Monday, December 19, 2016

Excellent Snowshoeing Weather

This week signals the official start of winter, as if you needed a calendar to figure that out.  It's been a blustery start to the snow season.  If you weren't grappling with trying to get the snowblower or car working properly, consider yourself lucky.  The temps are going to climb for the rest of the week and with about a foot of snow in the Milwaukee parks, this is a great time to try snowshoeing. With such a great base, you could go just about anywhere in any park.  Pick your scenery- riverfront, lake Michigan, one of the river parkways, or a nice wooded area.  Here's the county page of parks with maps.

If you don't own snowshoes yet, it's no problem.  Havenwoods State Forest lets you use them for free.  It's a good way to see if it's something you enjoy.  You can get them in the nature center during normal hours.
Even kids have fun snowshoeing at Havenwoods

This is also a great time to join the Urban Ecology Center where members can use snowshoes, as well as sleds, skates, saucers, and much more from their lending closet at no additional cost. You can reserve snowshoes in advance. With three different locations, you are bound to find a place you enjoy.

Because we normally don't have so much snow this early, you won't find the guided hikes at Schlitz Audubon beginning until next year.  Check the calendar for events to see when they are offered.  You can bring your own snowshoes anytime as long as you are a member or pay the daily admission rate of $8 per adult.. If there's a guided snowshoe hike, they normally have snowshoes available. This is a good way to experience nature. Normally the volunteers know a great deal about animals, plants, and the lake and share their stories with the group. Afterwards, step inside and warm yourself by the fireplace and enjoy a hot cocoa.
Enjoy the lake views at Schlitz. 

Whitnall Park has a warming house with a rental kiosk where you can get skis or snowshoes.  Cost is $15 for the day or $20 for 24 hours. If you really want to go crazy, rent them for an entire week for $50. There's a fireplace and snacks for sale inside.

Wehr Nature Center holds winter events that include snowshoeing.  You can always pick up the rented snowshoes at Whitnall and use the trails at Wehr, if you pay for parking.

If you want to make a trip elsewhere in the state and bring your snowshoes, you might find an unexplored place on this list put out by Midwest Weekends.  Also be sure to follow the weekly list of events in the local Milwaukee County Parks. You'll find all kinds of opportunities to get outside, meet people, and try new things.

The Yeti Dash has become an annual event which includes a snowshoeing "race" with a 5K and 3K. It happens February 4, 2017. Get in shape now and you can participate.

If you ever participated in the outdoor club with Clearwater Outdoor, you might have gone snowshoeing.  Unfortunately the Milwaukee store is closed, but you can join a group at Delafield every Saturday.

And if you feel you really know what you're doing, join one of the candlelight hikes in the parks.  Lapham Peak is a great place to go for an organized snowshoe hike. The friends of Lapham Peak have a page full of activities.  There are rentals available near Lapham Peak, done by Wheel & Sprocket.  Hours: T W Th 4:00 -9:00 pm
Sat. 9:00 am-9:00 pm
Sun. 9:00 am-5:00 pm
Call the Delafield store for more information 262-646-6300

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Sledding in Milwaukee

Sledding is fun for the whole family
More fresh snow will be falling this week!  Time to get out the sleds and take the kids outdoors!  But actually it's not JUST for kids.  Anyone can have fun sledding, but the climb uphill gets harder each year.  At least that has been my experience.  Be sure to pack your pockets full of tissues and bring a thermos of hot cocoa for the best time ever.

The county maintains sledding hills at the following parks, which can be used for toboggans, tubes, and sleds, when weather permits. I've indicated which hills are lit at night with *.

Brown Deer, 7835 N. Green Bay Rd.
Columbus, 7301 W. Courtland Ave.
*Currie, 3535 N. Mayfair Rd.
Greene, 4235 S. Lipton Ave.
Hales Corners, 5765 S. New Berlin Rd.
*Humboldt, 3000 S. Howell Ave.
LaFollette, 9418 W. Washington St.
McCarty, 8214 W. Cleveland Ave.
McGovern, 5400 N. 51 St.
*Pulaski (Milwaukee), 2677 S. 16 St.
Wilson Recreation, 4001 S 20 St.
*Whitnall, 5879 S. 92 St.   Enjoy Concessions in the Whitnall Clubhouse

There are additional parks that have hills, but they are not maintained or groomed.  Also don't expect restrooms to be open:

Kletzsch Park, 6561 N. Milwaukee Parkway, Glendale
Hawthorn Glen, 1130 N. 60th St.
Maitland, 6001 S. 13th St.
Sheridan, 4800 S. Lake Dr.
Wilson Recreation, 4001 S. 20th St.
St. Mary’s Hill, 2323 N. Lake Dr.

There's also a smallish hill at Cahill Park in Whitefish Bay, as a result of the reconstructed ball fields with a water retention area.  You'll also find something similar in front of Mitchell Park Domes. Turns out these hills are perfect for young kids and old ladies like myself.  You will get a lot of turns in before you tire out.  

Milwaukee Moms Blog has a listing of more hills, many which are outside Milwaukee county. This blog has loads of fun ideas, especially if you're new to Milwaukee.  Spend some time browsing to learn more about where you can take your kids for fun. 

The Rock Sports Complex also offers tubing for $15-$20 per day.  See their website for hours and other details.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The Domes- Warmth, Winter Farmer's Market, Christmas Gifts, and Family Fun

Winter weather seems to be here for good now.  Having a nice coating of snow is wonderful for those who like a white Christmas.  If you need even more of a boost to get you in the holiday spirit, head over to Mitchell Park Domes. It's warm, full of beautifully decorated Christmas trees, and has lots of other features you might not know about.

Some of the domes had been under repair, but all of them are now open. The show dome is filled with dozens of poinsettias, evergreens, and flowers with the theme of "Not a Creature was Stirring." You'll find lots of critters hiding in the trees, which can be really fun for the kids to find. If you haven't done your holiday greeting cards yet, this is the perfect place to take some family photos and send them to friends or family. With all that beautiful color, you're bound to get something you'll like. The desert and tropical domes also have holiday decorations to a lesser degree. Be sure to go again in January for the popular train exhibit. The theme will be the great train robbery using model trains.

The Friends of the Domes do a great deal to keep this conservatory open and running. One way you can support them is to buy your holiday gifts at the gift shop.  With one of the best selections of local books, gardening books, ornaments, chocolate, and nature related toys for kids, there is certainly something for everyone. There are a limited number of items for sale directly from the website link too.  The gift of membership is a great idea for you and/or someone who lives locally.  Then they can visit anytime they wish and enjoy the beautiful plants and warmth this winter.

The Winter Farmer's Market is on now through April.  About 50 stalls are set up in the attached greenhouses and include a variety of gift ideas, locally made foods, soaps, coffee, and much more.  This happens every Saturday from 9-1.  Parking is available in the front and rear of the annex. Entrance to the market is free but doesn't include Domes admission. Go hungry and you can eat your way through the market. For more information about specific events, follow the market on Facebook.

Bring a sled, if you have younger kids, and you can slide down the very small hills in the park area in front of the Domes. Though the area was created for water retention, it's a great place for beginners...and even parents who don't want to climb back up again hauling a kid on a sled.  There are so many ways to enjoy this park, even in winter.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Forked Aster Hiking Trail System

Did you know that the Milwaukee County Parks has a 43-mile Natural Areas hiking trail system? If you like natural spaces and have a good pair of hiking boots, these are really fun to explore this time of year.  After all, there's a German proverb which says, "there's no such thing as bad weather, just unsuitable clothing."

Called the Forked Aster hiking system, there are 28 different county parks to explore. These trails are not improved with blacktop, but might have wood chips or some natural topping.  This week I went with my son to explore a couple. We saw mostly just layers of delightful fallen leaves.

We did the hike through Kohl Park, up at the northern side of Milwaukee county.  In fact, it's on County Line Road, just down the street from Mequon Nature Preserve, which is also a great place to do some hiking. Kohl Park used to be a farm. You can even see an old silo and go inside if you dare. Some artist has painted a few gems inside.
Kohl Farm silo

graffiti inside the silo

The trails are quite wet most of the year, and this has been improved by the addition of wooden planks to help you get over some really muddy spots.  You could hike in your regular shoes, but hiking boots make it much more comfortable. What I love about this spot is the pine forest.  You can smell it before you see it.  It's also a good place to spot hawks and woodpeckers.  If you do the entire circuit, which means backtracking on a piece from Fairy Chasm, it's two miles.
Fragrant pine forest

Wet areas are navigated by using the planks

Greene Park is at the southern end of the county in St. Francis.  Though the park is large, the hiking system is small and tucked away on a narrow strip of woods on top of a hill. I parked along Lunham, which is right off KK. This trail system is just under one half mile. Mostly oaks here, it's fun to hop over fallen trees, or try to balance on them if you're a kid. I haven't been here in spring, but it's supposed to be a good place to see migrating warblers then. This park has a playground, so if the hiking doesn't wear out your kids, you can head over there and play.

These trails are probably even worth doing after snow, so put them on your to do list this season when you need some fresh air and exercise. Thinking about a hike elsewhere in the USA?  There's an app/website I use when we travel, but it also has local trails in Milwaukee.  You can see the website at All Trails.  You can subscribe when you use it, but it isn't required.  Because it is GPS based, when you use it on your phone, it will automatically show you a map or a list of all trails near you. Then you can see notes about each trail's highlights and difficulty level.

Here's another blogpost that will get you dreaming about hikes at a bigger level- Top 50 Long Distance Hiking Trails in the USA.  And if you need help finding just the right hiking boot, that blog has some useful information.  Happy hiking!