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Hikers encounter wIldflowers and a slow burn

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Russ Helwig | April 30, 2014

Ten of us and two well behaved canine companions on leashes had a wonderful hike around Lake LaGrange last Tuesday, April 22. The temperature was great for a walk and a windbreaker kept a stiff breeze at bay.

At the top of the hill behind the kiosk we observed some pasqueflowers on the sandy west slope.  The flowers were in full bloom but some looked a little wind beaten. At any rate they were a sure sign that spring is here.

There were a couple kayaks on the lake and at least one paddler was using a fishing rod. We watched him a while but did not see any fish caught.

There were some geese on the lake and many blackbirds in the bushes along the shoreline.

Marv Herman writes on Wednesday's long walk:

On what many considered a day with perfect hiking conditions (high 40s, clear and sunny) 18 long hikers carpooled from the U.S. Highway 12 meeting place to Clover Valley Road to hike the five mile segment of the Ice Age Trail back to the meeting place. It is well settled that this is probably the most rigorous part of the trail between Clover Valley Road and Emma Carlin trailhead and it will be traversed by the hikers as part of the Uline Hike on May 3.

We noticed lots of hepatica, the Cilia near County Highway P was evident as were patches of violets just past Esterly Road. A large tree was blocking the trail but easily traversed.

A section of the trail north of Esterly had been burned by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources on Easter Sunday and some smoking logs were in evidence. We encountered a DNR worker (orange jacket and clipboard) who told us that his agency was waiting for the Thursday rain to quell the smoke and potential fires.
 
Many of the group reassembled at the LaGrange General store for refreshment and conversation. Others went to The Fuzzy Pig on Clover Valley Rd.
 

Ellen Davis writes on Wednesday's short walk:

The longer-short-hike group agreed to a nearby route with several distance options possible.  Fourteen of us, including one new hiker and a visitor from Geneva, Ill., crossed U.S. Highway 12 to begin our trek on the horse trail. Hoping to see hepaticas finally in bloom and other signs of spring, we started up the first hill.

Before long we began to smell smoke and ash. Next, a recently cleared “trail” crossed ours. It appeared to be a firebreak. And it was. A controlled burn had been done here very recently; as far as we could see, the ground to the right of the trail was blackened. Thinking that the burn might not have been a large one, we went on. And it went on – almost as far as the pines. 

As we left the scorched earth area the air began to smell fresher. We re-grouped at Esterly Road and discussed our options: to take the Ice Age Trail to County Highway P then return (four and a half miles), or take the horse trail back the way we came (three miles), or return on the Ice Age Trail to our starting point (three and a half miles). The entire group favored the latter option; we put away our water bottles and set off again through the pines.

Out of the pines and past another firebreak, we were again surrounded by the sight and smell of the recent burn.  The precision with which it had been managed was eye-opening and very impressive.  Though the vegetation on both sides had been burned, the narrow trail itself was still covered with crispy dry leaves. 

Once we had passed under the power lines, the trail changed direction and we began to see hepaticas blooming on the edges – and sometimes on the trail itself. A dead tree had fallen across the trail; we snapped off protruding branches and stepped over the trunk. A gauzy cloud of smoke defined a still-smoldering log, and we noted another dead tree – still standing – emitting a thin wisp of its own. Rain was forecast for the afternoon and overnight, so although surprising to see, it was not cause for alarm. 

Those of us in wildflower mode were distracted by the hepaticas and lagged behind, taking photos. The rest of the group waited for us at the bench. We returned to our starting point together, through woods alive with buds and new growth – thankful for the good stewardship of the DNR in working to maintain the integrity of these forests through invasive-species-destroying well-controlled burns like the one we passed through today.

Flower Walk, April 23, 2014:

In the meantime I led a contingency of six on a series of leisurely flower walk. We started at the State Forest Headquarters near Eagle by hiking the Stoney Ridge Nature Trail. Hepatica in colors of blue, pink, and white dotted the hillsides. We found bloodroot in bloom and some rare kitten tails in bud stage. There were geese, a variety of ducks, and many turtles on the pond behind the headquarters. Chorus frogs serenaded us there and from the other kettle ponds that we passed as we walked the nature trail.

Next we went to the Pasqueflower Preserve located northeast of Eagle in the forest. We found these flowers at their peak. There were huge drifts of pasqueflowers throughout the preserve.  Prairie smoke was also plentiful but the plants were still small but a few did have buds.  They will need another week or two to bloom and longer to get past bloom when the seed heads open and they start looking like smoke.

After lunch at the Edge of Town restaurant in Palmyra we drove to the Prince's Point Wildlife Area where we saw trout lily, spring beauties, false rue anemone, bloodroot, hepatica, wild mustard, and Dutchman's breeches in bloom. They were not yet in peak bloom, but enough flowers were showing to make a walk in the woods very enjoyable. The floor of the wet woods was carpeted with small young green plants of numerous wildflowers including trillium, toothwort, shooting star, and wood phlox, all of which will be blooming in the weeks to come.

Sandhill cranes and geese were plentiful in the area as were a variety of other smaller birds.

Those who hiked with me had never been at these wonderful wildflower areas before and they informed me that this was the best hike they have been on.  In reality it was not a hike, but rather a slow amble where we stopped after every few steps to examine plants and to take photos.

Happy Trekking,

Russ




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