2016 has been a pretty amazing year for my family and our outdoor adventures
This year has also been wonderful for my own growth as an outdoor educator and volunteer.
I've got plenty of ideas and plans to keep me busy in 2017. Most importantly, the arrival of a second Tyke Hiker to join Embry, due in March. Until then, we enjoyed a few hikes over the last few days to celebrate 2016.
We kicked off at the Retzer Nature Center. Embry loves clearing the trail so she did her best to make sure the trail was void of pine cones. Of course, we had to stop at fallen trees and stumps along the trail for some easy natural play. Embry especially enjoys the stump jumps as long as they don't lead to rump bumps.
We walked through various habitats. From prairie to the pond with woods along the way, we always enjoy a good trip to Retzer.
Them to cap off the year, we enjoyed a trip to our neighborhood nature spot, the Weiland preserve.
Embry always enjoys being the hike leader, though her tendency to want to stop and explore everything she sees does make for an interesting hiking pace. It compares to stop 'n go traffic, but with a lot more enthusiasm.
We took our usual route, enjoying and not avoiding what Embry calls "slip sloppy" ice. We saw tracks, scat, and collected every stick we could handle along the way.
I absolutely love the winter scenery. Being able to see into the woods from this barren perspective makes it seem the trees go on forever. There's just something so serene and calming about a winter walk.
Of course, the chuckles and silliness of a three year old tend to break the serenity quickly.
Near the end of the trail, Embry was mesmerized by the ice. She counted the leaves trapped in the ice and was especially enamored with the frozen footsteps and the bubbles trapped inside.
But, nothing is more fun than "ice skating" on the curb line ice and cracking as much as possible on the way home. Bring on more adventure 2017! We'll be ready!
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Though I was bummed I accidentally left my John Muir shirt at home, it didn't take too much time in Muir Woods to forget about my error. The hilly drive through San Francisco bumper to bumper traffic while crossing bridges and winding around serpentine roads was adventurous, but the sights and sounds of this national monument made all the travel troubles worth it.
When we saw the "Muir Woods parking full" sign on the freeway a few miles from our destination, we knew the woods were crowded. It's always a blessing and a curse when so many people take over nature. While it is great to see people out and about enjoying nature, it sort of takes away from the tranquility and serenity offered by the woods. However, the crowds here were quite respectful and the overall feel of the park was still very natural.
As we ventured into what Embry called the "red woods," the amazing smell first caught our eyes, or noses. So fresh. The amazing collection of trees was impressive from ground level, bit as we took the hillside trail, a trail that took you among the canopy of these towering giants, you got a whole new perspective and appreciation of just how skyscraping these beauties were.
Along the way, small cascading streams guided the way. Huge crayfish scoured the stream in search of lunch. Many trees had "caves" at their bases, perfect for exploring and mugging for the camera. There were also many rocks along the way that our daughter just had to climb and jump off of. One of Embry's favorite tricks was being able to "squeeze the trees" as she walked between trees along the trail.
When we reached the end of our hikes for the day, we stopped by the gift shop. Besides getting a new shirt for my nature kindergarten wardrobe, I posed with John Muir himself and Embry rode a bear and we enjoyed some natural artwork.
Muir Woods was a beautiful and popular place I look forward to returning to and exploring again someday.
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When my daughter was born, it was clear right away she loved being outdoors, especially on our family adventures on the Ice Age Trail. As her trips on the trail moved from her infant carrier to her own two feet, my viewpoint of hiking changed from focusing on quantity to quality. When I carried her, it was all about getting in every mile I could. When she was trailblazing at a toddler pace, I realized the real joy came from the discovery.
These toddler treks brought about the creation of the Tyke Hike program. On Thursday, July 24th, 2014, nineteen hikers enjoyed a nerve wracking but exciting inaugural Tyke Hike at Lapham Peak. On Saturday, April 23rd, at that same location, Tyke Hike broke its' own record and had an amazing 103 signed in hikers out and about on Wisconsin's Ice Age Trail. Add in nearly 75 at a second special hike later that afternoon and nearly 200 friends of all ages came out to enjoy an absolutely gorgeous spring day.
With our focus being general information about the Ice Age and the trail in general, we dug into topics such as the evolving mileage of the trail, the reason for the trail being called the Ice Age Trail, and of course, landforms and glaciers. Going back to my 4th grade teaching roots, I offered up these concepts in a quiz format and the hikers aced them each time.
Mojo, our Tyke Hike mammoth mini-mascot, was loved by many children on our 1.5 mile trek through rocky and rooty Lapham Peak. When we scaled the 120+ steps back to the tower, Diane, our new librarian friend from the Delafield Public Library, shared Lisa Wheeler's wonderful picture book, Mammoths on the Move, with some of the tykes.
In just two short years, the Tyke Hike program has taken amazing steps forward in providing opportunities for families to enjoy this tremendous trail. I can't wait to see what the next two years bring!
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Maybe it was punishment for missing church on Easter Sunday. Maybe it was poor timing. Maybe it was just dumb luck, Either way, the rains we endured on our holiday hike through James Island County Park in South Carolina made our trek wetter and wilder than expected.
Though we primarily stayed on the paved path, encountering an alligator warning sign so early in the journey definitely raised some eyebrows.
Paraphrasing Seinfeld here, "As the rain poured down on us, we thought to ourselves: there must be a better way!"
The girls didn't let the weather dampen their enthusiasm. They frolicked through the forest, climbing Spanish Moss covered trees and splashing in every puddle they could find. Embry's hikemate, Ruby, reiterated a saying I've had to tell my forest kindergartners on more than one occasion:
"You know what they say about water??? It will dry." I also enjoy my favorite outdoor saying (though grammatically incorrect), "Dirt don't hurt!"
Though the rain seemed to strengthen as the hike continued, you wouldn't know it by the energy of the girls. They loved reconnecting with their Ice Age Trail roots as they attempted to bop every blaze they encountered. I thought Embry's head might explode when we ran into a triple "rainbow blaze."
And what is the best post-hike encounter when you are already soaking wet. . . a run through the park's fountain and splash pool of course. Just beware of the alligators!
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The family and I got out on an unexpected hike today. Enjoy!
Sometimes, the best events originate from altered plans. While on our way to a different location, we came across some unexpected issue that forced us to change the plan. Luckily for us, a Ice Age Trail trailhead was just minutes away. Problem solved!
My family and I always enjoy trekking through trail that is new to us and this was our first excursion on the Milwaukee River Segment. Though a bit muddy and breezy, the sunlight made reminded us of the many hikes ahead of us.
Embry of course made a required stop to bop every blaze, though she changed walking sticks a few times along the way. She's developing great flexibility and innovation as she found a new use for the walking stick, bopping the blazes she can't quite reach.
She also made sure she was the leader, blaring "I want to be the hike leader" every time Mom or Dad stepped ahead. While her fearless attitude is appreciated, it did lead to a few extra stumbles and fumbles in the mud. That didn't stop her though. She still declared that "we're going the wrong way" when we decided to turn around. She hates turning around! She knows that means we are headed back to the car.
To help avoid any more falls in the mud on the return route, she commandeered a second stick for extra balance. She also entertained us with songs all the way back top the car, stopping of course to point out roots, rocks, and every single paw print she could find.
Though today's hike was bit slick and slippery, the sunshine and gorgeous views make a return trip a sure thing this hiking season.
With temperatures climbing into the 40's here in Wisconsin, it was either time to hit the beach or trek the trail. We opted for the latter.
Heading out to one of our favorite area segments, Loew Lake, our daughter started the hike a bit whiny and requesting to be held. Of course, that all changed when the first blaze came into sight. Even though it has been a few months since she last visited the Ice Age Trail, bopping blazes for her is like riding a bike.
We enjoyed checking out the tracks, investigating the pine needles, and testing out different walking sticks. I am also glad our mandatory pit stop at every bench now consists of only a snack rather than a diaper change.
We weren't the only ones out on the trail. In our hike, we met a stunning Siberian husky, stepped to the side while a dad pulled two boys on a sled, and enjoyed giving love to a dachshund named Huck and a black lab named Hank. Huck and Hank on a hike. Love it!
Luckily for us, the blaze bopping season has only just begun.
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I along with a few of our Hiking Forward Correspondents are taking to the woods on January 1st to help in leading New Year's Day hikes. This is a great way to start the year off outside and help those around you to enjoy what nature has to offer all us on day one.
I will be leading my local Sierra Club's Stone Soup Hike in Central Illinois. Everyone brings something for the two pots (one vegetarian and one meat). The soup simmers over open fires as we all hike. When we return we share in the soup, fellowship and great conversation. The hike has continued to grow each year and become a family tradition for many.
According to the National Association of State Parks Directors almost 28000 participated in First Day Hikes throughout America's state parks hiking over 66,000 miles total. The family nature club that I started in 2012 has held a First Day Hike annually since it's inception. This year is no exception, on January 1st I will be leading a First Day Hike with the South Mississippi Family Nature Club along the Black Creek Hiking Trail.
First Day Hike – Friday, January 1st, 2016 – 11:00 am to 2:00 pm
Hosted by the Waukesha/Milwaukee County Chapter of the Ice Age Trail Alliance
Get outdoors and begin the New Year with a hike at Lapham Peak. First Day hikes take place throughout the nation. Be part of this celebration of the country’s parks and trails. This moderate level family friendly hike will be about 3 to 4 miles in length. Dress for the weather. Bring snowshoes and hiking poles if you wish. Park fees will be waived for the day. The hike will begin from the Hausmann Nature Center parking lot. Warm up with hot beverages and snacks at the Center afterwards.
Are you planning on hiking on the 1st day of the year? Comment below and let us know where you are hiking.
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This winter Tyke Hike was anything but winter-like. With temperatures approaching forty degrees, there was no chance of the wintry walk as advertised in the promotional materials. Still, nearly forty hikers enjoyed a walk through the paved Homestead Hollow path at beautiful Lapham Peak State Park.
We all trekked the trail and discussed the power of glaciers, "found" the future of the forest, and searched for active animals, especially at the peaks of the pine trees. With every hike, we try to provide some off-trail exploration to get the hikers in nature, not just around it.
In our explorations, it was wonderful to see the curiosity and intrigue of the children. From finding frost-covered leaves to investigating under logs, each twist and turn along the trail offers a new learning point and a new way to fall in love with nature.
When we talked about how wood decomposes and helps turn into rich soil, a few children found some fallen, rotting limbs and offered up their karate chop services to hasten the process. When searching through the blanket of leaves, one child found a stick covered with moss and lichens. After peeling off the moss, he politely asked his mother, "Can you please hold my moss?" You knew never know what you will see or hear in the forest.
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Fifteen hikers battled the brisk winds on a bright November morning to take to the woods for some outdoor exploration. Focusing on animals and plants and their preparation for winter, we all had a wonderful time finding evidence of our furry and feathery friends throughout the forest.
Stopping regularly to talk about hibernating, migrating and activating animals, we also learned about trees and their sleeping while dormant. But talking doesn't compare at all to exploring. We explored fallen limbs, trunks, and stumps, searching for signs of animal life.
We stopped at a very special tree, one I have called the reading tree as it is a usual resting spot dedicated to reading a picture book connected to the theme of the hike. We enjoyed Hibernation Station by Michelle Meadows before continuing along the leaf-covered trail.
As is a tradition of the Tyke Hikes, our turnaround point is usually some tree. The tree I usually stop was about a 15 foot tall, limbless, barkless tree that stood out right against the edge of the tree surrounded by towering lively tree cousins. As we approached, this tree was not what it used to be as Mother Nature and Father Time combined to down it. While it didn't stand out visually like it once had, the fallen tree made a great lesson and search for bugs, chipmunks, and other exciting finds.
We also took a breather on the way back to view a few nurse stumps and a stump we affectionately called Chipmunk Hotel. While we watched, a chipmunk caught our eye and watched us as we watched him. We saw him test out a few leaves, stuff his cheeks with an acorn, and finally choose a leaf that he puled down into his decomposing stump of a den. Of course, when the kids and I moved on for a closer look, we saw that the stump seemed to have a variety of different openings and cavities, so Chipmunk Hotel was born.
Though the weather was a bit of a dip from the unseasonal, but appreciated 70 degrees earlier in the week, this autumn-like weather provided the feel like winter is certainly on the way. So too are the next set of Tyke Hikes!
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With just a few hours of hiking time left before the rental car was due back in the Emerald City, we decided to scan the park map and see what aroused our interest. It didn't take long before the trail named the Grove of the Patriarchs stood out as the trail of choice.
Using the clues from the name of this trail to assume this was part of an old growth forest, I instantly wanted to check it out. I love trees, but I really love BIG trees. Oddly enough, as we arrived, one of the first thing that caught my eye was something quite small. I lovingly called it the Smurf Village, as it was a collection of tiny mushrooms.
There were tons of old growth trees all around us. While a variety of species was intermingled throughout the trail, fallen trees along the path made for excellent pictures and observations.
Standing next to these giants really put into perspective the gravity of how important it is to preserve nature all around us. These trees have seen so much and they need to be preserved so that so many more can see them.
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