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Thursday, 06 September 2018 08:17

Hikers dodge raindrops to enjoy butterflies and flowers along the way

Written by  Ice Age Trail Alliance Helwig’s hikes
Hikers dodge raindrops to enjoy butterflies and flowers along the way Ellen Davis photo
The Tuesday hike report by Jake Gerlach: Ten veteran hikers showed up on an evening that was threatening rain. Most of us had looked at the radar and thought we could probably make it around Lake La Grange before the rain started.

At the top of the hill someone said that they felt a raindrop; I did not think anything about it. By the time we got to the bottom of the hill, I was feeling an occasional raindrop. As we progressed, the occasional raindrop changed into a slight drizzle. At Russ’ bench we stopped only long enough for Andy to take a picture and then we headed on. By the time we got to the connector trail, we were walking in a steady light rain. Andy kept telling me that we left the parking lot four seconds after 4 p.m. That was why we did not get back before the rain started.

This evening I walked much faster than I normally walk. I could not quite keep up with Jerry, who said he was 81. Even at that I managed to get back to the parking lot a minute before 5 p.m.

The Wednesday short hike report by Ellen Davis: Though the weather indicated little chance of rain during hike time, only five of us were willing to brave the damp ground and wet leaves from last night’s downpour. There was no question of which trails to hike today — only the wide, gravelly Nordic Ski Trails would do.

Curious about what was blooming on the prairies at this point in the season, we chose to hike the second blue trail loop and return on the orange trail. The trail was, as expected, a good choice; it was damp but not slippery. Patches of goldenrod, Queen Anne’s lace and occasional tiny white asters bloomed in grassy spots as we trekked up and down the wooded hills. The meadow on the plateau was not as colorful as hoped, but did add tall purple thistles and invasive spotted knapweed to the color mix.

At the signpost we turned right, following the signs for the second blue loop down a steep, rocky slope, then left into another prairie. That one was more of the same — with the addition of a bumper crop of wild parsnip going to seed. (Not only a noxious invasive, wild parsnip sap contains a photo-sensitizing agent that can cause serious burns on skin when exposed to the sun.) The trail soon took us upward again away from the prairie toward another plateau, this one featuring sumac and junipers — and another prairie. Here we noted the pointed seed pods of whorled milkweed, bladder campion and one evening primrose.

In the wet woods again the fungi took over. We stopped for a break at the bench overlooking the kettle pond. As we resumed our hike, I noticed a shrub with citrus-scented bright red berries emanating from its twigs and branches. It was a prickly ash. Though quite attractive, it’s regarded as yet another invasive for its habit of taking over sections of forest. We passed several more on our trip back to the trailhead.

We had seen monarch and giant swallowtail butterflies in the prairie sections. After the sun came out, we also saw cabbage butterflies, a yellow tiger swallowtail, a black swallowtail and a viceroy fluttering around blossoms. We reached the trailhead refreshed, pleasantly tired and ready for lunch. This had been an interesting 3.5-mile hike through some scenic and varied terrain.

The Wednesday long hike report by Marvin Herman: After a stormy night, the trails would be slippery and wet. Thus, instead of going far afield, we returned to Nordic Ski Trails, the scene of our hike the previous Wednesday. There were 19 long-hikers in attendance, which far outstripped the attendance of the short hike. There were storms still hanging around the area of our hike but no rain fell upon our hikers. Some of us were well equipped with rain gear, but it turned out that it was not needed and was shed when it got too warm to wear.

Today, we avoided the hilly “Alps” and accessed the blue trail in reverse. We hiked all the rest of the blue trail, including the long loop at the beginning for a total of 6.8 miles. One hiker reported that she enjoyed the reverse hike since it was like hiking an entirely different trail as opposed to doing it front-to-back.

Early in the hike, one of the hikers encountered a small salamander, an amphibian with a lizard-like appearance. This one was all black but there are others in the family with different colorations. Another interesting find was a nice group of cream gentians. These were about 2 feet tall and had yellowish-white flowers growing from thick white taproots. These gentians are rare and are usually found in black soil prairies, and I do not recall seeing this plant on these trails in the past.

We had several refreshment stops this day, and the hike was well paced. Various hikers offered chocolate, two kinds of red grapes and wonderful, sweet cherry tomatoes. Red apples were available from trees but one had to take care not to fall into a steep down-slide above a kettle.

As we walked the last mile, the sun came out from behind the clouds for good. We knew that we could soon be sitting outside of the La Grange General Store where Adisa and the gang tempted us with soup, salads and sandwiches. We filled two picnic tables and enjoyed our lunch, making hiking and kayaking plans for the near future.

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