After teasing us for too long, autumn and its gorgeous colors finally blew into town last week, as conspicuous as your crazy cousins, the ones who cause the demise of your creaky old end table when teaching your youngest kid to do some ‘80s-era dance on top of it.
They always buy the family dinner and bring crazy gifts for the children and you laugh a lot and reminisce. Then they skedaddle just as suddenly, writing a check for the table and promising to come back soon.
You miss them before they’re out the door.
Fall is like that. The year is drawing to a close, especially those warmer days, meaning now is time to enjoy them if you can. Another year will soon be memories.
Between the end of Sunday morning mass and the start of the Packers game last weekend, we did that, making a quick run to Rib Mountain State Park on a day whose significance I didn’t quite realize until we were in the midst of it.
Heading to the mountaintop
Our Sunday was a rare confluence of events: blue sky, bright sunshine, 65 degrees, no pressing tasks, and all four family members willing to hop in the car and head somewhere. No convincing, bribes or threats needed.
Soon we were in what is apparently a traditional Wausau-area spectacle: the mass migration of Leaf-Devouring Sconnies to the mountaintop.
We realized it when we hit Park Road at the base of the incline. A line of cars was chugging up the steep drive, accompanied by a fair number of bicyclists on the wide street. A substantial crowd of leaf pilgrims huffed and puffed along on the broad walking path bordering the left side of the road.
Cars grabbed every one of numerous parking spots along the way while walkers, runners and stroller-pushers filled the footpath, most headed up, but a few apparently on their way back to check on pregame bratwurst and fondue.
By the time we reached the park entrance, we saw traffic being directed into two entrance lanes, where park fees were charged, questions asked, and vehicles – lots of ‘em – waved in.
We asked a ranger how likely we were to find parking close to the top. She shrugged. If we saw a spot, take it.
Two had just opened in the 46-spot main lot to our right, so we pulled in and got out.
Normally I’d term a crowd like that a madhouse, but it was typical Wisconsin orderliness. More like a festival, I’d say. People were everywhere, and I wondered if our experience would be more concert-like crush than hike.
Some visitors apparently came up the lifts from the ski area parking lot on the northeast base of the mountain. The crowd seemed much larger than in-park lots allow.
So many people trudged on the sidewalks and road, continuing upwards to Rib Mountain’s observation tower and wonderful granite climbing boulders, I figured we should hop on a lower trail near the visitor center.
So we hit the Yellow Trail and headed downward. Just like that, we were in the woods almost by ourselves.
The trail is aptly named, although perhaps not intentionally (others are named Red, Blue, Green and Gray, as well as Quarry, Homestead Loop, Turkey Vulture and Dynamite). But Yellow’s thickly packed, mature maples and other trees offered a colorful spectacle that we had apparently timed perfectly.
It was like hiking inside a golden prism, with a flood of light filtered through the leaves. There was still a bit of green and a smattering of red, orange or brown, but for the most part, we were navigating in a tub of butter. Living in a lemon. Walking on Sunshine, as Katrina and the Waves sang (probably just before an end table broke somewhere).
For the first part of our trip, we saw more benches than people. The trail is billed as the park’s most strenuous, and although I don’t think it goes much more than 150 to 200 vertical feet down, it winds about enough to provide serious exercise (especially heading back up).
Sam and Lorena had a grand time, and soon-to-be-14 Sam apparently isn’t too cool to refuse carting his little sister about on his back. He did so for a good half-hour as they shouted and laughed and hopped about.
I occasionally asked them to keep it down for those few folks we saw on the trail – about two dozen by the time we finished our hour-long walk. But when Yami gently admonished me for not letting them have fun, I realized how rare this event was: a perfect day in a perfect place, with perfectly happy kids enjoying each other’s company.
So I let them yell.
Reminder: Feet, bikes, cars all have their places
As we arrived at and left Rib Mountain, I marveled at the number of cars, bikes and pedestrians moving smoothly about the park. The road and its broad sidewalk is clearly a thoughtful, well-designed way for visitors and residents to enjoy nature and good health.
The sheer numbers at the park mean it’s likely that many came from elsewhere to enjoy fall colors. That’s bound to be a tremendous local economic boon.
I called both the park and the chamber of commerce to ask how many fall visitors come and how many were there this weekend, as well as querying on development of trails and transport systems to encourage all types of visitors.
Interestingly, chamber folks didn’t seem to want to talk – apparently, this is an opportunity for our local visitors bureau to proactively market our area over Wausau. The budget-strapped state-park folks were probably too understaffed Tuesday to respond to my voicemail.
So I’m going to go out on a colorful limb and guesstimate eleventy-bazillion visitors to Rib Mountain Sunday. They were smart because we don’t know if next weekend will be Katrina and the Waves or just Black Sabbath doing “Eye of the Storm” (yeah, I don’t know the lyrics either, but the title fits).
If all those folks shopped at an outdoor store and bought milkshakes like we did before leaving town, that’s got to be good for the local economy.
Anyway, to wrap up, we’ve got some interesting public meetings related to transportation coming up over the next several weeks. One is the Nov. 3 Revisioning Point meeting on 4-3 lane conversions (which starts at 6:30, not 7 p.m. as I reported last week – I regret the error).
Another is a City of Stevens Point meeting at 6:30 on Wednesday, Oct. 26, at Washington Elementary, about potential 4-3 conversions on Stanley Street.
A third is for the city’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee on Nov. 15. More on that later.
Sustainable transportation infrastructure impacts all of us and can make Point a more attractive community to live in and visit.
We might even call these “golden opportunities.”