Nothing screams “Come outside and play!” like an impossibly blue sky on a spring day in Wisconsin!
This is especially so if that day is a Sunday, and preceded by a week of similar days in which you were forced to stay indoors or work (heaven forbid – picking garlic mustard!)
So on this particular Sunday, I got out with friends for two different walks. This being a travel blog (distinct from a blog of the pure vagaries of my though processes), I will take you to Lake Kegonsa State Park, a little north of Stoughton, Wisconsin, and an easy drive from both Madison and Janesville.
Believe it or not (even I found this incredible!) Wisconsin has 47 State Parks, 13 State Forests, 31 State Fishery Areas, 5 State Fish Hatcherys, 76 State Wildlife Areas, 23 State Wildlife Management Areas, 2 State Wildlife Refuges, 5 State Fish Hatcherys, 2 National Forests, 1 National Wildlife Area, and 5 National Wildlife Refuges. And you can’t even find it on a map unless you live here, in Minnesota or in Chicago! (JK)
Kidding aside, I think these numbers speak to the natural beauty of Wisconsin, and the fact that it is still appreciated despite Scott Walker’s attempts to turn everything into profit for someone who might vote for him. Reality is – given the need to pick a place to hike with a friend on a beautiful Sunday – choices abound! We were looking for someplace “close” for both of us – she being closer to Madison and I closer to Janesville.
Neither of us had visited Kegonsa (though both had driven by the signs while driving to one another’s houses), so our expectations were not high. Contributing to low expectations perhaps was the knowledge that there were no major hiking trails (this is the land of the Ice Age Trail) and that we might be able to squeeze 4 miles in by combining a series of short loops (the longest being 1.2 miles) in order to have the distance to warm up the muscles and take a serious stab at solving the problems of the world (ie…talk!).
Credit the sunny day, credit the conviviality of friendship, or simply acknowledge that this is a beautiful park! The first and longest loop (the 1.2 miler) took us through a fairyland of tall old trees, may apples, ferns, jacks-in-the pulpit, amidst a carpet of blooming wild geraniums. Sun filtering through the canopy dappled the forest floor and our eyes were so filled and gratified at the beauty that only on occasion did we notice traffic noise or the voices of campers.
The path was well maintained and wide enough for two to walk a breast very comfortably, but the magic was all in those delicate purple flowers.
The park is actively managed for recreation. Hiking in the summer is on trails used for cross-country skiing in the winter. There is a campground, a beach and a boat launch – so we had plenty of company in the park. The hiking trails were relatively solitary, and we exchanged cheerful, “glad-to-be-alive-on-a-beautiful-day,-aren’t-you?” infused greetings with all we passed.
Our second loop took us around a prairie, as yet unburdened with the thousand, varied flowers that will emerge over the summer. Our third loop took us to the beach – yes, there really is a lake in the park. We saw more people here – sun bathers, picnickers, dog-walkers, fisherpeople, boaters, stand-up paddlers, sandcastle builders and (yes, this is WI) kids swimming in the lake! (The air temperature was in the 80s, but my guess is that the water was still cold!)
On our last section of the walk, a boardwalk beckoned, drawing us out of the populated areas away from the crowds. What an idyllic scene! A beautiful river like pool, reflecting the blue sky and surrounded by sedges and cattails. Trees and prairie stretched off in the distance.
WHAT is in the water? Like something out of a Wisconsin version of
Jaws… there was something going on in the water…and “It’s Alive!”! The water was boiling with activity, everywhere we could see – and it didn’t look good. It was something BIG. Occasional flashes of a fin, or of a huge eel-shaped back … the water was roiling and so was my stomach. Thankfully, we were perched above a bench on the terminus of the boardwalk, far above and beyond whatever was out there.
Ok. So I dramatized it for you. Given that there are few natural dangers in Wisconsin, the explanation had to be as prosaic as the reputation (not the reality!!) of our state. We asked the park ranger at the park office and sure enough, it was just carp spawning.
A great couple of hours to be sure, so if you are local put a visit to the park on your schedule at least once during every season. If you want to see the wild geraniums, hurry! Those are spring flowers.