Weekly Walk: More signs of spring

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Ellen Davis | April 19, 2016

The Weekly Walks for April 12 and 13,  2016

The  4 p.m. Tuesday hike, reported by Norwin Watson:

It was a sunny 50-degree day with very little wind. I joined four other hikers at the Ice Age Trail U.S. Highway 12 kiosk; we decided to hike the Nordic ski trails and carpooled to County Highway H. After looking at the map board, we decided on the hilly green trail and started off going north for about ¾ mile, passing a few blooming hepaticas along the way. At the next intersection we continued on the green trail for about a mile to a pair of benches on a hill with a very nice view overlooking a small kettle pond. It was a good place for a short break before heading back to the trailhead.

Others also found this a perfect spring day for a hike. On the way back we met a man with two very well-trained dogs, and were passed first by a couple walking a dog then by two fast-moving women. It was a very nice 3.6 mile hike and a great way to finish a very nice day.

The 10:30 a.m. Wednesday long hike, reported by Marvin Herman:

Temperatures in the high 40s under partly sunny skies set the stage for a perfect hiking day.  As usual, we met at the trailhead for the Blackhawk segment of the Ice Age Trail. This location is notoriously windy, so an under-dressed hiker such as myself would not worry about being cold once he was in the protection of the woods and moving up and down the hilly IAT.  

Our plan today was to carpool to the Oleson Cabin off Duffin Road and hike back to our meeting place on Highway 12, a distance of about five miles. Eleven long-hikers were in the group but all did not arrive in time to start off together. Perhaps it was a desire to get out of the wind that motivated the first hikers arriving at Duffin Road to start out without waiting for the rest of us. The result was that we were already spread apart into three groups by the time we reached the IAT and started our trip south. Soon we heard a symphony of chorus frogs and peepers – some of the loudest I have ever heard – sending us on our way.

Aside from an occasional bunch of hepaticas at the side of the trail, there was not much to see in the flora department. That is not to say that we didn't notice that almost all the leafy plants in the woods were showing buds which will open on the next warm day. These included the sumac, still carrying the burned-out seed pods that will soon decay and discharge seeds onto the forest floor. In early fall, the pods will return with the color of flame to brighten the trailside. We also noted what appeared to be a small black-capped chickadee but with yellow feathers where there would normally be white around the head. One of the hikers volunteered to check this out.

As we came to Lake La Grange, we noted the major work that had been done clearing out brush and removing invasive plants such as honeysuckle and buckthorn. The result is that much of the IAT side of the lake is now open to view from the trail. The volunteers who maintain this will have some work to do as the area has been left in an untidy way to say the least. Thanks, Barb. You are a good steward of the trail.

Just before reaching the parking lot, we encountered a huge birch tree that had fallen across the trail. It was not easily negotiated and I twisted myself into a pretzel form to get through, with the help of my walking stick. When all had returned from this day's adventure, most reconvened at the LaGrange General Store for soup, sandwiches, and the wonderful Greek pastry, baklava.

The 10:30 a.m. Wednesday short hike, reported by Ellen Davis:

With Jake away in Indiana, I decided on a route that we had originally considered for last week's hike but abandoned due to predicted inclement weather: Highway 12 to Esterly Road on the horse trail and back on the Ice Age Trail. This combination offers the best of both trails – wide for easy conversation, and narrow, twisty, and scenic for a more rustic experience – and is well-marked, familiar to most of the group, and somewhat challenging.

Three warm-weather hikers re-appeared for our outing this morning: Sandy from Elkhorn, and Nancy and Jeff from Arizona, bringing our total to an even dozen. Crossing the highway, we conquered the first big hill, paused in the meadow to look for Whitewater in the distance, and went on into the older forest. The steep ridges, deep washes, and occasional kettle lakes appear through the leafless trees as a rugged mountain landscape hugely miniaturized. Already we wildflower-gazers were lagging behind, mentally charting the progression of spring, knowing that we would find scattered clusters of hepaticas – one of the earliest spring ephemerals – just around the next hill. And we did. As it was an overcast day, the pale pastel buds were loosely closed, standing on delicate fuzzy stems above last year's liver-colored leaves.  

We left the wildflowers behind, passed under the power lines, through the next section of woods and into the pines. Those who had not hiked here recently were surprised to find that what had been a rather claustrophobic area choked with underbrush was now open and airy, thanks to extensive Department of Natural Resources' efforts.  

After a short break at Esterly Road, we started back on the Ice Age Trail through another area of pines cleared so well that I wasn't sure that I would see where the trail turned off from the access road. (It was visible – barely – if you knew where to look!) Once again, some of us were distracted by hepaticas while most went on ahead. We met up again at Ingrid Larsen's bench where we found fellow hiker Rita, her grandson Kohl, and several of our faster hikers waiting. Then back to the trailhead and lunch (as usual) at the LaGrange General Store. Our hike was 3.7 hilly miles.

Happy trekking.
Respectfully submitted,

Ellen Davis

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