyke Hikes, plus a few personal goals for my next step.

Looking forward to the next adventure!

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Sunday Sounds of Scuppernong

It was a beautiful day to head out to one of my favorite parts of the state: the Kettle Moraine State Forest - Southern Unit. Though I was right in the area of the Emma Carlin Trail, Paradise Springs, the State Forest Headquarters and Old World Wisconsin, I spent my Sunday morning on the back-and-forth, up-and-down Ice Age National Scenic Trail segment known as Scuppernong. The fallen leaves made it a bit tricky at times to stay on the trail, but fortunately, the clearly identifiable work of the Blazin' Babes and other volunteers helped make it much more passable.
Scuppernong's version of the Charlie Brown Christmas tree.

Though I usually focus my writing on the sights of my hike, the sounds of the forest were especially diverse today.

The rustling of the cornucopia of colored leaves blanketing covering the trail.

The soft crackle of the blanket of pine needles with every step.
Someone else loves the forest too.

The blast of gunshots in the distance, making me wonder if it was time to turn back.

The clear commands  of dog owners, barking out directions as their canines strolled alongside.

The laughter of children and crackling of flames at the campsite breakfast area.
Quite the erratic

The chorus of calls from various birds among the trees.

The casual conversation of two gentlemen, dressed in full camo with bow and arrows leaning up against a nearby tree.

The chittering of chipmunks, gathering food for their upcoming winter's sleep.

The whispering of twigs, acorns, and leaves wrestling on the forest floor after descending from their lofty perch.

And the familiar sound of what I thought was a rain shower disguised as tree debris barreling down to earth with every gust of wind, turning my peaceful hike into a game of dodge the debris.

But of all the sounds of the forest, there was the occasional sound of silence and serenity that made the trip worthwhile.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Tyke Hike #6 - Hartland

It must have been fate that the topic of today's Tyke Hike lesson was scheduled to be waterways. With the rain sprinkling throughout our trek, 5 wet but happy hikers enjoyed a scenic walk along the Bark River on this quaint, paved stretch.

Though the unfortunate turn for the worse weather decreased the numbers of families originally expected to join, we wouldn't let the chill dampen our spirits. Walking through fallen and falling autumn leaves, there were many opportunities to enjoy the wonders of nature.

My fascination with trees continues and this stretch offers up a variety of trees, including marvelous maples, towering oaks, and beautiful birch and basswoods. Though the living versions were a sight to see, I always am attracted to the fallen trees, especially the ones that have become homes to new life.

We also saw plenty of wildlife, from birds like cardinals, woodpeckers, turkey vultures, and various waterfowl, to what I recollect as my first sighting of a muskrat. I originally thought I was observing a woodchuck As it scurried away from my incoming attempt at capturing it on camera, its long slender tail gave its true identity away. I am very fortunate to have a wonderful wife who has a great knack for identifying all sorts of living things. We also came across a bunch of domesticated friends, including plenty of dogs on leisurely strolls and a quartet of horses, one which had marks that made it look just like a dairy cow.

As with every Tyke Hike, I prepared information to share with the hikers including facts about the Ice Age National Scenic Trail and information about a natural topic. Today's theme was waterways. Besides taking in the trail, I aim to educate my attendees, stopping to share facts and have conversation. This is also a great time to catch up on snacks, drinks, and diaper changes if necessary. With the weather working against us for the second straight tyke hike, much of my lesson was omitted. Either way, we all enjoyed seeing some of Wisconsin's amazing autumn colors. Plus, I already have lessons made for a future Tyke Hike.  Join us on it and see what Tyke Hikes are all about, as long as the weather cooperates.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Beauty Lies Within the Forest

When not preparing lessons for my kindergarten classroom, chasing around my toddler, or spending time engaged in one of my many interests, I have been on a non-fiction reading spree. Keep in mind, thew majority of my reading over the last two years has been guided reading books and board books, so the jump back into non-fiction has been choppy at best. Finding the time to stick to a schedule and get through books is not what it once was, though I am happy to admit my TV watching has decreased significantly. Being a self-proclaimed Wisconsin history geek and a nature aficionado, I have been on a recent kick on Wisconsin-based stories, Having recently finished a book on the fur trade era, I was motivated to find a new book on the forests of Wisconsin. In my latest book, Beyond the Trees: Stories of Wisconsin Forests, by Candice Gaukel Andrews, there was a particular section on Increase Lapham I found especially intriguing. As I have become more familiar with the Ice Age National Scenic Trail and the overall forest history of this wonderful state, I have come to know and appreciate Mr. Lapham. Known to many historians as the Father of the United States Weather Bureau, his work in meteorology is well-recorded and his history of forest preservation is second to none. He once penned an essay entitled Forest Trees of Wisconsin that eloquently and intelligently details the importance of forests in Wisconsin and around the world. Though Candice Gaukel Andrew's book took quotes from his essay and it would be very easy for you to grab a copy and this awesome book out for yourself, I couldn't help but share some of Lapham's quotes. Enjoy!

     The dense forests have a marked effect upon the climate of this country in several ways. They protect our houses and our cattle from the rigors of the north winds of winter, and from the fierceness of the burning sun in summer. They preserve the moisture of the ground, and of the air; and render permanent and uniform the flow of water in springs, brooks, and rivers. By the fall of their leaves, branches, and trunks, they restore to the soil those elements of life and growth, that would without this natural process, soon become exhausted, leaving the soil barren ad unproductive. Their leaves absorb the carbonic acid from the atmosphere and restore it to the oxygen; rendering it more pure and better suited for respiration by man and animals. Without this restorative agency, all animal life would long since have ceased to exist. 

     Trees, besides being useful, are ornamental. They enter largely into the material of the landscape gardener. Desolate indeed would be our dwellings were their environs entirely treeless. They are associated with our early recollections. They become in a great degree companions of our lives, and we unconsciously form strong attachments for such as grow near our homes, thus increasing our love of home, and improving our hearts.

I had a special affinity fore trees and the forest before I read this, but these words strengthen and solidify my passion for not only enjoying the trees, but doing my diligent duty to educate and assist future generations in their enjoyment.

Sunday, October 5, 2014


What a difference a day makes! Yesterday, the miserable weather dampened the spirit of about ten Tyke Hikers. Today, the bright Sunday sun warmed up the trails and made it a marvelous trek for nearly 20 hikers and a pair of pups. Half of the partakers in today's excursion were from the Marquette School of Dentistry, so the woods heard all sorts of topics today involving hygiene while the pair of male kindergarten teachers (myself included) shared stories from the classroom that made some laugh and some squirm.

Walking through the forest as it is transitioning seasons is amazing. I enjoy when the dirt is covered by a soft bed of pine needles. I absolutely love the sound and feel of walking through the technicolor trails of Autumn. There's something about the crispness of the air and the whisper of the wind that truly makes this time of season an ultimate hiking high for me.

If you've followed my blog entries, you might know I have a special affinity for dead trees. Their importance and usefulness in the ecosystem is one reason, but mainly, I just find them fascinating and beautiful. Today, much like yesterday, we came across a hollowed out tree at its base that was flourishing up above. Unlike yesterday, the participants were more than willing to pause and take photographic advantage of this sight. Additionally, I encountered multiple stumps that were mossy and littered with lichens and leaves. I especially love seeing hollowed stumps that collect rainwater and foliage and eventually become nature's compost bins, sprouting up new life.

Another enjoyable aspect of this hike was the fact that it was sponsored by the Ice Age Trail Alliance Waukesha/Milwaukee County Chapter of which I am an enthusiastic volunteer. If only time allowed me to put more into this amazing organization. I am continually blown away by the passion and dedication of the volunteers I have been blessed to get to know in my early existence in this chapter. I am motivated by their knowledge, inspired by their energy, and excited for their future and the future of the trail.

After the hike, all were invited to Monches Farm ( , a farm just a  half-mike away from the trailhead where a fall festival featuring local artists was being held. This was a definitely a hidden gem of the area . My wife and daughter met me there and we enjoyed exploring the grounds, feeding the chickens, sampling the cider, and taking in the beauty of the unique art and plant variety.

If only yesterday was as grand as today. Then again, days like yesterday make you appreciate days like today even more.