Now I’ve been in Wisconsin since 2015 (OMG!), finding new nature preserves and trails means I have to travel farther afield. This time I went to the border between Portage and Waupaca counties about 2 hours southeast of my house. I’d been meaning to hike this segment of the Ice Age Trail for a while now and off I went. I had my first decision pretty quick. I chose left and would loop back to this point.
It was late summer and so the meadow was full of bees and butterflies. It was wonderful.
Though they might cause us to sneeze like crazy, these late summer bloomers are very important food sources for migrating monarch butterflies, over-wintering bees and other pollinators. It was a frenzy of last-minute carb loading!
I should have taken some video of the activity, but I spaced completely. I really need to get better at shooting video in the field. Also develop some other habits, but I’ll get to that in a minute.
Here’s the only shot of the creek itself that was an easy grab –
Look! It’s not tannic. How unusual. It’s part of an important ground and surface water ecosystem and was the site of a Cold Water Research Station that has since been removed. The data gathered was analyzed to help form fishing regulations like catch size and seasonal dates. A quick search showed that students and other scientists still use the site to study things like climate change and cold water fish species like brown trout. The area is still prime fishing territory. I wished there was more of the water near the trail because I just love brooks and streams and didn’t feel like bushwhacking. Luckily there was plenty to keep me interested and enchanted.
As soon as I stepped into the forest, I noticed it was different from the northwoods I’m used to. The undergrowth, the tree species, some of the ferns – not the same. It’s the sandy nature of the soil. It’s much drier than the loamy type up this way. The underlying glacial outwash is the reason – it’s a deposit tons of silt, sand, gravel and rock that can be hundreds of feet thick. As the ice melts and the water flows, the material is laid down in layers. As a result there may be water-filled kettles and post-glacial streams present as well. I love our ice age echoes.
It was still early, but the color change was beginning and despite the direct sun, was beautiful.
Soon the forest gave way to the oak savanna that the site was designated to protect.
I spent quite a lot of time off trail in this little grove, just absorbing the difference in how it felt compared to the forest proper. Of course I found something to occupy my time.
I’m not quite sure what they are. The closest I have to an ID is Xerocomellus truncatus, but it’s weak. I really should have looked at and photographed the underside. It looks to be a bolete in these photos, but it’s hard to tell. That’s the other habit I talked about at the start of this post. I really should examine my mushrooms more closely in the field. It would help tremendously when I get home and need to identify what I’ve shot. Now I have an iPhone 11 with a super nice camera, it should be easier to do. Photography goals for next year here I come!!
In addition to these areas, the site protects some fields of wild lupine which is the only food that Karner blue butterfly caterpillars will eat. As they are an endangered species, this habitat is absolutely critical to their survival and makes me doubly glad for the folks who maintain the flowers at the little cabin and abandoned house I photographed.
The trail crosses a road at one point and here I got a little turned around. I think it was 2nd avenue and almost directly across from where you come out is an obvious parking area with a little trail leading into the woods. Don’t take this!! Eventually it peters out completely. The fact that it was unblazed and barely bigger than a game trial should have clued me in. It does take you near Emmons creek again though, so if that’s what you’re after it’s great and I wish I had the time, but it was about 3:30 and if I had to backtrack I didn’t want to run out of daylight. I almost did turn around, but explored down the road to the right of where the trail comes out on the road. Bingo! There was the familiar brown and yellow sign for an IAT segment. Much shorter to close the loop to the parking area than to go back the way I’d come. Phew.
All in all it was a good day out in an environment that is markedly different from the northwoods. I love that about Wisconsin – so many little ecosystems packed into one state.