Thursday, June 25, 2015

Tyke Hike #12 - Monches

It's always a good time to trek on one of my favorite stretches of the Ice Age Trail: Monches. No matter how many times I hike it, I still find a new way to love it. Tonight, I hoped the latest Tyke Hike would inspire a new generation to love it just as much.

Sixteen Tyke Hikers searched for signs of wildlife on tonight;s walk in the woods. Though actual sightings of anything besides bugs and spiders was rare tonight, we saw and heard evidence with every step we took.

Besides the cackle of crows and the chirp of chipmunks, we searched through tree cavities and lifted a few fallen logs to discover a whole new world of life we would have otherwise missed. Emi from the Delafield Library read a story about how animals cope with storms. We even sang some silly songs and used a long fallen limb as a "nature chair."

Along the way, we reviewed Wisconsin wildlife and even learned a little history. Each time you hike, there is always a chance you'll meet new people, learn new things, and make a discovery.

Be ready to make your next discovery on Thursday, July 16th at 6PM when the Tyke Hike program ventures out of Waukesha County and finds its way to Pike Lake in Hartford.

Out and About to Scout

As Embry and I scouted the route for the next Tyke Hike, which has a theme of Wisconsin's wildlife, I think we were both pleasantly surprised at how many wild friends joined us. Besides our usual array of chipmunks, squirrels, and songbirds, we met some new forest friends we don't regularly get a chance to see.

We saw a white-tailed deer.  though that isn't unusual, the fact that she was trailed by two fawns was a bit of a surprise. We caught a couple of toads, barely squashing them right on the trail. We even saw a fox scamper across the trail and hide among the fallen trees.

While finding animals was certainly fun, nothing excited Embry more than "bopping the blazes" along the trail. Embry was extra excited today as she would squeal "I see another one" every time that wonderful yellow rectangle came into view.

I hope more of our animal friends join us this evening at the northern Monches trailhead at 6PM.  Maybe you'll come too. . .

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Saunters. . . The Final Countdown

You may remember the 80's rock song from a band called Europe entitled The Final Countdown. This particular song has always been special to me. In fact, it was even a "must have" for our wedding reception due to my infatuation with it.

The song triggers memories of that wedding reception, the summer league baseball games where it was played to rev up the team, and oddly enough of my teenage trips to Best Buy, being that this was one of the first CD's I ever purchased. However, now this song will conjure up another memory: the memory of my first ever Saunters program.

As my class trekked down the Monches Segment on our final afternoon together, a number of children who had been "entertaining" the group all week with sporadic karaoke moments belted this tune. It felt right as this literally was the final countdown of our week together. A week that saw many unusual moments.

A bus breakdown.

A train breakdown that forced a long and somewhat stressful re-route.

A dramatic bee sting.

A million or so bug bites (I think the smell of insect repellent is permanently clinging to my nostrils)

A history lesson on composting outhouses.

A return of the social and emotional tribulations of upper elementary kids  I had purposely forgotten about since I left 4th grade.

But while this list may indicate the week was a loss, it couldn't be further from the truth.

This was an amazing week with an exceptional group of kids. Though some were less than motivated at the beginning of the week and a bit disenchanted after a grueling and soggy start on Monday, each day brought a new challenge, a new adventure, and a new level of pride and perseverance.

On Friday's community & family hikes through the Loew Lake and Monches segments, the student hikers each had their turn as hike leader with a goal of carefully watching where they were going, taking care of the hikers behind them, and pointing out something along the way. With about 60 total hikers ranging from family and friends to Saunters donors and Ice Age Trail chapter members, they had quite a task ahead of them.

The student leaders all did a wonderful job of taking their turn at the lead and showcasing their own personalities. They shared a wealth of knowledge in both educational and entertaining ways. Whether it was pointing out Native American marker trees, discussing glacial features and habitats, or belting out 80's rock ballads, each student showed off great growth both educationally and personally.

So, it was a good week. . .and an even better ending.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Saunters Thursday. . . Playing (and working) in the Prairie

Our 4th day of Saunters was our service-learning opportunity day. We kicked off the day reviewing habitats and discussing some of the flora and fauna we had seen in the week so far. Then, we quit talking and started walking, identifying many examples of natural systems, features, and plant and animal samples along the way. With an afternoon of prairie restoration ahead of us, we took a brisk trek to finish up the Lapham Peak Segment, stopping to rest, journal,  and sketch along the way

Then, after a long and humid trek along the Glacial Drumlin Trail, we made it to the Waterville Prairie to meet up with the wonderful naturalist and historian Marlin Johnson., He graciously provided a tour of the prairie he has been restoring since 1970. He even mentioned that this latest patch that was just planted is the final piece of his prairie puzzle. Deservedly so, Marlin mentioned the prairie is in the process of being renamed the Marlin Johnson Prairie.
We toured the diverse habitats of the UW-Waukesha Field Station, prancing through prairies, meandering through marshes, sauntering through savannas, and hiking through history.  We learned about pioneers, Native Americans, the prairie restoration process, kilns, and the history of out local segments of Ice Age Trail. Believe it or not, we even got a brief education on composting outhouses. Needless to say, we learned a great deal and had an amazing time.

 We even had the pleasure of posing for pictures with Marlin's Halloween Tree.
But, our main purpose was as Marlin put it "to become part of the prairie." So, after a brief training session, it was time to get down and dirty and fill up some bare spots in a recently planted prairie with new budding prairie plants. It was amazing to see the excitement and eagerness the hikers had to find the perfect spot for their pants. They were very protective of their plants and very proud of their addition to this amazing prairie.
Hard to believe, but tomorrow is the end of a tremendous week of amazing (and sometimes unexpected) outdoor adventures. We will celebrate tomorrow with the student hikers leading a Community Hike through Monches, with family, Saunters donors, and Ice Age Trail Alliance members as our special guests. Here's to a happy and healthy final hike!

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Saunters Wednesday. . .Burning and Learning

Today's hike was a sizzler. With clear skies and the sun beating down, I was just waiting for the complaints and whining to commence. It never did. In a quick conversation amongst student hikers, I overheard one child say "his neck felt like it was burning" yet "he couldn't wait to come back tomorrow." Those are the moments that allows any Saunters-related stress to melt away.
Our hike today began at the Lapham tower. We hiked through the woods and along the trail that will be majorly renovated in the upcoming Mobile Skills Crew project. We enjoyed searching for snakes in the grasses, listening to the sounds of the bird orchestra, and talking about the many important uses of trees, including trekking just a bit off the Ice Age Trail to find and observe a Native American marker tree. When nature wasn't the main topic of conversation. it was entertaining to hear the kids sing karaoke to the latest hits (and some oldies as well) and play word games.
After lunching ans re-charging at the Evergreen shelter, we hustled across Highway C and into the more prairie-esque landscape. We enjoyed finding different wildflowers and trying to figure out similarities and differences between habitats like forests, prairies, marshes, and oak savannas.

Saunters students took over the role of hike leaders as we marched toward the Delafield Segment. We stopped at a little forested area I like to call Chipmunk Alley to explore and work on our journals and sketches.
As we left the Lapham Peak boundary and walked a portion of the Delafield Segment, we decided to stop at Cushing Memorial Park for a tour of Fort Cushing,a pretty sweet playground. Strangely enough, the playground is where we had our two of our closest encounters with nature. Narrowly avoiding a sprinting deer darting in the grassy area next to the swings, we also visited a boardwalk over some marshy land and caught a peek at a very young turtle.
Hard to believe we are more than halfway through this Saunters experience. This is a wonderful group of children who are teaching me more than I could even try to teach them.  Now, tomorrow. . . on to finish up the Lapham Peak Segment and do some service-learning at the Waterville Prairie.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Saunters Tuesday. . .An Unlucky Break

Our Saunters week started off wet and wild and included a broken down bus. History couldn't repeat itself, right?  Well, sort of.

Yesterday, the hikers trooped through very soggy conditions to enjoy a 6 mile trek through the Eagle Segment.

Today, our intention was to enjoy a beautiful and diverse 4-mile stretch of the Hartland Segment. However, we had a few detours that took us a way from our plans and led us to a whole new adventure.

It wasn't a broken down bus that got us. It was a broken down freight train.

But before we get to those shenanigans, we had a beautiful (and organized morning at the John Muir Overlook just of of the Ice Age Trail. We looked at the chimney swift project, toured the adjoining marsh, and worked on our Saunters journaling and sketching while we explored the marshland, pond, and grassy forested areas.

This was followed by an exploration of the Hartland Marsh section of the segment with another beautiful view from the Aldo Leopold Overlook. Then, we left nature and headed down the streets of Hartland. . . and that's where it got wacky.

We saw the train as it started to cross the intersection. We even had train enthusiast-kids hoping it would still be there by the time we approached. One child even predicted it would breakdown like the bus. I really wish he hadn't been right.

After attempting to find safe and legal alternatives to crossing the tracks, we realized it was in our best interest to wait it out.

20 minutes later, we came to the realization that maybe we needed to try something else.

So we backtracked and made our way around Hartland and back tot he tracks just in time to see the train blare the horn sound to know it was working again. Figures! :)

Luckily, our re-route didn't take us too far away from the trail, but it did shift us into second gear and we lost a bit of teaching time to make sure we made it back to the bus.

As we approached the end of our hike for the day. the kids had aching and sweaty feet,. Nothing a little dip into the Bark River couldn't help.

I;'m a little bit apprehensive about what tomorrow will bring, but it will be memorable either way. Hopefully without anything breaking down.

Monday, June 15, 2015

A Soggy Start to Saunters

The 2015 Summer Saunters season kicked off on the Eagle segment today. We splashed our way for just over 6 miles as we began our pursuit of just about walking all of Waukesha County's diverse and unique segments.

Though we encountered a multitude of ticks, endless puddles, and occasional bouts of drizzle, the kids hunkered down and made it.

We enjoyed walking on many different paths, whether they be covered in mud, sand, pine needles, or prairie grass.

Our learning focus today dealt with the basics of hiking, beginning practice with digital photography, and an introduction to the Ice Age National Scenic Trail.

All in all, I look forward to discussing different habitats as we discover the Hartland Segment tomorrow.