Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Marathon County does their Trail Proud

The Ice Age Trail has four segments in Marathon County, and all but one - the smallest - gets 'first-class hiking' ratings from me.  Working from north to south, here are the particulars.

The Plover River segment is the best.  It's all new, opened just a few years ago.  It gets its high rating because of three distinctive features.  First, there's a long, well-built boardwalk through a wetland.

Then there's an abundance of very pleasant trail that rambles through some open areas and among big glacier-rounded rocks in mossy mature hardwood forest.

And finally there's an up-close walk beside the Plover River as it skirts a glacier moraine and meanders through the big rubble rocks that rolled down off it.  The best view of this small river or creek is the headline photo above.

Following the Plover River Segment is a four mile road walk along quiet Sportsman Drive.  There was one remarkable spot of lingering fall color there -- a sumac that looked ablaze, even on this overcast day.

The next segment is the Dells of the Eau Claire River Segment.  This follows that significant river through quiet country and through the high-banked 'narrows' that are called 'Dells' from the French word for 'channel' or 'gutter'.  Other places call them Dalles, most famously along the Columbia River between Washington State and Oregon.

The Trail crosses the Eau Claire river twice on footbridges.  Here's the more scenic one, called the High Bridge.

This segment offers views of the small section of white water that cascades through angular rock formations that clearly had *not* been glacier-smoothed.

This is one of the few sections of the Ice Age Trail that is beyond the limit of the last glacier's advance.

Next came the Thornapple Creek Segment.  It is a very short segment and really has two sub-segments not more than a mile each in length.  I chose to bypass both--the first because it crosses private land that the owner wishes to be kept closed during hunting season.

I bypassed the second because, while bypassing the first, I met a local gentleman who was out riding his bike and he told me that this short stretch has two low areas that are basically always wet.  I didn't want to bother for one mile of woods trail on this frosty morning, so I walked the road.

Finally comes the Ringle Segment.  It uses a small piece of an 82-mile-long rail trail called the Mountain-Bay State Trail - sharing the route for just a mile and a quarter.

But the rest of this segment was trail deep in the woods, and very pretty.  Within it there is a brand new section that was just opened this year (2017).  The freshly cut trail is visible at right in the view below, in front of the freshly set bench with its excellent message.

Much of the rest of the woods trail is being rerouted off trails that are open to snowmobiles.  I was tempted to follow the flag tape marking the reroute, but the snowmobile trails were all quiet and grass-covered surface, not ripped up by ATVs or turned into a succession of mud pits as ORVs do, so I really didn't mind the existing route.  Still, the fact that Marathon County volunteers are being so proactive in taking the trail off these multi-use sections and creating foot-traffic-only trail speaks volumes for their dedication.  Thanks, Marathon!

South of the Ringle Segment, I faced the prospect of a road walk of 25 miles or more before the next segment in the next county.  In fact, between here and my destination of Madison the trail is largely on roads.  It's the most incomplete portion of the whole Ice Age Trail, as this overview map displayed at one of the trailheads shows.  Solid red lines are finished trail segments, dashed red lines are the road walks.

Because of this and because my ancestors' roots are deeply embedded all over the region around Milwaukee and just to its northwest, I've decided to take a detour down the Mountain-Bay Trail to Green Bay then the wide-shouldered bike-friendly highway 57 to Potawatomie State Park and pick up the Ice Age Trail there at its Eastern Terminus.  So my next report will come to you from the Mountain-Bay Trail.  Watch this space.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Ice Age Trail fun

Flag tape along the Ice Age Trail's Old Railroad Segment demarks an infestation of invasive species.  He looks dangerous, no?  Well, he is.  He represents the most destructive invasive species this planet's interdependent web of life has ever produced.
Worst of all, he's hopelessly confused. He designates beautiful wild natural corridors, gives them lofty names like 'National Scenic Trail' and then allows this to be done to them.

I joined the Ice Age Trail at this rather unfortunate logging site along the 'Old Railroad Segment' in Langlade County.  It was a rocky start--just bad luck, I guess--a first impression that I soon found reason to revise.  Soon I was meandering on dedicated footpath through untroubled woods, passing lovely settings like Narrow Neck Pond and then Game Lake

And that's when I remembered how good it is to be hiking a famous trail--a place where avid hikers, the hiker community, and its many friends, concentrate their resources to provide wanderers like me a chance to touch that primal feeling of being immersed in creation.

Creation never was perfect, just "very good" (Genesis 1:31).  And it's good to remember that that is all that is required of us inhabitants/participants in creation -- to strive to live up to that wonderfully reachable standard.

Wow.  What got me so philosophical today?

Well, this blog is about 'Heart and Sole.'  That was from the heart - now back to the sole part.

In Langlade County I hiked two more "certified" segments after the Old Railroad segment, and then had a long road walk before reaching Marathon County.  The Ice Age Trail Alliance seems to have organized their local chapters by county; and the 'certified' trail within each county is split into named 'Segments' of roughly day-hike length.

On my way south through Langlade County, the next two segments I hiked were called the Lumbercamp Segment, named for a historic site, and the Kettlebowl segment, named for a small, public ski area that is in turn named for a geologic formation that the melting glaciers left behind.

Here's the GPS Track of my traverse through the Lumbercamp segment showing the distinctive topography that this trail seeks out--the deposits near the edge of the farthest advance of glaciers in the last ice age.  Note the flat terrain in the south and west part of the image.  That's land that the glaciers never reached.

Along this segment the woods is full of rounded granite glacier-moved rocks and boulders, and on one of these I found an interesting new-to-me type of lichen with distinctive 'funnel' structures.  I think it is a variety of Cladonia, commonly called a Cup Lichen.

The segment also had a number of open areas, including Peters Marsh Wildlife Area and the Lumber Camp itself.

In the distance above you can see a stand of young aspens.  Because of their network of roots, all of those trees make up a single organism.  This makes them among the quickest species to regenerate after logging.  These aspens had dropped all their leaves, leaving their winter color to dazzle the eye.

The Kettlebowl segment has the same sort of topography.

One of the most extreme examples of a Kettle-hole along the trail is Big Stone Hole--a deep pit full of boulders where the melting ice at the end of the last ice age was mostly free of embedded debris, so when it melted it left a big hole into which the big round rocks in adjacent areas rolled to fill the void.

Big Stone Hole isn't easy to photograph, nor was it easy to scramble around in it.   It reminded me of a one dimensional version of Appalachian Trail's Mahoosuc Notch.

In drier areas the glacier-moved rocks sported more interesting lichen communities. 

This seems to be a variety of 'Placopsis' - a Bulls-eye Lichen

This larger aspen in the woods was also sporting its winter colors

Kettlebowl ski area costs just $5 for a day of skiing.  The rope tow lifts are tractor-operated and all the staff are volunteers.

Yet they've recently built a very nice shelter complete with heat and electricity and a nice snack bar.

Beyond the Kettlebowl Segment I had a road walk of more than twenty miles.  I chose my own route to take me through the town of Antigo and past Peroutka's, a century-old, family owned and run one-off (no chain) independent butcher shop specializing in house-made old-fashioned Wisconsin (German/Scandanavian) sausages.

Their summer sausage was what I was after.  My family moved away from Wisconsin when I was tiny, but we never lost our taste for this special distinctive treat.  Grandparents would send us care packages, so I always had Wisconsin local butcher-shop summer sausage in my Christmas stocking.  Today's Health department regulations prohibit Peroutka's from offering the old style white-mold-covered sausage smoked and cured in natural gut casing, but Peroutka's summer sausage taste is as close as I could come.  It's twice as intense as the brand-name store-bought summer sausage and at half the price!

Other road-walk sights of note included this remodeled old one-room schoolhouse

and a very late-lingering Monarch Butterfly feeding on red clover.

There were a couple examples of the lingering fall color -- in road-side wild asparagus and in a well-chosen variety of red maple in someone's yard in town.

Also in town my route took me past the Antigo  Historical Society and Museum with this well-kept old steam engine in display.

Next for me came more pure foot-trail in the woods in Marathon County - several segments of thoroughly enjoyable Ice Age Trail hiking.  Keep an eye out for my next report.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Wisconsin connected - Three Eagle Trail to the Ice Age Trail

One of my missions in blogging about my treks is to advocate for fully connected hiking trail system--a network across the US where hikers can chose the length of their experience from a day hike to a decade-long sojourn, and never leave the trail system.  At a minimum I would hope to connect the eleven Congressionally sanctioned National Scenic Trails with one another.  Today I completed my traverse of the missing link between the North Country Trail and Wisconsin's Ice Age Trail.

There are several decent routes to connect these two National long distance trails.  I had originally planned to use the Gandy Dancer Trail, which is a motorized trail, open to ATVs and snowmobiles.  I think I found a better way, using the Heart of Vilas Trail (a bicycle and hiking trail covered in a previous report), then jumping to the Three Eagle Trail, a bike/hike/snowshoe/ski trail that features several wetland boardwalks like the one up top, and finally going through a no-name trail system on a huge tract of privately owned forest that is open to public non-motorized use.  More on that property in a minute.

The Three Eagle Trail is open to 'silent sports' only.  It's smooth enough for road bicycles, but feels like a wild woods hiking trail because a good section of it is not on an old railroad bed but was built explicitly for the silent sport enthusiast.

Mud Creek bridge and wetland crossing
Majestic old pines and hardwoods
Fall color season is a great time to hike the Three Eagle Trail

Between the Three Eagle Trail and the Ice Age Trail, which I picked up near the Summit Lake public beach, I was hiking the US 45 corridor through the quaint towns of Monico, Pelican Lake, and Elcho.

Pelican Lake from the long roadside park

As I passed through a remote section between Three Lakes and Monico where there was no development--nothing but woods--I had noted many orange-gated side roads with these signs

It was agonizing.  Where did all these tempting tracks lead?  Then after I passed through, on the south end of the remote section, I came upon a kiosk with this map.

Oh, no!  I had just passed beside a huge, contiguous tract of land freely available for me to hike!  And it is full of gated two-track trails (closed to vehicles except when they open the gates).  Why couldn't they have posted a map at the north end too?  This is property owned by a very progressive, environmentally conscious hardwood forest company--fourth largest property owner in the United States, called simply The Forestland Group.  On the map I've annotated the route I could have hiked in yellow, about twelve miles of woods road closed to all vehicles, which I was able to confirm via the areal Google Map photos.  What I actually hiked is in orange.  If only I had known.  Woulda coulda shoulda ...

Finally I joined the Ice Age Trail to hike its Old Railroad Segment, maintained by the Langlade County Chapter of the Ice Age Trail Alliance.  Best part of this segment by far was the part through Veterans Memorial Park where a boardwalk took me between Game Lake (at left) and a vast sprawling wetland on the right and directly ahead.

It felt great to be back on 'cared-for' trail under the auspices of, and with the political and financial backing of the National Trails System Act.  That act has major flaws, but in a system dominated by the people who make the loudest noise and the bureaucrats they hire, it's a good start--a foot in the door toward my dream of a truly nation-wide Interstate Trail System.

Below I've included the overview map of my hiking to date.  To get a closer look at the sections discussed here, or any other part of my adventures, just zoom in as close as you care to.

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Saturday, October 21, 2017

Nostalic return to Hunter Lake via County forest roads

It's a smallish, unremarkable lake by Wisconsin standards.  It covers 175 acres, averages 17 feet deep, and is 40 feet deep at its deepest point, but the statistic that matters is that the Wetzel family vacationed there as many as twenty times between 1946 and sometime in the 1970's.

The photo above is from our 1954 family reunion in which we rented all three of the cottages owned by Margaret and Earl Barber on the northwest side of the lake.  In it are all four of my grandparents, all four of my aunts and uncles, and all six of my cousins.  I'm the kid in the chair holding a little cat.  The distinctive vertical log siding on the cottage has survived on two of the original three cottages.  Here are side-by-side photos of one of the cottages taken in the early '60's and the same cottage as I found it today.

I could write a whole post about my memories--the thrill of fighting small-mouth bass as they struck my lure trolling past the lily pads where they were lurking, the time I hiked into the woods alone, without telling anyone where I was going, and got so lost that I came closer to full-blown panic than ever before or since, bonding with my cousin Mark, closest to me in age, who we lost to a tragic accident in 1970, the ice man delivering a new block of ice for our old-fashioned ice box (before the owners upgraded to a real refrigerator), fresh fish dinners featuring the abundant walleye, bass, and perch that we caught, followed by playing the distinctive German card game 'Sheepshead' around the dining table.  I could go on and on.

The lake views are standard stuff, but here's my best shot of the waterfront where I spent countless summer hours as a kid.  The cottages are all hidden in the tall white pine trees.

Hunter Lake is surrounded  by a lot of public forest land.  There aren't any genuine trails leading there, but Vilas County maintains forest roads and fire breaks that are almost as quiet and pleasant.

Here are the GPS tracks of the route I fashioned to follow all those forest roads from St. Germain and the last several miles of the Heart of Vilas Bike Trail to the mid-point of the 'Three Eagle' bike trail that starts in the bustling tourist town of Eagle River.

Back when we vacationed there the modern open-cockpit lightweight snowmobile as we know it had not yet been invented.  Its meteoric rise in popularity in this area has led Eagle River to call itself ...

At the beginning of this segment I was hiking the last of the Heart of Vilas Bike Trail, which was the subject of my last post.  At the end I was on another bike trail that impressed me even more, although it is little more than 12 miles in total length.  It traverses Tara Lila, a large private holding of some very 'silent sport' friendly conservationists, who are building a network of snowshoe and cross country ski trails to complement the bike trail.  The bike trail itself features several impressive boardwalks crossing wetlands.  Here is the Four Women Boardwalk.

And that isn't even the best part of the Three Eagle Trail.  The good stuff came the next day, and I'll cover that in my next report.