Weekly Walk: Prairies full of flowers
The Weekly Walks for Aug. 8-9, 2017
The Tuesday hike, reported by Jacob Gerlach:
On a perfect evening for hiking, 11 people showed up. We drove to the Nordic trails and walked a combination of the orange trail and the second blue loop. There was a gentle breeze so there were minimal mosquitoes.
The prairies had a lot of flowers. There were yellow coneflowers, false sunflowers, yellow and white sweet clover, red clover, evening primrose, and of course spotted knapweed and wild parsnips in the seed stage.
Where the blue loop joins back to the other trails, we stopped for water before going straight on the orange trail. When we got to the bench, we discovered that we could not see the bench on the green trail because of the trees. We walked at a fairly brisk pace and were back at the trailhead by 5:20 p.m. Some people with GPS readings thought the hike had been about 2.9 miles. Everyone enjoyed the wider ski trails with the chance for conversation and the change of scenery.
The Wednesday short hike, reported by Ellen Davis:
A hike at least partly on a prairie seemed just right for this breezy, not-too-hot summer day. Jake suggested taking the Ice Age Trail from the Emma Carlin trailhead to forest headquarters, then back via the Ridge Trail and a McMiller Ski Trail to the Stute Springs Homestead, and finally back to our starting point via an access road to County Highway Z. This loop provides variety in terrain, vegetation, and points of interest—and is really not as complicated as it sounds.
From the trailhead, we took the connector trail to the IAT, crossed Highway Z and entered a wooded area. The trail was riddled with large patches of black mud -- barely tacky in some areas and wet and sticky in others. We avoided them successfully with no mishaps and proceeded into the prairie, rich with short shrubby dogwood, tall Queen Anne's Lace, and assorted blooming sunflowers, coneflowers, and clovers. Lavender prairie blazing star (liatris), monarda, and Joe Pye weed soon appeared, then purple loosestrife, pretty but invasive. No trout were seen in the stream, but the water was clear and the watercress tempting.
The trail began to rise and additional wildflowers made their appearance: prairie dock with its yellow flowers on six-foot stems, and more varieties of sunflowers and coneflowers than I can remember. Dave Nowak pointed out rosinweed (rosin-leafed sunflower) —a member of the aster family masquerading as a five-foot tall sunflower — and Mariette Nowak found specimens of Culver's root and blue vervain. The temperature dropped and the mosquitoes were waiting as we passed through a short stretch of woods to arrive at Southern Kettle Moraine State Forest Headquarters for a brief break. Mariette showed us the bright red cardinal flowers behind the building, donated by a member of The Wild Ones and planted by others in the organization. Forest Headquarters is a great place to pick up information on events and activities, learn about the history and geology of the Kettle Moraine, bird-watch, and admire the rustic the "insect hotels" near the entrance.
On the move again, we climbed up the spine of an esker on the aptly named Ridge Trail, stopping to admire the view of the prairie from the rustic shelter at the top. With gnarled and twisted oaks dotting the ridge, steep slopes down on either side of the trail, and peaceful meadows and prairies far below seen through the trees, this is a trail section of high drama. We descended to level ground again to turn left, cutting across an overgrown meadow to a wide ski trail and turning right this time to traverse the hills to the Stute Springs Homestead. The mosquitoes were fierce here, thanks to many marshy areas and standing water from recent rains. A line of brightly colored garden phlox in the distance marked our destination, and we hurried on. After a mosquito-free break by the foundation of the old farmhouse, a look at the spring-house, smoke-house, and the old stone chicken coop, we began the trip down the access road and back to our vehicles. Those of us at the end of the line dawdled a bit, examining and smelling the lemony-scented berries of Wisconsin's only native citrus, the invasive prickly ash -- attempting to photograph some uncooperative yellow tiger swallowtails. The others had already departed for points unknown when we reached the parking lot, so we who were left decided on lunch at the La Grange General Store. Mosquitoes aside (and we all wish they had been!), this was another very fine hike.
The Wednesday long hike, reported by Marvin Herman:
Today was warm and cloudy. Based on information I received yesterday, today's hike was to be at Emma Carlin bike trails. But a late change switched our plans to Kishwauketoe Nature Conservancy (KNC) in Williams Bay. KNC presents a lush, well managed and beautifully groomed area with wide, mowed trails in prairie and forest settings. There are abundant plantings of native trees and plants and the area includes an arboretum which doubles as a dog park. The plantings are nicely grouped in an attractive manner since they are from seed sown by volunteers and lack the "hit or miss” of a more natural forest such as the Kettle Moraine where Mother Nature directs how and where seeds are cast.
In all, we had 20 hikers plus two grandchildren and a dog, all quite well behaved. It is difficult to hike more than four miles at KNC without repeating trails but somehow we were able to log five miles. Kevin, a resident of Williams Bay, was the hike leader and once again did a great job of covering all parts of KNC. He first led us to the tower where most of us climbed the steps to enjoy a great view of the prairie. At the top, Kevin gave us a history of KNC, including how it was rescued by the Village from development into a subdivision of luxury homes. This is the same village that recently refused to approve the sale of land owned by the University of Chicago and adjacent to Yerkes Observatory, for residential purposes. He later led us along a connector trail to Geneva Lake and once there, we walked along the beautiful beach crowded with bathers and folks just taking in the sun.
Certain areas of KNC are dedicated to trees planted in honor or in memory of a loved one. As we strolled along the trails, it was nice to see volunteer crews hard at work removing Buckthorn and other invasive plants. We were excited to see great swathes of prairie flowers including Black-eyed Susans, ironweed, lobelia and other native plantings.
Most of the hikers walked down the road to Harpoon Willies where we enjoyed lunch and further conversation. All were pleased with today's adventure and hoped to return to KNC soon with the Wednesday hikers or on their own.