Weekly Walk: Marl pits, a scarlet tanager and Rubarb Cake Day

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Ellen Davis | June 21, 2017

The Weekly Walks for June 13 and 14,  2017

The  4 p.m. Tuesday hike, reported by Jake Gerlach:

This Tuesday was the seventh annual Rhubarb Cake Day hike. By tradition Marvin bakes rhubarb cake to celebrate his birthday -- and by tradition we always hike the white ski trail. Today my wife and I arrived at the usual meeting place to find the catalpa tree white with blooms and one hiker, Rick, who did not know that this was a special hike. By the time we arrived at the ski trails we had sixteen hikers plus some who just came for the celebration.

I walked with Rick quite a bit; he is a beekeeper, always looking at what flowers were out and what the bees can use to make honey. He particularly liked the blue vetch clusters and the white clover.

After the hike, Marvin's wife, Judy, helped him serve the rhubarb cake and wine. It was certainly one of the best events of our hiking year!

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

In brief, the weather today was hot and cloudy with a good chance of heavy storms later in the afternoon. Andy led 12 long-hikers to the Scuppernong Nature Trail (a part of the Kettle Moraine State Forest near Ottawa Lake) on what would be a short hike of well under five miles, the distance we usually shoot for as a bare minimum. One of the features of today's hike was a visit to the marl pits, an area along a creek in which can be seen the light gray marl. In past days it was extracted, put into kilns, and processed into an ingredient for cement or used in fertilizer. Some of the remnants of the structure in which the marl was dried are still standing and are covered with graffiti.  

Across from the parking lot there is a field where gentians are sometimes seen, though not at this time of year. Nevertheless, there is a lot to see in this area. After walking along the sometimes slippery (though not today) marl pit area and backtracking to the kiln area, we saw vestiges of an abandoned trail track used to transport the marl and its product to Eagle Lime Products in Dousman, five miles away. The train operated from 1909 to 1915.

Making our way along the many trails old and new to us (we hadn't hiked this area in at least a year), we saw good quantities of swamp milkweed, lupine, hoary puccoon, and horse-tail. We had many opportunities to walk down side trails following signs pointing the way to springs. At the end of some of these side trails were viewing platforms overlooking the marsh. From there we could see the odd tadpole and also small monarch butterflies feasting on the milkweed.

Some of us took a path to Hidden Hillsides Springs and Emerald Springs via newly installed boardwalks. On one or more of these side trails we could appreciate many flora such as Solomon's seal (both the true and starry varieties), lobelia, goats-beard, spiderwort, golden Alexander, yarrow with its little white flowers, columbine, potentilla, baneberry, and common ninebark.

The most spectacular find of the hike was the somewhat elusive scarlet tanager, which six of us saw sitting on a log not far away. He stayed with us for almost five minutes before he went on his way. We visited the stone foundation of the Scuppernong Hotel, originally built as a cheese factory.  It flourished until 1934 when it became a private retreat. It burned down in the 1970s.

When we finished this part of the hike, the group -- hot, tired, and thirsty -- weighed the possibility of putting in additional miles walking around Ottawa Lake Campground on an asphalt road. Aware of pending storm warnings, the group almost unanimously voted to end the hike. Most regrouped at the Sunny Side Up Restaurant in Dousman. There, hydrated and refreshed, the group partook heartily of the Mexican fare on offer, ending with the spectacular and bountiful fried ice cream shared by all. All felt that the hike was great and that, though it was short, it returned us to a place which our mentor Russ Helwig would have wanted us to revisit regularly.

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

Two hikers from Lake Geneva joined us for the first time this morning, bringing our total to 11 for today's hot and muggy short hike. We decided on the loop trail around Lake La Grange, which offers several options to add mileage for those who feel like hiking more than the basic 2.8 miles. We set off up the hill behind the kiosk and admired the hazy view from the top. I noted some short plants sporting a spike of sparsely-placed very tiny blue flowers; Jake said they were a type of wild lobelia.   

The temperature dropped noticeably as the trail led us through the woods, then rose again as we reached the more open area near the lake. Jake pointed out a great blue heron fishing on the far side, and we went on down a corridor lined with honeysuckle, sumac, and other scrubby bushes leading into more woods.

I'm always a bit sad to see a hole in the soft ground surrounded by scraps of the leathery shells of turtle eggs, dug up and eaten by raccoons or other small predators.   We saw at least five examples of this, plus one similar hole that had apparently yielded nothing edible.

There was a slight breeze on the prairie. Spiderwort was prevalent but most of the dark blue flowers were half-closed. We stopped at Russ's bench for a break but soon went on to Ruth's Point, temporarily joining four fishermen to bask in the cooling breeze blowing across the water.  

The last section of prairie sported clovers-- sweet, yellow, and purple prairie varieties -- and yarrow and low-growing wild pink roses. The next woods still hosted wild black raspberries, but the wild strawberries that bloomed several weeks ago had been overshadowed by tick trefoil and poison ivy. We took the connector trail back toward the parking lot; at the second intersection with the horse trails Jake offered the longer-hike option and the majority of the group went with him. Four of us stayed on the connector.  A small bird, dark in color, flew past and landed in a tall tree. Almost immediately a bright red one with black wings and tail-- a scarlet tanager in his breeding plumage -- landed nearby.  He was half hidden in the branches, but we stayed and watched until he flew away.

The rest of the hike was less eventful. We added daisies, purple vetch, and common milkweed about to flower to the flowering plants already noted today -- plus a ragged black swallowtail butterfly that flew at our approach.  All four of us went on to the La Grange Country Store for lunch, where we were joined by most of the rest of the short-hikers a half hour later. All were pleased with this morning's outings, the menu options, the fine company, and the air conditioning!

Happy trekking.

Respectfully submitted,
Ellen Davis

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