No shortage of sub-freezing outdoor activity


This past weekend was one of those in which I did nothing special, but it ended up being quite special in its own Central Wisconsin way.

It started with no particular plan. By the time it was all said and done, though, I had visited four regional outdoor recreation institutions, with each visit sandwiched around a bunch of indoor activities.

All in all, it was yet another reminder of what a great place we live in.

Izaak Walton Jamboree leaves us hungry for more 

I often start Saturday with a pre-daybreak trip to the office, where it’s easy to work for a couple of hours in peace. I then worked more at home while my wife took our daughter to the Boys & Girls Club grand opening, and later that night we visited the university’s Arts Bash.  But a smaller city allows us to do that and still squeeze in plenty of outdoor activity without feeling harried.

A couple of the weekend’s outdoor activities were primarily for the kids. The first was a short, last-minute visit to the Izaak Walton League’s Winter Jamboree at McDill Pond, where my daughter and the youngest of our next-door neighbors had the kind of fun that only kids can have.

And by “kids” I mean anyone from about 2 to 102, from the looks of the crowd.

It took us until about 3:15 to arrive at the event, which was formally scheduled from noon to 4 p.m. Saturday. There were a bunch of folks out on McDill ice-fishing, snowmobiling or ATVing, but most of them seemed to be crowded into or around the tent at the end of the road running through the McDill Pond disc golf course.

That tent was my destination, as I hadn’t yet had lunch following my midday workout at the YMCA. The event’s flier promised “great burgers,” and they apparently were, as every one of them had been gobbled up (600, according to Jamboree coordinator Tom Dreier).

As had all of the hot dogs.  Hot chocolate?  Also gone.  I took this as the signs of a pretty popular event.

That left only an All-American outdoor lunch: candy bars and beer.  I bought two of the former for the kids and a Point Special for myself.

The young ones had already eaten, so they were more than happy … and so was I, although still a bit hungry. I mostly followed the kids around, enjoying the bright sunshine and temperatures slightly below freezing that chilled my beer more as I drank it.

We were highly impressed by the snow sculptures, including a dragon with undulating parts of its abdomen seemingly popping up at intervals from the pond’s icy surface.  The kids also loved the demonstration of timbersport skills – we saw log-chopping – by a group of UWSP students whose organization has been the Midwestern Foresters’ Conclave champs for five consecutive years.

But the kids’ favorite was the igloo with a small campfire built by Boy Scout Troop 201 in the winter camping demonstration area.

Any festival that’s been going on for 52 years has staying power, and John Dolan, 2015-16 president of the league’s Bill Cook Chapter, says the group was pleased by this year’s event.

“It was fabulous weather, and the crowd was up from the last couple of years,” Dolan said. “And next year we’ll amp it up a bit.”

Dreier said it would be another month or more before final accounting figures are done, but he’s comfortable saying the event will equal or surpass last year’s fundraising, which traditionally is used for scholarships, environmental- and conservation-book purchases for local schools, and various wildlife and conservation projects, including stream improvements.

I’ll be sure to do my part a little more next year by arriving in time to get one of those great burgers. I certainly can’t fault the Jamboree for being too popular.  Nice work all around by the Walton League members and everyone supporting the Jamboree.

Back on the trail again   

After spending the first three weeks of snow season in Australia and the next three catching up with the new semester, I finally got a chance to hit a cross-country trail late Friday.  I headed to the Plover River section of the Green Circle for the 10-kilometer loop beginning northeast of the airport.

I love the solitude of a good near-zero day, but it was warm enough and sunny enough Friday to bring a crowd of vehicles out – about eight when I arrived.  Still, I only saw four people out on the trail while skiing, so I got my quotient of privacy and was happy to finally be back on skis.

The Green Circle’s groomed cross-country trail is an irreplaceable and easily accessible gem, and its views of the meandering Plover and its gentle but still zippy slopes make for a nice hour-long ski.  The forests, open fields and curving banks make it a most pleasant experience, and only the just-perceptible hum of highway traffic keeps it from being a perfect trail.

Still, it’s easy to hear the tweeting of winter birdlife and the gentle clatter of the remaining brown leaves on trees when the wind picks up.  Overall, the muffling of the snow makes it a quiet and pleasing auditory experience, adding to the pleasing visuals.

One sight I’d not noticed before is probably an old phenomenon to longtime Wisconsinites, but as an immigrant from the South and a newbie to cross-country (four years now), I was a bit startled by the view of the pines near the southern end of the skiing loop.

As I passed through the neatly geometric rows of trees in the pine plantation, I noticed a straight top-to-bottom line of snow, a bit less than half a foot wide, on virtually all of the uniformly sized pines and spaced pines.

It was such an odd, fantastic sight to my formerly Texan eyes that I began to imagine the trees as an army of skunks turned into ranks of trees waiting to come back to life, much like the Ents, the forest giants who pulled up roots to attack Isengard in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, battling the forces of evil that consume the land.

So I began thinking of this regiment of pines as skunk trees.  It made me look up whether trees with that name exist – they do (at least two species of them, in Hawaii and Australia, both named for suitable reasons).

Our trees didn’t smell bad, although other things do, and that leads me to a very brief aside.

Speaking of skunks: A little political talk  

I’m not sure anyone with a true love for the outdoors should be able to stand the stench coming from Madison in recent years.

There’s been plenty of discussion of state attempts at selling off recreational land, allowing mines that would pollute rivers running through some of our best parks, and allowing the piecemeal destruction of a history of shared, public ownership of such resources as our water.

The latest pieces of disturbing news are the stripping away of the state Natural Resources Board’s power of oversight over the Department of Natural Resources and the weakening of regulations regarding shoreline development and dredging.

The DNR’s leader is a direct political appointee. While it’s bad enough that most of the Natural Resources Board’s current appointees are also political appointments – include a chair whose day job is in real estate –at least it’s a citizen-driven board that had the capability of keeping a DNR political appointee in check.

The symbolism of people who sell land trying to oversee people who would also sell our land shouldn’t be lost on anyone. If we don’t fight the continued attack on our shared resources, we’ll have only ourselves to blame when profit-driven, out-of-state owners make our common heritage inaccessible to us.

Thinking about it is enough to ruin plenty of good weekends.  On the trail, I try not to do that too much – just enough to keep me focused on being vigilant, but not enough to let it ruin my outdoor time.

Sylvan Hill another kid-pleaser  

I started Sunday with a sunrise walk at Schmeeckle Reserve, where well-beaten paths of snow allowed for a relatively quick pace when I wanted.  Still, it was a challenge, particularly as the packed snow was firm and irregular enough to test bones, joints and muscles – and sometimes balance.

I strode around for well over an hour as the sun came up and the clouds broke.  I also ran into some more “skunk trees,” although the stripes of snow weren’t nearly as striking because of tremendous variation of tree sizes and shapes, as well as the spacing between them. I did take a picture this time, as I’d carried my trusty camera, which I believe also may function as a phone, although I’m still a bit unclear on that.

Sunday’s weather wasn’t as perfect for most winter outdoor activity as Saturday’s had been – by Sunday afternoon, a little too warm for ideal sledding and tubing.  That didn’t stop my two children and me from enjoying Wausau’s venerable Sylvan Hill.

The northside park’s steep initial drops and long declines on six different tubing runs still made for a fine February afternoon.  Snow that was softening in above-freezing temperatures meant our tubes were lucky to make it more than two-thirds of the way down the hillside, so we had to traipse slightly farther back to the tow cable.

By the time Sunday rolled around, I was already fairly beat, but I looked at Sylvan Hill as good exercise. After my morning of tramping through Schmeeckle, my tired old legs were feeling the strain of fighting against a lack of footing on the final downslope of each Sylvan run.

We all had fun, although both kids were ready to call it quits after little more than a half-dozen rides.  They still had plenty of energy left for a good snowball fight near the lodge, and it was easy to build snowballs that stuck together – although their weight made us take more care to aim low rather than high.

For $22 — $9 for an adult ticket and $6 each for kids under 14 – it was well worth it and a great way to end a Central Wisconsin family weekend.


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