Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Jackson Marsh: A Wildlife Area for all seasons

Jackson Swamp, photo by Noah Froh

If you are looking for a place to get away from it all one of the many DNR wildlife areas in Southeast Wisconsin might be just the thing. Let me introduce you to Jackson Marsh Wildlife Area, which is located just east of the Village of Jackson in Washington County, a mere 25 miles from Milwaukee.

At 2,312 acres, the property is large enough to support a variety of terrains and habitats, including wetlands, grasslands, woodlots, streams and small ponds. Cedar Creek, a 32-mile long tributary of the Milwaukee River, runs the length of the property. In wet weather—including winter thaws like those we’ve had recently—the main creek and its feeder streams may spill over their banks and pool in the surrounding wetlands. Some trails, which are generally found atop dikes that crisscross the wetlands, can be inundated at these times.

The core of the Wildlife Area is 1,571-acre Jackson Swamp, which is designated as a State Natural Area. This section features wet silver maple forest and white cedar and tamarack swamp, habitats that are more typical of northern Wisconsin. The Wisconsin State Natural Areas Program has been called “the nation’s largest and most successful statewide
nature preserve system.” * The program’s mission is to protect outstanding examples of Wisconsin's native landscape, including natural habitats, geological formations and archeological sites, and to provide refuge for rare plants and animals.

This story was published in my column at Milwaukee Magazine. Click here to continue reading

Cedar Creek, Photo by Noah Froh

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Photo essay: Winter fun in area parks!

Minooka County Park, Waukesha

Did you get out to enjoy the snow over the weekend? Lots of folks did. Everywhere I went I found people out sledding, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, jogging, walking dogs and even cycling in the snow. After our repeated freeze-thaw cycles of January it seemed as though there was finally enough snow to enjoy winter for a change. Here are some photos.

Hundreds of people of all ages were snowboarding and sledding on the long slope down to the lake behind the  Whitnall Park clubhouse. 

Hoyt Park, Wauwatosa
Family snowshoeing at Retzer Nature Center, Waukesha
Hiking the Pike River trail at Petrifying Springs Park, Kenosha
Hoyt Park, Wauwatosa
Fox River Parkway, Waukesha
Groomed cross-country trail at Whitnall Park, Franklin
Skiers looking for a trail, Retzer Nature Center
Hoyt Park, Wauwatosa
Minooka Park, Waukesha
Hoyt Park, Wauwatosa
Retzer Nature Center, Waukesha

Monday, February 5, 2018

Photo Essay: Urban Candlelight Hike 2018

Excitement had been building for weeks for the second annual Urban Candlelight, which was held last Saturday, Feb. 3. After last year’s surprisingly successful inaugural event drew an estimated 2,500 people on an especially frigid night, expectations were high among the organizers. And those expectations were exceeded.

People began appearing on the Hank Aaron State Trail in Three Bridges Park before dark and the official start time of 5:30 pm. Light snow during the day had frosted the trail with a fresh white sheen. Before long the few early birds were joined by dozens and then hundreds. And they kept coming all evening. I don’t think I’ve seen the trail as crowded at any time of the year.

Almost as if planned, snow began to fall again as the event got underway. The falling snow coated hats, softened the landscape and made everything feel magical. The overcast sky glowed from city lights surrounding the park. It never got truly dark!

The event attracted people of all stripes. There were many families pushing strollers, as well as a few wheelchairs. I even saw a few bicycles in the snow.  Lots of dogs on leashes. Children ran up the hills and slid down the steep slopes on their snow pants. Marshmallows were roasted over bonfires. Selfies were taken everywhere along the trails.

Many of the hikers were visiting Three Bridges Park for the first time. They learned, among other things, that the park stretches from the Mitchell Park Domes on the east to the Menomonee Valley branch of the Urban Ecology Center on the west. 

I haven’t yet heard an official estimate but those I spoke to were certain, as I was, that it would prove higher and likely substantially higher than last year. We do know that 1,100 adults pre-registered online even though registration was not required. And that number did not include all the children--or dogs!

Thanks to the sponsoring organizations, Friends of the Hank Aaron State Trail, Menomonee Valley Partners and the Urban Ecology Center, for the effort involved in making this event so successful.

The conditions made photographing the event challenging, especially the blowing snow and so many of my images may seem a bit more impressionistic than usual. The lighting was particularly strange and not only because it was dark. The color of the overcast sky kept changing with whatever lights were nearby.

The crowds were so thick, as well as the falling snow, that I had no hope of running into anyone I knew. But I did. Several times. It was great to see y'all there!
This year's hike became a family affair when my wife, Lynn, brought our granddaughter, also named Lynn. 

Full disclosure: I am on the board of the Friends of the Hank Aaron State Trail.