Thursday, August 1, 2013

Hikin' It Easy: John Muir Memorial Park Loop

One of the big reasons I enjoy hiking is to see things you just can't see from the road, a pulloff overlook, or a parking lot. Sure, some of those things take a long time, or require considerable effort. However, many great natural places and experiences can be reached by short hikes. "Hikin' It Easy" are posts that share these short and/or easy hikes. All of them will be less than 2 miles long, and most will be either flat or mostly flat. A few might have some stairs and may require a little exertion, but these walks will be very short distances.

The first hike, a loop hike around a nature area that was the boyhood home of John Muir, is at the upper limit of length, although it was a easy walk with only very short elevation changes. In fact, the only elevation changes of note was at the start and end of the trail.

During the walk, I traveled through many different natural areas. I started walking through a prairie, which was on the edge of a oak opening* and a fen**. The prairie wildflowers were in bloom, and birds, including goldfinches and red winged blackbirds, were flittering about around me.

Eventually I crossed into an area that was forest on one side, and shrubs and sedges on the other. In the forested area, there wasn't as many plants on the ground, as the leaves of the tall oaks blocked the sun. There certainly were plenty of ferns, growing in the cool shade of the forest.

At one point on the trail I walked out a bit towards the lake, feeling the spongy ground beneath my feet as I got closer to the water. Eventually I stopped, not particularly wanting to take a step that would get me all wet.

Eventually I made my way back around through the tall oak trees, crossed a small stream, and was back at the mowed area where there is a shelter, a restroom, and a memorial to John Muir.

Although this trail is fairly short, it is actually a part of the Ice Age Trail, a National Scenic Trail that goes across Wisconsin highlighting its glacial history. This marks the third national scenic trail I've walked at least one mile***, the other two being the Appalachian Trail and the North Country Trail. Like most of the trails, the Ice Age Trail is still being developed. Although the trail is developed in the park (the entire loop is considered part of the trail), to reach the park you would have to road walk from both directions. Even with that, how could you pass up a chance to walk by the boyhood home of John Muir?

John Muir is considered the founder of modern environmentalism, as well as the father of America's national parks. His family moved from Scotland to a farm next to Fountain (now called Ennis) Lake when he was 11. Muir spoke and wrote fondly of the area around the farm, and credited it as the inspiration for his passion about nature. He was never successful at preserving the area in his lifetime, but eventually it was preserved and became a county park and Wisconsin state natural area.

After walking around the park, I can understand why he was so enamored of it. Sure, it doesn't have the impressive grandeur of Yosemite Valley, or the uniqueness of the giant Sequoia trees. However, the place is still beautiful, and is full of life and the little things that make talking a walk in the woods (or prairie, or wetland, or...) so rewarding.

Despite being a saturday in July, I was the only person on the trail its entire length. Perhaps the unseasonable coolness and cloudiness that threatened rain all day kept people away. However, I didn't mind, as it let me enjoy this little piece of nature on my own terms. It wasn't hard to imagine a young Muir walking along the shores of the little lake, investigating each type of fern to find what makes them different, or just watching the dragonflies and birds go about their business. I'm sure he would be glad to know this place has not only returned to nature, but that other people get the same enjoyment out of the place that he did.

*More oak trees than a oak savanna, but fewer than an oak forest.
**A type of wetland. Is similar to a bog, but with basic or neutral soils instead of acidic like a bog.
***That I know of.

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