Saturday, March 5, 2016

A quiet hike of musings

Our hike today was one we've done other years in this season as well as spring and early summer. The southern end of the West Ridge Trail is where we always begin our winter ice cave exploring. We've found geocaches in the spring and summer that went along this path. Our mindset was...we know what to expect. How wrong it was to begin with such preconceived notions!

We had hoped on our last hike to get out to the dam, but we wore ourselves out. This, too, is a spot we've visited before, one that holds a really interesting history. The Kickapoo Valley has been prone to flooding, sitting as it does down low and surrounded by steep, resistant cliffs. Some of these floods have been devastating, and have caused entire towns, such as Soldiers Grove, to simply relocate higher above the flood plain. In the 1960s, Congress authorized the LaFarge Dam Project, which would create a large recreational lake. Families were uprooted, the highway was rerouted, and the project begun, only to meet with many obstacles along the way. By 1975, part of the dam structure had been built, but a re-analysis requested by Senator William Proxmire into the cost/benefit ratio was requested. At that point, the project was halted once that analysis was complete. A more complete history of this long and contentious project can be found on the Kickapoo Valley Reserve website.

One tower of that half-completed dam remains, nature attempting to reclaim the land around this concrete monolith. Our travels took us along the Kickapoo, flowing in spite of the cold, and brought us to the tower to once again, to wonder at misguided intentions and their impact on the area and the people who called it home.

So there we were, face to face again with this reminder of a plan gone wrong, as well as a dead end. Time to turn ourselves around and hike back out, a common theme hiking these trails is this doubling of the hike distance. We were ready to head up the West Ridge Trail, a familiar path in our many trips to the area ice caves. We had only recently enjoyed another guided hike to some of them during the KVR Winterfest celebration. Parking our vehicle, we considered the need for snowshoes, but again decided to leave them in the car and hoof it in boots. We knew to expect the long steep climb from the town shop at the trailhead, rising up alongside open prairie, now sleeping for the winter, and eventually reaching the ridgeline leading us into the woods. All of that felt very familiar for a bit, until...we found ourselves confronted with clear evidence of current logging operations. Big messy muddy gashes in the trail. Piles of stacked trees. Brush all over. Trail markers missing or probably hiding under the snow. While we knew these trails well, they looked nothing like our memories due to all the logging. More than once, we mistakenly followed a branch that appeared to be trail, only to discover that it was just...a trail to logging, ending precipitously at the edge of those famous cliffs!

I was talking at a later date with a friend who is on the Board for the Reserve about the apparent devastation we saw, but he assured me that the logging, as well as generating revenue for the Reserve, was necessary from an ecological standpoint, and the plan is a very good one. It just didn't look very pretty this winter and our timing for this trail segment was not the best from an aesthetic viewpoint. Live and learn. We're members of the Reserve, and probably could have read the newsletter ahead of our hike to discover all this!

We tried to enjoy our hike in other ways, and birds were present, so that helped. Nothing unusual, just the typical woodpeckers and chickadees, but they're fun to watch, even in their "ordinariness." Really, I don't think anything about feathered creatures who survive our winters is ordinary, no matter how common they may be!

After we'd finally passed the mess of the logging, things became more serene and lovely. We were down in a valley again. where the snow was untouched. This was too short, as we met the connection with the Hanson's Rock trails, and turned ourselves back around and out. Fortunately, having figured out where the trail really was on our way in, we knew where we needed to be to get back out. Once more, we met no one during our hikes today. We enjoyed musing about the area history, the changes on the land even as it's been preserved and just the beauty of the river called "Kickapoo."

KVR Trail Challenge segments hiked....Segments 1 and 26