Sunday, March 29, 2015

Roommate Reunion

It doesn't happen nearly as much as I'd like, but I had the opportunity to reunite with a college roommate and close friend yesterday while enjoying one of our favorite hobbies: nature. Both of us have taken our love of nature to more than just a hobby. Josh has become quite the nature photographer and is on a quest to visit all of Wisconsin's State Natural Areas (Please see and He mentioned is he now over the 450 mark. I am looking forward to hearing his presentation about his experiences on this mission at the May meeting of the Ice Age Trail Alliance's Waukesha/Milwaukee County Chapter.

My hiking hobby has become more of a passion for education as I love learning new things, experiencing different parts of the trail and (hopefully) spreading my enthusiasm and excitement through the Tyke Hikes and Saunters program I coordinate. In fact, one of the reasons I requested we travel the Eagle segment and portions of the Stoney Ridge segment this brisk Saturday morning was because I am planning this as part of my upcoming Saunters program and I wanted to walk it and see if my initial plans would fit. After finishing the segment, I think I was even more excited about sharing this beautiful segment with students this June.

On the trail, we saw a plethora of birds, including a nuthatch, song sparrows, sandhill cranes, and bluebirds. (FYI  -Josh is much more of an ornothological expert than I and after hearing him rattle off a number of bird species, it's possible that the scientist who named all the birds might have been a pervent.) We also ran into our fair share of hunters and trail runners. We enjoyed the trail loop at Brady's Rocks and exploring the natural spring and scenic viewing areas. But more important than connecting with nature was re-connecting with a great friend. We talked about family, our jobs, the current political environment and its implications on our family and jobs, and anything else that came to mind.

I love many things about hiking. The views are great, the exercise is phenomenal, and the rejuvenation it provides is excellent. However, hiking with a good friend can provide so much more. I hope Josh and I hit the trails again very soon.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Friday Night at Pike

In what might very well become a family tradition, the Dargatz family once again headed out after a long work week to rejuvenate through nature at one of our favorite spots: Pike Lake. Though the trees aren't yet budding, the trails had some muddy spots, and some of the water was still iced over, the sounds of spring were evident. It was a joy to hear our daughter announce that "they're singing" every time a bird was heard. We also heard the distant blare of trains and were quite impressed when the toddler spotted the train in the far distance once atop the tower on Powder Hill.

Our trek started on the Ice Age Trail before venturing off onto the picturesque Black Forest nature trail. While traveling through the continual changes in elevation while carrying a toddler was good for my cardio, being able to experience the views before the sea of green takes over was even better. We even stopped at one of our favorite trees, something we have done pretty much every time.

After finishing off the Black Forest rail, we ventured to the aforementioned tower, burning calories (and quite possible both quads). From the top deck, we saw the beginning of a beautiful sunset and used our binoculars to see a large herd of white-tailed deer in a clearing past the lake. Coming down the tower and the winding hill that you must take to get there provided much needed relief for my legs, while then giving our daughter a chance to trample the leaves and mud gave my shoulders a break.

We reconnected with the Ice Age Trail and proceeded to finishing off the final stretch with the chirp of birds, the chatter of some squirrels, and the wails of a young daughter ready for dinner.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Tyke Hike #9 - Monches

Mother Nature finally helped us out today. After a handful of less than spectacular weather tyke hikes. the sun shining down on all 22 hikers was a wonderful way to start the weekend. Eleven children and eleven adults enjoyed a brisk spring day in the Monches segment. Though muddy at times, the leaf-covered trail and naked trees allowed for spectacular views that will soon be hidden by foliage and flowers.

Though my favorite little hiking assistant's "terrible two tantrums" came a bit early (she turns 2 in a few weeks), we were able to make it through an exciting and energetic stroll through the ups and downs of the forest. With walking sticks in hand, the children were all smiles. Whether it was examining leaves, inspecting acorns, or balancing on fallen branches, the happiness I saw from the children really summed up why I even started Tyke Hiking in the first place.

Today's hike was about the Sights. Smells, and Sounds of Spring. It was awesome having the kids report when they heard a bird or felt a "fuzzy" stump. I even was told that "spring rocks smell better than winter ones." Either way, seeing the kids interact with each other and nature in such a beautiful setting was amazing.

A special shout out goes to two volunteer extraordinaires that were able to join me on the trail. As always, Kevin was a fountain of information about the trail while assisting with sweeping duties and being the lead photographer. We were also graced by the presence of one of our chapter's Blazin' Babes, Chris. She, along with many other fantastic volunteers, improve signage throughout the county and state to help all better enjoy the trail.

Tyke Hikes continue on Saturday, April 18th at 10:00AM at the Hartland Segment, beginning at Centennial Park. We will focus on the importance of Wisconsin's Waterways.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Spring Has Sprung - Lapham Peak & Havenswood

Fresh off a great few days planning my upcoming Saunters program with a wonderful group of educators, it was time to enjoy some fun in the sun exploring with the family. As my previous post mentions, the first stop was Bay Beach Wildlife Sanctuary in Green Bay, a place I regularly visited as a youngster and a phenomenal place to spend time outdoors.

After a nice night of rest, it was back to adventure as the family headed to one of our favorite stops, Lapham Peak. Here, along with many other Ice Age Trail volunteers from the Waukesha/Milwaukee County Chapter, we had an excellent appreciation lunch to recognize those who lead hikes and take care of the segments for all of the hikers and walkers who trek it throughout the year. Not only did I learn a great deal about what the responsibilities of segment leaders, I was able to connect names to faces and have an overall appreciation of all the time and effort everyone does to help the trail be such a great resource.

And, we couldn't just go to a state park for a lunch and meeting, we had to hike. :)   We took a quick jaunt to the tower, headed down the trail a bit and meandered through the mud to enjoy some fresh air and sunshine before heading home.

Then, the final day of the weekend meant a final day to explore.We were able to hook up with some excellent friends and have two terrific toddlers lead us through the urban forest of Havesnswood, a state forest smack dab in the middle of Milwaukee. It was my first trip there, but most certainly not my last. The fallen leaves served as a protective barrier from the otherwise muddy ground and the many fallen branches helped entertain us as we took several trails around, sidestepping a wide array of scat along the way.

Overall, an amazing and adventurous last few days. 2015 is setting up to be quite an exciting time!

Friday, March 13, 2015

Saunters Summit 2015

With the weather turning and an amazing two days of planning for some summer hiking, June can't come fast enough!

Staff from the Ice Age Trail Alliance and Saunters teachers from throughout the state of Wisconsin met in Green Bay this week to communicate about and collaborate on their upcoming Saunters programs. Being a new Saunters teacher this year, I was looking forward to learning about what others have done and coming up with ideas of my own to help make the program I am helping coordinate the best it can be. My co-coordinator and I worked hard to fine-tune our program and get the next steps ready. It was a busy few days, but WOW, I feel like we are ready to hit the trails.

Teambuilding is important, especially after a long and productive day of planning. Our group was able to partake in a "Legends" Tour of historic Lambeau Field. Being a Packer fanatic, I was certainly giddy as I walked throughout the stadium, into the locker rooms, on the rooftops, and on the not so frozen tundra.

The second day of planning was just as productive and really gave us direction and a clear goal for what we have left to do to prepare for the week of hiking awaiting us in June.

My wife and daughter also came to Green Bay to take in some tourist time while I was working, but luckily for us all, we finished with enough time left over for us to visit one of my favorite places to explore as a child: Bay Beach Wildlife Sanctuary. With a very interactive nature center and a variety of woodland animals, waterfowl, and birds of prey to view, we enjoyed walking the trails and visiting all of our forest friends.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Could It Be True???

Was the robin I saw in my backyard real and not just an illusion? Are the patches of green poking out from the receding snowline here to stay? Will the sun visit more often from now on?

I hope the answer to all three questions is a YES, but if not, I am glad my family was able to take advantage of the morning sun and hike out on one of our favorite parts of the trail. We headed out today on portions of the Loew Lake and Monches segments, utilizing the new parking lot right near the trailhead.

We headed out and saw (and mostly heard) a decent number of our avian friends, especially enjoying the classic chicka-dee-dee-dee call of the chickadee. Embry kept on saying "deer, deer" but I think she was just hoping for the best. 

It was wonderful to see some of the pine needles and cones peeking through the melting snow and even better to see green. I don't think I have really trekked through this area at this time of year before, so it was unusual and almost surreal to see everything so open, not yet encapsulated by shrubs and thick plumage. Better yet was seeing the bright blue collide with the green at the tip tops of the pines.

Hiking with my family is always something I treasure and today felt like a preview of a wonderful hiking year ahead, especially with my beautiful wife and daughter stopping to tap every blaze along the way.