Monday, August 31, 2015

The Trail Follows Me Wherever I go

As I prepared for the final weekend before the kindergarten takes over, I looked forward to a weekend full of outdoor adventures in the Wisconsin Dells area. I knew trips to some state parks were in order and I figured I'd make it to some segment of the Ice Age Trail but it seemed like wherever I went, there it was. The trail was following me!

It all started in Baraboo. As we walked into the main entrance, my daughter noticed one of her favorite things: the yellow blaze. She tends to want to bop them every time she sees them. While this made me want to explore the trail further and mark a new segment off the list, we had a circus to see, so my exploration on the trail would have to wait.
With the blaze wetting my palate for a good day of hiking, I couldn't wait to wake up the next day and explore one of my favorite state parks: Devil's Lake. I our family's annual pilgrimage to this holy grail of glaciation, we have explored many of the different trails this amazing place has to offer. However, the adventure on the docket today was a first: the West Bluffs Trail, which happened to coincide with the Ice Age Trail. 

While my hiking experiences on the Appalachian Trail are limited to a half-mile stretch along the Tennessee-North Carolina border in the Smoky Mountains, this segment reminded me of that short trek. Boulders. Rock step after rock step. Escalation to increased elevations. This time it was definitely more of an undertaking as I had the toddler strapped to my back rather than alongside me It was a great workout, and Embry still enjoyed bopping the blazes, sneaking peeks at the lake, and watching many other hikers along the way, including some courageous young men using a vine Tarzan-style through the woods.

After recovering from that hike and the rest of our outdoor adventures as we began the journey home. Once again, the trail followed me. As we took the scenic route home, we drove through Portage. Every time I drive through this quaint little town I am reminded of my 4th grade teaching days and my love of the Fur Trade Era. I think back on portaging, voyageurs, the rendezvous, and all sorts of historical trading tidbits. Today, however, my trip through memory lane was interrupted by a familiar face, or blaze. I was moved to pull over and snap a picture of the Ice Age Trail segment sign the blaze was attached to. Though this segment, or at least part of it, seemed to snake right through the town, I didn't have time to explore. At least not that day.

Now, it is true the trail does weave it's way through Wisconsin so it shouldn't be too surprising I ran into it so many times. without really trying. Though now that I have "fallen" for the trail, it does follow me around. I'm eager to share it with others, experience more of it myself, and get even more engrossed in all that it is and all that it represents. 

The trail does follow me around. . .literally and figuratively.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Doggy and Toddler Approved

Waiting is always the hardest part.
One of my new favorite views

After thoroughly enjoying my first ever day working at the Mobile Skills Crew project at Lapham Peak. I felt rather guilty missing out on the last few days. So guilty in fact that I was compelled to visit there immediately after my first day back at school. Of course, I picked up my dog, Nugget,  and toddler to join me.
They loved it!

Wow. . . .just WOW!

Though I played a minuscule role in the development of the new trail, the pride I felt as I trotted over the 75 foot section I helped build was immense,. I look forward to reliving that fond day every time I take that path.
The section I worked on. :)

While partaking in the project, I learned many new things, including what a rock wall is, why it is needed, and how to make one. However that new knowledge was also battling with many questions, such as where do the rocks we dig up go? What happens to the old trail? How will the new completed trail look?
Old trail

More old trail

Well, the trek answered them all. The upgrade is incredible and gives such a whole new and exquisite experience of an already phenomenal park.

Though the new route doesn't go directly next to one of my favorite trees for Tyke Hikers to enjoy, it is only a short trot away. The new views and twists and turns more than make up for that slight disappointment.
One of my favorite Tyke Hike trees. . .only a short jaunt away

A reminder of why I love that tree

Embry certainly enjoyed the new trail. She transformed into a trailrunner and needed many reminders to slow down, especially around the dips and rock walls. She enjoyed bopping the new blazes (even the ones on posts not yet dug into the ground).
This blaze was too far out of reach to bop

This one wasn't

We were lucky to run into two groups of people. A pair of trailrunners who run the trail "frequently" and a young hiking couple who visits Lapham a  few times a year. Both sets of people had nothing but praise for the new route.
Not sure if these were placed strategically, but I love them and think they should have a name.

Just lovely

Though my experience was limited this time around, seeing the fruits of everyone else's labor motivates me to be an even better volunteer and representative of this beautiful trail and all it represents. Special thanks to all the volunteers who made this a tremendous success with a special shout out to my fellow Waukesha/Milwaukee County Chapter members. Kudos to you all!
Maybe a young replacement for the aforementioned tree???

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Urban Ecology Center - Riverside Park

Embry and I had a chance to enjoy some urban hiking today as we trekked the trails around the Urban Ecology Center near Riverside Park. Before we hit the outside trials, we toured the inside, stopping on more than one occasion at the Native Wildlife room, There, we enjoyed some snakes, turtles, and frogs before heading outside to a fountain area which had a frog and turtle as well.

Normally, I take lots of pictures on our hikes. However, today it was great to just enjoy the land and the company of some other family hikers. We dodged bikers on portions of the Oak Leaf Trail and balanced on narrow trails along the river. There were many beautiful trees and many that had fallen. It was impressive to see the size of some of them. What stories they must have to tell!  Along the way, we saw some urban art graffiti and a crisscross of a variety of trails for hiking, trail running, and mountain biking.

Our journey wrapped up through some beautifully restored prairie. Though some of it was still being covered by the "black tarp of death," the portions that had been restored through tarping and/or controlled burns were brim full of a rainbow of wildflowers.

It's always amazing to find and explore the hidden natural gems of urban areas. What a reprieve from the concrete jungles mentality commonly associated with cities. This was a wonderful day for exploring and we only saw the tip of the iceberg. I think further exploration is needed. :)

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Mobile Skills Crew - Lapham Peak

Pulaski. Buckthorn. Grub. Tread. Duff. Macleod.

Twelve hours ago, I didn't know these words very well. Now, I don't think I will ever forget them.

Though being involved with the Waukesha/Milwaukee County Chapter of the Ice Age Trail Alliance for about two years, I have mostly used my time to learn about hiking and lead hikes with kids. Maintenance and trailbuilding was something daunting. Something foreign. While it is still pretty foreign, it is no longer daunting.

Today, I volunteered at my first Mobile Skills Crew event and was assigned to Section 14 on the new and improved Lapham Peak Segment reroute.

Luckily for me, I was put in a crew of experienced and skilled trailbuilders who taught me with patience and humor. That being said, the one that taught me most was actually just nine years old. The grandson of my crew leader inspired me with his enthusiasm, his knowledge, and his energy.

Besides being introduced to new tools and new invasive species, I was able to remove stumps, pop up rock after rock, and help create a rock wall. Though sometimes it felt like I was making one hole just to fill another, I now know and understand good dirt as opposed to bad fill.

But what I understand even more now is the dedication and desire that so many good-hearted people have to create and maintain natural experiences for generations to come. I am continually impressed at the passion people I am surrounded by exhibit for the trail.

While I certainly worked hard based on the fact that I am sore in places I didn't know I even had, so many others worked even harder. It is impressive and inspiring and I am excited for more opportunities to help maintain the trail I so thoroughly enjoy.

But above that, I look forward to meeting and learning about the people that make the Ice Age Trail the special place it is.
View from new trail
Another view from new trail

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Hike It Baby

Taking kids outside = good. Meeting others who enjoy that same activity = great. Collaborating to help as many kids as possible fall in love with nature = amazing.

Through a mutual contact, I was exposed to a program similar to the Tyke Hikes I coordinate for the Ice Age Tail Alliance. Named Hike It Baby, this group is broken into local groups that organize many hikes in various locations. For example, just this week, the two local chapters from my are organized hikes at a local park, a nature center, a state park, an ecology center, and Lake Michigan. My family was fortunate to enjoy one of these hikes tonight at a beautiful nature center we had never been to before. As usual, Embry aimed to be the hike leader, though with this being a kid-led hike, she had competition.

Similar to Tyke Hikes, my favorite part is watching kids interact with nature. From sniffing wildflowers to finding animal holes, observing bees  to hugging trees, nature always offers more than you expect.

I look forward to getting more exposure and experience with this group and seeing how our paths can converge for the benefit of children.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Hike of Humidity -Loew Lake

After torrential thunderstorms stopped us on our way to some evening hiking last night, we thought we'd beat the heat and get up nice and early to enjoy a morning march through the woods.

We were wrong.

The morning humidity was brutal, probably why our toddler was in a very "up and down" mood. Though she whined much more than usual, she did take the time to enjoy the smell of wildflowers, the sight of butterflies, and the taste of raspberries straddling the trail.

The evening rain also led to a muddy mess of a hike, but there's nothing wrong with getting a little bit muddy. As we trekked through some open prairie, we took pleasure in the shady spots and yearned for the upcoming covered canopy of the forest.

The shade of the trees was much appreciated. The steep, uphill descent wasn't, though the high humidity and rising temperatures probably dampened what would have been a great hike for conditioning.

When the toddler was cooperating, it was great to hear her excitement at every discovery. From jumping off of roots to searching for the perfect hiking stick, her moments of joy make every hike worthwhile.

Taking the toddler's cues, we cut our hike a bit shorter than we expected but enjoyed bopping the blazes back to the car, even the blue ones designated for spur trails.

Although the searing sun made the trek a bit sticky, the spectacular scenery combined with the company of my two favorite hikers made me ready to hit the trail again soon.