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Where Hiking Trails Come From, Part Two. The Ozark Trail Association 2015 Spring Mega Event

(Continued from Part One)

Mega Event 051So we arrived at Bass River Resort on Friday evening, checked in with the Ozark Trail Association and the campground, and then made our way to the section of campsites along Courtois Creek (pronounced code-away, as far as I have learned in my travels) that had been reserved specifically for this event. We set up our tent and spent the evening by a campfire, appreciating the cool air in anticipation of what adventure the next morning would hold.

Mega Event 016And the sun rose on Saturday and the sky was clear as tents opened and the impressive group of volunteers all made breakfast, tied their boot laces, and prepared for the day’s events. We gathered by the flagpole adjacent to the main building at the campground around 9 am and found our assigned groups. After a welcome announcement and explanation of what our goal was for the day by Roger Allison, Matt Atnip, and Kathie Brennan (members of the OTA Board of Directors), we scattered to our vehicles and drove down Route 8 to Berryman Rd. After a left turn on Berryman Rd and a climb up the hill into the woods, we parked off to the side just north of the Berryman Recreation Area.

Mega Event 019As we gathered just off the forest road in our work groups, we found the tools that had been staged for us to take down to the trail and use on our designated sections. I was in Group 2, which was led by Jen Reynolds and Kai Walker, and our unofficial mascot, their big furry dog, Fawkes. We each picked up a pair of tools, waited for the other groups ahead of us to get a move on, and started down an old jeep path to a wildlife watering hole. We then made a left and headed down the hill to our section of the trail.

Mega Event 021Once there, Jen and Kai discussed the method to what we were to be doing. Months before, the trail had been cut along the hillsides with a mini skid-steer. We were here today to fine-tune the surface and define the edges, grading it where necessary as it wound its way along the slope and down into a hollow. So after some demonstration, we spread out and each started to work on our chosen section of the path. I went toward the northern bit of our section, surveying my options and realizing how little I truly knew about trail building. This was my first time, and for the most part ruggedly challenging trails and irritatingly muddy paths have just been an accepted reality of hiking for me. To think that any sort of strategy to water management and surface structure was the focus had never really occurred to me. I figured it was just a process of clearing the leaves off of where you wanted it to go, and then cutting down the little trees that may be growing within its boundaries. There was quite a bit more too it than I had known.

Mega Event 031So I cut into the upper edge along the trail, easing the slope to shed water across and not down onto the walking surface. Then it was the task of scraping off the soil layer above the harder clay across the path, pulling it downhill to the lower edge of the trail, and making sure to not leave any rise that might act as a levy and cause the trail to maintain puddles. It really was a matter of looking down the trail and thinking about where the water would go, hand grading it to the harder surface under the leaf litter, and then making sure that it was sloped enough to send the rain downhill into the leaves and fertile earth. We also cleared the brush along the sides of the trail, attempting to create an open corridor, 8 feet wide with as little overhead obstruction as possible.

Mega Event 037On our section as well, we had a switchback that was being replaced with a more organic curve. The path had been marked out with fallen branches, and the hard working veterans on our team went to town on it, clearing the path where the skid steer hadn’t, creating a defined trail off of and around the one that had previously existed. A good amount of effort on this now warm Saturday morning, including relocating a few logs and sending a good amount of leaves and soil down the incline below us to expose the better walking surface. With the path cleared off, it was up to those who have an eye for it to look down the trail and see the bumps and dips that needed to be leveled out in order to manage the rain fall that would eventually visit these woods. I did my best to see what they saw, and to view it at the angles they did in order to visualize what needed to be tweaked in order to build this correctly. With some scraping and tamping, the curve that had been a switchback was accomplished, and we continued working on some of the sections that needed a little more help.

Mega Event 055In the early afternoon, most of us headed back to the campground to get cleaned up. Melissa and I took the dogs down to the creek to play in the water for a bit. With the nights still cooling off pretty significantly, the temperature of the Courtois Creek was almost unbearable to wade in, and I quickly took a few pictures and then retreated to the dry gravel of the beach. We watched Max submerge himself, looking for rocks to claim from the creek as he likes to do, shivering and grinning with every one that he removed.

Mega Event 071In the late afternoon everyone had gathered in the open field next to the camping area for a BBQ dinner, sitting in a casually spread out semi-circle, waiting for the raffle drawing that was one of the evening’s events. As dinner was coming to an end, Matt Atnip stood up and shared some information with all of us about the Ozark Trail Association, the weekend’s event and sponsors, and handed out some recognition awards for members of multiple events. Then we were all included in a huge raffle, which was diligently carried out by the energetic and inspiring Kathie Brennan. After it was over (I won a compression bag and some backpacking coffee!) they lit the huge pile of logs for the bonfire, and a bluegrass trio played nearby on a picnic bench as the sun dropped below the hills to the west. It had been a full day and the energy of the fire and the people was a positive one, carrying on into the evening as we all eventually made our way to our tents, fatigued by the work of the day and the cooling of the open starry sky above us.

Mega Event 074I was very glad to be a part of this Ozark Trail Mega Event, and I look forward to future opportunities to do it again. For a person that spends a lot of time on trails, it was an enriching feeling to be part of cutting one into a hillside. The more experienced people in the group were very helpful and so welcoming, as though I already knew them, and there was a sense in the air that it didn’t matter that you were working hard, but that you contributed as best you could and everyone was just glad to be there working together. It was a herculean undertaking, with 175 volunteers completing almost a mile of trail in just a few hours, but the enthusiasm and dedication of the people involved was unstoppable. Everyone I met that weekend struck me as salt of the earth, glad to be outside, and appreciative that you are there too, inspiring thoughts that someday when they finally reach the end of the Ozark Trail, their positive energy will carry them on and they will just keep working toward the horizon.

11159999_10153188482388058_9084395169148763184_nThank you to everyone that is and has been and will be a part of the Ozark Trail, and trails everywhere. Check out what events are coming up, get involved, and go out and write YOUR name in the path too!

And a special thank you to the guy driving the Ford Ranger who had some jumper cables when I needed them Sunday morning! You saved the day, man!

Where Hiking Trails Come From, Part One. The Ozark Trail Association 2015 Spring Mega-Event

Mega Event 065Well Spring is upon us, and many weekends are starting to become filled with adventures into the woods and out on the rivers as nature wakes up from its Winter nap. I have been getting out as much as I can, with my past few excursions being either walks in the park with Max and our new dog Norton, or Missouri Stream Team cleanups with a bunch of great people. It has been a little while since I’ve spent time on a proper trail, so on a recent weekend I did something that every hiker and outdoor enthusiast really ought to get involved in. I went camping out at Bass River Resort with the dedicated volunteers and staff of the Ozark Trail Association for their Spring “Mega Event”!

Mega Event 005What is the “Ozark Trail”?

On the history page of their website, it states: “In 1977 a group of public land managers, trail users, and private landowners met to discuss the concept of a long-distance trail that would traverse the Missouri Ozarks.” Turns out that (the year before I was born), a bunch of Missourians got together to plant the seed to start growing the hiking trails in our state, focusing on a long distance route that would go through some of the prettiest and wildest areas in Missouri. Working independently on their agreed sections, these hiking advocates built and maintained their designated paths in the hopes that they would be joined over the course of time to create a thru-hiking trail (possibly from St. Louis all the way to Arkansas) that could also be visited and accessed by people just wanting to day hike, backpack a night out in the woods, or spend a few weeks on a path. The Ozark Trail was born through the shared vision and partnerships between people interested in creating opportunities for anyone who wanted to, to spend more time in the Missouri wilderness. But it still had some growing to do.

Mega Event 029So in 2002, the Ozark Trail Association came into being. It is a “non-profit volunteer group dedicated to the construction, maintenance and promotion of the Ozark Trail“. Through their coordination and efforts, a completed Ozark Trail is steadily been becoming a reality. Over the years of trail building events and advocacy, as well as public relations and educational programming, the Ozark Trail is currently at almost 400 miles through Missouri, creating many opportunities to get out and on a trail near and through some of the prettiest forests our Ozarks have to offer.

Now the OTA has trail building and maintenance events all the time, but they only have Mega Events twice a year. The weekend of THIS Mega Event, we were going to be working on a mile of reroute on the Berryman Trail. The Berryman Trail was constructed in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps, and is a 24 mile loop in the Mark Twain National Forest between Potosi and Steelville, MO. It is a favorite of hikers, mountain-bikers, and equestrians, and it shares about 12 miles on its western side with the Ozark Trail. As the OTA has done a lot to maintain THAT part of the Berryman Trail, as the advocates and professionals that they are, they had taken it upon themselves to work to improve the eastern leg as well.

Mega Event 027As I am sure when every Mega Event gets closer, the efforts of staff and volunteers and sponsors starts to really gear up, but the entire process had actually begun more than a year and a half before and involves quite a bit of time and energy put in by the people at the OTA and their partners, including the National Forest Service and The Alpine Shop, among others. For a deeper look into what it takes, Matt Atnip of the OTA was kind enough to share the story, the part that a lot of us don’t even know about, which is what the OTA is all about.

Matt Atnip, Executive Director of the Ozark Trail Association:

“The story of this weekend’s build starts in August of 2013. After beginning work to rehab the East Berryman loop earlier in 2013, it became obvious that some stretches we hoped to correct by adding drainage features were too badly damaged to be saved. Erosion is a trail’s greatest enemy. These segments had been built using old specs that are not as sustainable as modern methods. Between that and a lack of maintenance over six decades, the trail was beyond rehab in areas.

043So in August of 2013, I had some discussions with the Forest Service (FS) about possible re-routes on the east side of the loop like the OTA had completed on the western side in 2012. They encouraged our input so I sat down on Google Earth and started laying down a route based on the intel from our rehab workers and some old scouting reports done by Wilmer Scott of the Forest Service back in 2010. I laid down four miles of re-routes between the Berryman Campground and Floyd Tower Rd.  A friend of mine and an OTA Crew Leader and Sawyer, Duan Reese, downloaded the line to GPS units and headed out to flag in the re-route. As usually happens, we ran into a lot of 19 foot canyons that don’t appear on 20 foot graded topo maps. We had to shift the line quite a bit to meet the 10% sustained spec for grade just to get down the first hillside. It was hot, sticky, buggy and then it rained on us. Pretty good day in the woods!

We let the FS know we had flagged the route. Over the next 3 months we flagged in the other 3 miles of re-routes with help from other OTA volunteers. The FS then began their NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) surveys for possible biological and cultural issues along our route. These are completed by biologists and archeologists working for the FS or under contract with the FS. We were able to get four miles surveyed as the FS is planning a large forest rehab project in the area over the next 10 – 20 years (Floyd Natural Communities Restoration Project). Approvals went through as we were just finishing a 1.2 mile re-route on the Trace Creek section. Great timing!

Marble Creek 003Now we could really begin to plan on the ground construction!! But wait…we needed funding. We were fortunate to once again get help from our partners at the Alpine Shop and Patagonia to put with a Recreation Trails Program (RTP) grant issued by the Federal Highway Department and administered by the Missouri Dept. of Natural Resources (kind of a mouthful – stay with me!). The previously mentioned rehab work was funded by a 2012 RTP grant and we used a portion of that to punch in the bench late last fall using a Ditch Witch mini skid-steer.

Aaron Browning from Kansas City did the machine work with the eye of a true trail designer. He is a horticulturist, member of the Professional Trailbuilders Association and runs his own landscaping business in KC. He tweaked the flag line and put in a really spectacular bench. It took about three and a half days to punch in the bench. This design follows modern contour trail specifications – 10% sustained grade – 15% maximum, 30 inch full bench tread outsloped 3% – 8%, corridor 8 foot by 12 foot tall. It eliminates switchbacks and puts the trail experience above the need to get from point A to point B. It flows through the woods and keeps the hiker or rider wondering what is coming up around the next bend in the trail! It reveals itself as you move along.

Mega Event 032A couple weeks before the outing, a group of Crew Leaders gathered to familiarize themselves with the worksite. The crew sections were measured, final adjustments were made to the line and parking areas were designated. Friday before the Mega, another group came back to put up the crew section signing and lay out the tool caches. Lots of work was done behind the scenes to complete crew rosters and prep registration, gather raffle items, obtain a band, get OTA merchandise on site, prepare a membership and Help Wanted booth, make lunch and dinner arrangements, tool sharpening and arrange camping. I know I am missing something! It takes a lot of folks and coordination to pull off a Mega!” 

Mega Event 048A ton of work by a lot of people behind the scenes, leading up to the morning of the Mega-Event. I want to thank Matt personally for taking the time to share so much information about what it takes.

So there we were, pulling into Bass River Resort early Friday evening to sign up for the next day’s trail build. I had a feeling that it was going to be an exciting and very eye-opening experience.

Continued in Part Two

Stream Team Adventures! The Riverfront of Historic Kimmswick. 4/4/2015

Kimmswick 004Kimmswick, Missouri is a beautiful little river town in Jefferson County just a short distance down the Mississippi River from St. Louis. It was founded in 1859 by a German immigrant named Theodore Kimm, who was a very successful merchant in the St. Louis area. He had moved to Jefferson County in 1850, and purchased a large amount of acreage along Rock Creek, which runs from present day Imperial, around the southern edge of Kimmswick, and into the Mississippi. As the railroad was expanding and the great river itself was a vital source of commerce, Kimm’s village grew to meet the demands of increasing population and infrastructure, rising to be the second largest town in Jefferson County by 1876, and becoming a nearby addition to the industriousness of its northern neighbor St. Louis, a city that was soon to be one of the largest in the United States.

Kimmswick 030Throughout the years, Kimmswick has experienced the ups and downs of any community, watching the other villages surrounding it grow larger with the advent of Interstate 55, and maintaining its quaint sensibilities with the formation of the Kimmswick Historical Society, founded in 1969. As with any river town, it has also faced its share of challenges by mother nature, regularly having to come together as a community in danger, fighting back the devastating power of the Mississippi most notably in 1993 and just a couple years ago in 2013. And then of course, usually in the month of October, Kimmswick is home to THE legendary Apple Butter Festival. With visitors from across the midwest, this is an event that anyone who appreciates the simple qualities and relaxing nature of a country lifestyle needs to experience at least once. Its popularity has justifiably grown throughout the years, so get there early to beat the rush!

Kimmswick 011On this morning however, we were arriving early because we had an event of a different nature. We were there to be part of the 5th Annual Kimmswick Stream Team Cleanup! Put together by the dedicated Kim Bess, leader and organizer of the Kimmswick Stream Team #4397 , this is the second time I have been to this event. Rock Creek is a tributary of the Mississippi River that wraps around the southern edge of Kimmswick from the west, originating on the far side of Imperial, MO. If you have ever visited Mastadon State Historic Site, it is the waterway that streams past the southern side of the lower picnic area. It makes its way under Interstate 55, through Imperial, and around the little town and into the great river. Last year we had canoes in the water from up above the Route K bridge, all the way down the length of Rock Creek to the Front Street bridge, just before where it meets with the Mississippi.

Kimmswick 014This year we were going to tackle the expanse of land along the Mississippi River itself, so after meeting at Jefferson Square Park at 5th Street and Beckett for some donuts and signing in, with a speech about the objectives of the day from Kim, we loaded up our bags and gloves and headed east toward the river. After a short drive through this pretty little town and under the bridge on the far side, we parked in an open field and walked toward the flood plain. Now the area we were cleaning up today is called Chesley Island, part of the riverfront of Kimmswick. It is a strip of acreage with the Mississippi River as its eastern boundary, and bordered by a wide slough on its western edge. We moved north into the woods and began to scour the leaf litter for garbage. There was quite a bit of area, so we all spread out along a rough path, some cleaning along the river front and some of us cleaning along the edge of the slough. A group of Stream Teamers had also put canoes and kayaks into the water in the slough, and were going after some of the more stranded and unreachable tires and garbage.

Kimmswick 180I made my way through the woods next to the water, picking up and stashing into my green mesh bag what garbage I found, which was all over the place thanks to the rising and falling of the river over the course of time. Ken and Christine from Stream Team #4460 were on the water in the slough, and I helped to unload their tire filled canoe each time they came to shore with their bounty. We would carry the tires over to the sloppy jeep trail running the length of the area, to be loaded onto the next available trailer being pulled along it by the ATV drivers. We were making a productive impact, as spread out as we were. Pairs of volunteers here and there off in the distance among the trees, searching the ground and water for discarded remnants of human civilization, in the worst-yet-very-positive treasure hunt ever.

Kimmswick 222I eventually started working through the edge of the slough, as there was a lot of trash that had organically collected itself among the driftwood in the shallow zone just off of the bank of Chesley Island. It was an interesting experience, and I was very thankful for the hearty knee-high muck boots that I now regularly wear on these excursions. It was very much similar to that scene in the first Star Wars movie when in order to escape the guards in the prison level of the Death Star, the heroes found themselves wading in the dense floating mass of garbage in a giant trash compactor. It was still a bit chilly for snakes, which I am positive dwell in this wetland area, but I kept expecting to see some sort of creature pop its head above the surface in a moment of adventurous (and somewhat anxiety inducing) surprise. Luckily for me, all that was bobbing in the water around me were bottles and jars and a tire floating on its side that had collected organic matter and had little plants growing in it. A floating flower pot, sort of. I continued along the edge of the slough, finally removing all the trash I could find up to and around an elbow in its meandered direction. It was getting close to time to stop, and there were still piles of garbage that had to be loaded up and carted out, so I made my way out of the water and toward the jeep trail and the sight of other volunteers, helping to load the trailers that were running back and forth behind ATVs through the mud and trees.

Kimmswick 016We finally got all the collected trash back to the parking area and put it all in the dumpster that was donated for this event. Then it was a short car ride back to the Jefferson Square Park to eat a couple of bratwursts and re-hydrate and socialize a bit before all us great volunteers made our way home to enjoy the rest of our Saturday. In all that day, from the volunteers on Chesley Island, on the other side of the slough, and along parts of Rock Creek, we collectively removed 35 cubic yards of trash, 1500 pounds of metal, and 131 tires (most of which still had rims), including a couple tractor tires!

Kimmswick 2015-04-04 10.28.14It was a wonderful day for sure, with the weather being perfect and getting to be out in nature next to just about the most famous river in the United States, near a beautiful little historic river town. But the best moment happened for me personally when I was out in the edge of the slough. I was just standing in the knee deep water, surrounded by bits of floating garbage here and there among all the chunks of driftwood…when everything went quiet. Not a fearful, something-bad-is-happening-in-the-woods kind of moment. This was different. Maybe I had been working hard and had finally caught my breath. Maybe it was the moment in the day when we had reached the high temperature, and everything absorbing the sunlight had opened fully for the spring air. Maybe through the chaotic randomness of water movement, a surface calm had been reached by unseen elements coming together at once. Whatever it was, a stillness occurred that immersed me in silence and life, with nothing but the air and the water and the trees around me…like the sound of looking into a mirror. This was a natural culmination of positive energy…a peaceful springtime warmth that radiated a calm and uplifting feeling. My good friend Ken said a little later, “It was like zen moment”, after I described it to him. I think he is right, and I love moments like that. A very spiritual experience in what a lot might think of as a not very spiritual place. Not a thing you can make happen, but a thing that will happen if you open yourself up to letting it occur. I love it when it happens while hiking a trail or sitting on an overlook, and I love that it happened in this moment along the edge of a Mississippi River slough, next to historic Kimmswick, MO, during a Stream Team cleanup on a beautiful spring Saturday. I can’t wait for the next adventure!

Kimmswick 2015-04-04 10.28.26

Stream Team Adventures! The Unknown Park along the Lower Meramec River. Widman Park 3/28/2015

Widman 2015-03-22 08.38.52In 1986, local celebrity and businessman Earl Widman donated 12 acres of land that was previously the home of the Riverdale Motorbike Track, along Telegraph Rd near the Meramec River, to St. Louis County Parks. He was a WWII Navy veteran and motorcycle and go-kart racer, as well as founder and president of Widman Harley-Davidson in the St. Louis area. The land was donated with the intention of being a recreational park for ATV and motorbike enthusiasts, and another 40 acres in the area was eventually added, some of which the St. Louis Karting Association managed a race track on from 1989 to 2001.

Widman 078In 1993 when the great flood washed through, saturating all the low-lying areas in the midwest, Widman Park was no exception. Directly adjacent to the Meramec River, this floodplain was covered with deep waters from the rising of the Mississippi River just a couple miles away. On August 1st, the Mississippi peaked at an astounding 49.58 feet in St. Louis, almost 20 feet above flood stage. With the average flow on this date being around 200,000 cubic feet per second, on this day it was moving at a destructive rate of 1,080,000 cfs! More than five times the usual amount of water that would be flowing at the beginning of August. With that much water passing the mouth of the Meramec River, it had backed up tremendously, inflicting severe flooding and community changing damage on many areas in northern Jefferson County and St. Louis County. The flood of 1993 turned neighborhoods into lakes for miles, including the acres that make up Widman Park.

Widman 2015-03-22 08.34.50When that sort of flooding happens, and even flooding of a lessor extent, the river will take whatever man made items it can grab from the areas it consumes, and redistribute them wherever it wants. The forest and wetland that make up Widman Park has remained largely untouched since 1993, and it sits as a burial ground for neighborhoods along the river from the past. As Missouri Stream Teamers, people who look to clean up natural places along waterways that have been trashed by floods and other people’s bad decisions, we had before us a perfect location in which to spend a hard working Saturday.

Widman 009

Our fearless leaders, Brian and Bernie!

The day started (officially) at 8 am, with the sun rising up above the hill to the east. Cars were lined along Old Telegraph Road, and people were signing in, eating donuts and drinking coffee, and doing their best to ignore the chilliness that had moved in over the past couple of days. When it seemed that the time to get started was upon us, Bernie Arnold and Brian Waldrop (co-leaders of the Mighty Arnold 211 Stream Team) stood on the deck of the supply trailer and welcomed all the volunteers to the cleanup. They discussed the objectives of the day, where the litter was, and how we were going to orchestrate its removal. There were people who had been doing this for a long time that were present, as well as first timers and everyone in between. We were all focused on one collective goal: to get everything that didn’t belong in nature out of this relatively unknown park. After a discussion of safety and what to watch out for, we donned our gloves, grabbed our shovels and bags, and headed toward the woods.

Widman 014There were essentially three locations in the park, naturally segmented by creeks and old park roads. The people I was with walked in the direction of the Meramec along Old Telegraph Rd, to a corner of the park with a scattering of buried tires, metal, and various pieces of trash peeking out of the previous autumn’s weathered leaf litter. It wasn’t after too long, and some digging and wrestling of the half buried debris, that we had cleaned this section as thoroughly as we could and then made our way parallel with the river along the edge of the park next to some private property toward a much larger section. This one was already populated by Stream Teamers making their way through the brush and over all the downed trees, picking up the bottles and cans and jars and tires and random garbage they could spot. It was a crowd of workers, all joyously clearing the forest floor as one, returning the look of the area to how it should be; a palate of brown and green, with a noticeable absence of bright plastic containers, the shining reflectiveness of discarded glass, and the dull rotund dusty blackness of tires that don’t belong there.

Widman 034

One of the best ways to spend a Saturday!

Completing a collective sweep through the forest, the work turned to loading the trailers with the piles of accumulated waste. There were bags of trash, tires, random pieces of metal, and more than a couple half-deteriorated refrigerators. You can almost imagine it as piles of essential items and appliances from a handful of houses, having sat in the floodplain for 20 years neglected and weathered, waiting to be found and properly disposed of.  And that is where a lot of this trash originates. There are many times when it is easy to determine that a place is littered by the dumping of people making terrible decisions, but at this park today it really seemed as though this was the result of the power of mother nature herself, and that no amount of forethought or responsible disposal could help most of what we found here to not have been brought in by the river reclaiming its territory. A river can be a gentle, life giving thing, full of water and recreation and sustenance. But it can also be too strong for us to control and we are wise to keep that in our minds, as people that feel drawn to the flow of them and the forests they cut their path through.

Widman 067After a long day of many hands lifting this worthy burden, the 79 hard working volunteers that were there that day removed 151 passenger tires, 15 tractor trailer tires, and 3 giant tires that were as tall as the average Stream Teamer. Along with that we also pulled 30 cubic yards of trash, including an English riding saddle, and more than 3 tons of scrap metal and a deteriorated boat from the forest and wetland that make up Widman Park. Unbelievable that it was all in there, and impressive that the group of people that showed up Saturday worked as hard as they did to get it all out. Thank you to all the great people that were a part of this amazing event!

Widman 060One of my favorite things to do during a cleanup is to look back at an area after I have helped to remove the trash in it, to notice the difference and take a mental picture now that it looks better. I had walked through Widman Park a couple of times in the past few months as we had scouted the area in preparation for this cleanup, and had burned in my memory the look of the woods with all the plastic and glass and metal and rubber strewn throughout. We took our dogs on a walk there the Sunday morning after the cleanup, with the full dumpster and piles of metal and tires at the park entrance, waiting to all be taken to their final resting places. I can tell you that without a doubt the acreage of Widman Park is a changed forest, and that with incredible effort of all the people involved in the cleanup, we have brought this small piece of floodplain along the Meramec River at Telegraph Road back to its beautiful natural state, just in time for the growth of springtime to illuminate the life there.

Widman 075To get involved with this great program, go to the Missouri Stream Team Website here!

And go check out and like the Facebook Page for the Mighty 211 Arnold Stream Team, which I am a member of!

 

Stream Team Adventures! A Beast of a Cleanup! The 7th Annual Confluence Trash Bash 3/21/2015

051It is about 8 am on a warming Saturday morning. The sun has just recently risen, and is shining through the framework of the Old Chain of Rocks Bridge in North St. Louis County, casting long geometrical shadows across the western bank of the great Mississippi River. We are just below the confluence where the Missouri River adds its vast gallons to the flow, and you would be hard pressed to find a greater amount of quickly moving water anywhere north of this point. With so much water across a broad expanse of churning surface, the Mississippi River has been a focal point of industry and sustenance since before the dawn of the United States, and to witness the dynamic forces of it passing under this bridge and heading south to the ocean, it is remarkable in its strength and determination. It is a river that is connected to the life of so many species and communities, including humans, being the main artery the drains the majority of the landscape across this country. We are here this morning on its western bank in a small park at the foot of an 86 year old bridge that crosses it, and we are here to clean it up.

073Today is the day of the 7th Annual Confluence Trash Bash, a cleanup event put on by the Greenway Network (Stream Team #463). They are a “a grassroots volunteer based organization” whose mission is “to conserve natural resources, encourage sound management of the watersheds and protect the quality of life for the residents of the greater St. Louis area”. A group of people that care about the well being of the waterways around and throughout St. Louis City, County, and St. Charles County. Unlike a lot of Missouri creeks, they take on a very ambitious goal with the population density that we have here in the metropolitan area, but the silver lining is that it also allows for a large pool of volunteers. And today is a shining example of the community response.

002I am standing with Dr. Charlene Waggoner, the President of Greenway Network, and we are taking a moment to just relax and appreciate the sight before us. The parking lot at the Old Chain of Rocks Bridge has been steadily filling with vehicles, and the line to sign in has been increasing in size. It takes a lot to pull this off, and there is a buzz in the air of energy and anxiety to what the outcome of the day will be. With six start locations along the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers wrapping around the northeast corner of St. Louis County, with multiple cleanup sites launching from each location, this is a huge endeavor. With quite a bit of activity happening right in front of us, distracting attempts at conversation, I try to convey to Charlene the concept behind the Creighton Abrams quote “When eating an elephant, take one bite at a time”. The idea that this is a massive event, almost too big to pull off, but if many people all take a bite it isn’t too overwhelming to be accomplished.

008And that is how they have set it up, having done this six times previously already. With team leaders for each cleanup site, at sites all across the area with the logistical resources in place to properly dispose of the collected garbage and debris, the day is set and we are ready to begin. At about 9 am, Roland Biehl of the Metropolitan Sewer District takes the microphone, welcomes all the excited volunteers, and announces the plan for the day. Then after a safety talk covering the conditions that we may run into in the next few hours, we are off on our way!

026I have to confess, I must be lucky because I think I got the prettiest site of the day. As the team leader for site #5, I got to lead my group across a vast farm field in the southern section of Columbia Bottom Conservation Area to a compact forested length of floodplain that was the home to scattered garbage brought in by past floods. As we walked south along the access road, we followed it where it turned to the west, continued onward, and then entered the treeline once we finally found the main drag of marooned litter and debris. It wasn’t a very big site; just a strip of forest about a quarter mile long and with a welcome openness between the trees, except for the spots where great cottonwoods had fallen and opened up the canopy to trees of less stature and the vines that like to drape over them. The volunteers I had with me consisted of a handful of adults and an energetic group of kids from the Hazelwood School District, along with my own son Eli, who was trying out some new muck boots today. Everyone made quick work of the place, moving over the diminutive leaf covered knolls that were shaped and molded by the movement of past flood water piling the sand and organic matter among the base of great trunks, ultimately polished flatter by the winds that blow across the expanses of this conservation area after the summer months have caused the water to retreat to its established river home.

019So we scoured the assigned site, leaving the items we found in piles along the access road to be picked up later. As we walked back to the parking lot to the bus that brought us here, I was compelled to break off from the group and follow the young tree line that skirted the barren cornfield between us and our vehicles. Much of this land is farmed, and the dry headless stalks from last year’s harvest stand a foot up above the sand dominated soil, like a field of pegs, all in lines and rows, stretching almost all the way to the river. The weather is perfect, and the job is done, so I enjoy some minutes just listening to the wind and appreciating the clumsy softness of every sandy step I take on my way back.

036After a short ride back to the Old Chain of Rocks Bridge, we disperse from our groups to take care of little odds and ends and socialize while eating lunch, comparing stories of the day. Eli and I take a walk on the bridge to the center of the river to revel in the immensity of this giant artery through the center of the United States. Not so directly obvious, but it is a part of our way of life beyond being just a great big river that we reside near that carries commerce along its length. It is connected to so many other places I enjoy spending time in. The water that flows through creeks that I float on or hike next to eventually becomes part of the Mississippi. The trickles that I stop and listen to in the woods, splashing down a hillside toward a creek valley with their hypnotic babbles and hiccups, is just marks on the calendar away from moving silently along as part of this hulking mass of dynamic force. The Mississippi River is connected to so much, even the clouds overhead, and it will still be flowing long after we have out-spent our time on this earth.

020It has been a good day and I am glad to have been able to share it with all the great people that came out to be a part of this operation. Charlene would tell me later that from the 600+ participants spread across all the cleanup sites, 14 TONS of trash, 400 tires, and almost a ton of recyclable metal were removed from the watershed in the St. Louis area! A very impressive amount, when you really think about it. Thank you to everyone that was involved. From the various Stream Teams, school groups, scout groups, community members, and outdoor advocates, many of whom I personally regard as dear friends and respected figures in the realm of conservation and community…YOU made this day the productive one that it ended up being. The 7th Annual Confluence Trash Bash was truly a huge beast, massive and with outstretched appendages all across the St. Louis area, made up of many fingers and toes being dipped along a path of water. On this Saturday in March, I can truly say that the monster that it is had successfully been consumed by the worthy efforts and energetic determination of all the hungry volunteers taking it down by the sheer force that comes from many bites, working together, one at a time. I look forward to next year!

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Through the Hills to the Lake! Marble Creek Section of the Ozark Trail 3/14/2015

168It was just about 9 am on a late winter Saturday morning as I was pulling into the parking lot at Crane Lake Recreation Area. The day before had been a nonstop drizzle, and it was still sprinkling a bit as I parked and met up with the hikers from the “Let’s Hike” Meetup group that would be joining me today. We were going to check out the Marble Creek Section of the Ozark Trail and we all were excited about the trip, but looked to the sky in the hopes that the clouds would part and that our 9 mile hike was going to be only slightly muddy and sloppy. Consolidating cars, we left two in the parking lot for shuttles at the end, and then headed over to Marble Creek Recreation Area to start our day’s adventure. I was pretty excited!

005How to get there:

To Crane Lake Recreation Area, take Interstate 55 south about 22 miles to exit 174B which is US-67 south toward Bonne Terre/Farmington. Stay on US-67 south, all the way to MO-E just south of Fredericktown. Turn right (west) on MO-E and take that about 19 miles to County Road 124, on the left side of the road very soon AFTER County Road 134. Make a left (the only option) onto County Road 124, and take that about three miles to County Road 131. Make a left onto County Road 131, and after about two miles it ends in the Crane Lake Recreation Area.

To Marble Creek Recreation Area, take Interstate 55 south about 22 miles to exit 174B which is US-67 south toward Bonne Terre/Farmington. Stay on US-67 south, all the way to MO-E just south of Fredericktown. Turn right (west) on MO-E and take it about 15 miles. It will eventually be on your right with a clear and visible entrance sign. The trailhead at Marble Creek is just across E from the entrance parking lot. Look for the Ozark Trail “OT” blaze to know which way to go.

036It starts out with a slow and steady ascent up into the hills and along a ridge for quite a bit, cutting down into a slight ravine, and then back up and across a forest road with a small pond next to it at about 2.5 miles. It then spends the next couple miles going through a series of minor elevation changes, follows an old jeep trail for a while, and then down into a deeper ravine which almost immediately starts to climb up another very tall hillside to a ridge. Passing through a hilltop glade, it then goes back down steeply into a lower forest and winds along through another section of slight up and down topography.

046At about the six mile point it then descends into a creek bottom where you end up having to cross a wide creek, make a left, and then head along the bottoms to the southern Crane Lake loop. When you reach the intersection at the Crane Lake loop, going forward will take you to another water crossing and northward around the western side of Crane Lake. Making a right at the intersection will take you northward on the east side along the outflow from the lake, a powerful and impressive display of determined ozark water, and then sharply up the hill to a glade above the dam. It is then another mile of ducking in and out of the woods next to the lake as you make your way to the parking lot at Crane Lake Recreation Area.

064Why I like this trail:

It is a very pretty section of woods, and a great example of eastern Missouri forests. Traveling along ridges dotted by the natural sensibilities of upper hardwood stands, through wet weather bottoms with all their deep and moist charm, to the occasional glade with its sandy warmth and exposed rock, you get a great look at the diversity of life that dwells in the hills throughout the St. Francois Mountain Range. And then there is the beauty of Crane Lake itself. You can hear the rushing of the water out of the spillway as you get closer to the dam, and then when you climb that steep hill to the glade above it, it is a profound natural emergence to be witness to the pristine glass surface of Crane Lake, from the backwoods that you just spent the past few hours traveling through. I think starting at Marble Creek to end up at the lake is the perfect way to save the best for last.

120We were lucky enough to get to see the trail just after a full day and a half of rain, and the liveliness of the waterways on it was a really neat experience to have. Certainly our boots were wet at the end, but it was a unique experience getting to see and hear so much fluid movement on our hike.

As far as I am aware, this trail is adopted and maintained by the great people over at the St. Louis Adventure Group “SLAG”. You can tell that they do an excellent job of it, keeping the path in good condition and clear of debris. Thank you to all their members that spend the hours of hard work keeping such a great section of trail in top shape so that enthusiasts like myself can have an enjoyable hike.

055What you need to know:

As we were lucky enough to get to hike the trail with all the water flowing from the recent rain, this was a feature that all hikers need to be prepared for, at least mentally. There were quite a few water crossings, most of which were just wide enough to hop over, albeit sometimes from rock to log to rock. I’m sure in the drier months it is even less of an obstacle, but the creek near the lake caused us all to actually have to remove our socks and shoes and cross barefoot, as it was just too wide to jump. Expect water to stand in your way at times.

1259 miles is pretty good for a long day hike in my experience. You can also overnight backpack this as it is part of the Ozark Trail. Whatever timeline you choose, know what you’re getting into. Work up to it if you are used to hikes that are just a few miles, and be prepared to stop and eat something for lunch so that you have continuous energy to get you to the end.

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I took this the next morning, near the dam.

Make sure to take a map with you. The trail is pretty well marked, but there are road crossings and intersections that could be confusing if you don’t know where to go. And remember that this is a point to point trail, so you will need to have a vehicle at the end to get you back to the starting point, if you aren’t planning on hiking another 9 miles back.

166It has been a while since I have hiked that far in one day, and I have to say that I was very satisfied with the time it took and the things I got to see. Thank you to the enthusiastic and good-natured companions that hiked with me on this adventure. It made it so much better being able to share it with you. Of all there is on this trail, Crane Lake especially is a very picturesque place, and to see its spillway swollen with the water from a soaking rain the day and night before, rolling over the lip of the dam and down through the rocks below was almost as magical to witness in person as it was powerful. Can’t wait to visit it again soon!

Are you crazy? It’s FREEZING out there! Why you SHOULD hike in the winter.

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LaBarque Creek, at Young Conservation Area.

Let’s face it. Here in Missouri…a lot of us dread the coming of winter, and we count the days until it is gone. Winter in Missouri means the potential for ice on everything outside, bitter cold wind that hurts the face, and the threat of peril on the roads when the snow rolls through. It’s a general motivator to spend a few months just hunkered down inside to reconnect with whatever hobby we most likely set down about, oh…last April. Nobody likes to go out in the winter. We just do it because this is where we live so our choices are limited.

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The Big Creek valley, from hiking shelter #1 along the Mudlick Trail at Sam A. Baker State Park

And for people that like to spend time outside, like myself and all of you…it is a frustrating experience getting to know the true nature of “Cabin Fever”. Wait for an actually pleasant weekend day in February or March, and go drive through a nearby park. By 10 am you will see more cars in the parking lot than will likely be there on a summer day. People want to get out, but the cold shuts a lot of us in. I can’t blame anyone. It is uncomfortable out there. Given a breeze, even above freezing temperatures can be pretty awful, much less in the twenties. Stay inside! Don’t risk it! Spring will return soon!

Well I am here to tell you why you SHOULD get outside in the winter, and spend some time in nature.

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Pickle Creek Natural Area, near Farmington, MO.

No Bugs!

The biggest annoyance for me personally, when hiking in any other season, is the bugs. Now, I’m not referring to the occasional fly or wasp or spider or cloud of gnats or that weird-yet-intriguingly-green-thing that I think I saw a picture of once. I am talking about the four horsemen of the outdoor adventure apocalypse. Ticks. Chiggers. Mosquitoes. Horseflies. You know, the things that can instantly ruin a fun day at the river, stop short a rest on a log to catch your breath while hiking, or kill the desire to go off trail into the leaf litter to search for mushrooms or geocaches, take pictures from a better angle, and any number of reasons that inspire us to occasionally make our own path. Ticks, chiggers, mosquitoes, and horseflies…the bane of any warm weather outdoor excursion. Out in the woods during the winter? For the most part, these fun-ruining little jerks are put to bed for a long nap, so take advantage of it.

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Crane Lake, Mark Twain National Forest.

The Poison Ivy is scarce!

Now if you know me in person, and you have spent some time outside with me…you probably know that I am allergic to Poison Ivy. Having a lifelong love/hate relationship with it, my history and keen ability to sense its presence is downright anxiety inducing. It loves to get on me and cause me a fortnight of itchy terror, and I hate it. Well in the wintertime, though the vines are still wrapped around the trees and the branches still reach out into the air along the trail, with an invisible sheen of Urishiol waiting to ambush me…those big surfaced leaves that make great irritant applicators are dropped on the ground and under my crushing hiking boots, as I make my way through the forest. I wouldn’t go grabbing everything in the woods and rub it on my face, but the threat is diminished and the pathways are a little wider and more freewheeling for a guy with a mortal enemy such as Poison Ivy.

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Taconic Loop Trail, at Young Conservation Area.

You can see into the woods farther.

One of the things I like about hiking in the winter the most is that you can see through the forest so much farther than any other time of the year. Think about that trail you love that is along a valley and closed in by the broad leaves of the Paw-Paw trees in the late summer. In the winter it is opened wide to reveal it’s a gully at the base of massive hills, towering over you and offering an epic sense of the topography you are travelling through. Or that winding switchback on your favorite trail that climbs claustrophobically through the nettle and grasses growing out of the rocks in the warmer months. In winter it becomes a stairway that takes you up above a sprawling creek bottom that has a depth you wouldn’t normally see when it is shrouded by the growth that happens there; the leaves of vines laying on the frozen mud below instead of blocking the scenery. Or the opposing hillside so far beyond as you crest a ridge at the top of a climb, opened to view as the widened vista it truly is when the leaves from the young oaks have dropped for their winter nap. The look of the forest is something to be amazed at in any season, but it is best experienced by being there when it is opened up in the colder part of the year.

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Lower Rock Creek, Mark Twain National Forest.

Less hikers (nothing personal, everybody!).

I like to hike with people just as much as I like to hike with only the dog. They are both fun and enriching excursions, but I find that the solo hiking is more of an inner, personal adventure. The isolation with just my thoughts and feelings, travelling along with my (mostly) silent and loyal trail partner, offers moments of creativity and wonder that I might not be as focused on when I am in the company of more upright adventurers. It is something I enjoy doing from time to time, moving at whatever pace feels right, stopping when I want to take a sip of water or snap a picture, and just absorbing where I am at with the only sound being my footsteps and the noises that are alive within that area. Winter hiking, because of the increased challenging conditions, keeps a lot of people at home in the warmth and creates more opportunities for me to have the trail to myself. Just think of the most popular and scenic trail that you visit, and then imagine having it all to yourself.

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Young Conservation Area

Frozen mud.

Working construction, I have come to despise muddy job sites. The muck that you step down into, adding what seems to be at least ten pounds to the bottom and sides of one’s boots makes for a miserable Gabe, more than a lot of other conditions out there. I hate mud, and even when I am on a trail the distraction of the chaos it inspires with every weighted and slippery step is sometimes enough for even me to consider that maybe staying on the couch that morning would have been a better option. One of the best things about hiking when it has been below freezing all night is that the mud is now solid, and if I just stay aware of the pitfalls here and there, moving along a path is as smooth and energetic as it would be on a summer day during a dry spell.

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Frozen waterfall, Hickory Canyons Natural Area near Ste. Genevieve, MO.

Natural Ice Sculptures.

Something that I thought was one of the most pleasing things to look at, after we moved back to St. Louis from Florida when I was 13, was during the winter driving along an interstate spotting the giant icicles hanging off of the exposed rock faces where the road was cut through a hill. These massive collections of solid water, suspended there as we drove past, have a magical quality to them that always inspired a sparkle in my eye. Sure, people like the green, life filled beauty of the forest in the warmer months, but think about any trail that has a water feature that you enjoy seeing, and then consider how it might look if it were frozen. It is out there waiting for you, and you just need to put on a hat and gloves and go see it!

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Beulah Trail, Greensfelder Park in St. Louis County.

With all that said, there are dangerous factors to take into consideration when hiking in the winter. Weather conditions can deteriorate to life threatening levels, and accidents can happen on a trail that could leave you immobile or at least not able to make it home right away. You must go into it with the gear you would need to survive, were you forced to spend longer than a couple of hours in a subfreezing Missouri forest. Take a friend with you, be aware of the weather forecast, and make sure your day pack is along for the hike, filled with what you might need to turn a slip on the ice or a wrong turn in the path into a safe and relatively comfortable unplanned night in the woods.

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Young Conservation Area

Hiking in Missouri (and probably anywhere else) in the Winter can be one of the neatest experiences, and you get to see a side of nature that is usually ignored by more fair weather outdoors enthusiasts. Everyone prefers a warm day surrounded by green leaves and growth, but the woods while it is sleeping offers a ton of natural beauty too. Just go prepared, and see some of your favorite natural areas when they are put to bed for a few months. It allows you to come back with a view that few people get to actually see, so that when you are on that same trail six months later, you can have a fuller understanding of the cycles which these wonderful forests and waterways go through when we are usually home bundled up on our couches. No, you’re not crazy. You’re adventurous!

A Healthy Diet. Invasive Species and You.

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A field of Bush Honeysuckle at Jefferson Barracks County Park, consuming the open space.

An area of volunteerism that I have dipped my toe in this past year was at a couple of habitat restoration events, put on by the Open Space Council for the St. Louis Region as part of their Operation Wild Lands (OWLs) initiative. These were both on Saturday mornings in parks in the St. Louis area, removing invasive plants from the nearby forest. In Bluebird Park out in Elllisville, we tore out all the Bush Honeysuckle we could find in the Roger Klamberg Woods Conservation Area. At Greentree Park along the Meramec River, down in the floodplain along Marshall Rd. that is shared by Kirkwood and Valley Park, we pulled Wintercreeper off of the surrounding trees that stand in the open areas flanking the walking trail there. They were both fun events, working alongside other enthusiastic volunteers in the local outdoors, but as the morning passed and I felt the soak of sweat on my back, I had to ask myself…why bother with invasive species? These are just plants that are really good at growing, so wouldn’t it make sense to let the natural balance work its magic and be happy that some of the members of the ecosystem are thriving in these places? Surely I could spend the morning just hiking a trail somewhere and let nature be nature.

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Wintercreeper, on its way up a tree.

When I was in my late teens, I moved out of my parent’s house and got an apartment with a buddy of mine. It was pretty cool. I had a job that allowed me to pay my bills, and I had a metabolism that allowed me to eat whatever I wanted. Fast food was regular fare for this guy, and I didn’t think twice about the nutritional content (or lack of) that I was putting into my face. It was a time of go, go, go, for my youthful self and I certainly didn’t appreciate it as much as I should have. Things have changed in the years since, and I sometimes look back jealously on those days when my relative healthiness just happened without effort. There was a period of time that I remember specifically when for a while my primary diet was Totino’s Party Pizzas. At the local grocery store they would be on sale for 10 for $10! I would purchase a freezer full, and then when it was time for a meal at home, I would pause whatever movie I was in front of and go pop a Party Pizza in the oven. They were awesome! All sorts of toppings, crispy crust, just about enough sodium and fat to kill a man, and I could eat an entire one in a sitting. They were the best. I was young and independent and out in the world being responsible for only myself. My body, fueled by hormones and a lack of good judgement, was indestructible. During that time, there was at least an entire month where I probably ate one Totino’s Party Pizza a day, if not two now and again. Man, I miss my 19 year old metabolism.

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Bush Honeysuckle, waiting for Spring.

So I was clearly not healthy, at least when it came to my intake…but my body could handle just about whatever crap I put into it. If I were to attempt this diet now at 36, I would be on my way to heart failure pretty quickly. I need more diversity and balance in order to be healthy. Vegetables, fruits, a responsible amount of proteins and fats and carbs. Water, from the tap, without added sweetness. We all know this, and we all try to practice mindful eating most of the time. It is okay to slip and indulge oneself now and again, because hey, we all only have soooo much willpower and who would want to live without some occasional rewards?

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Wintercreeper, choking out some trees along the Meramec River.

I kind of think of invasive species as being along similar lines. Diversity and balance are the key to a healthy ecosystem, just like it is to my own physiological system. Too much of one thing can be harmful, so we have to find a medium point that allows for the best results overall, health-wise. The problem with invasives is that they are really good at growing, and because they are good at growing they take over an area. Through their own abilities, they become the “overindulgence”, the “too much of one thing”. They choke out the other plants on a riverbank with their vines, including great trees, in the case of Wintercreeper. They block out the precious sunlight with their arching branches, stealing life from the native shrubs and grasses, in the places that become overwhelmed by Bush Honeysuckle. They fill the riverways with teaming schools that overpower the other fish, consuming all available food sources, and then jump out to hit us in the face as we cruise along, as we have come to know Asian Carp. They are an imbalance that harms the health of an ecosystem. Hey, we’ve all seen pictures of the draping Kudzu vines in the southeast states of North America, right? Like an unstoppable tarp of green that sweeps over every bush and tree, just growing and spreading and dominating the landscape with no end in sight, expertly stealing the nutrients from the ground and hoarding all the life giving sunlight above. They are not a life form that joins in on the natural symphony of a forest, playing its part as a beneficial member of a diverse and thriving balance. They are an invasive species, and they are the unchecked bullies of the natural world. The woods and rivers need our attention and stewardship to stop them.

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Lots of little red berries, filled with seeds for the birds to distribute.

I know that at least within the St. Louis area, they have been subtly getting worse. Bush Honeysuckle is all over my neck of the woods, and as you go out into Missouri it isn’t nearly as widespread…but give it time. I’m sure that all the fisherman and boaters and canoers and kayakers can share personal experience regarding the invasion of Asian Carp. Wintercreeper, Zebra Mussels, Feral Hogs, and many others are on the list of invasive species as well. And most of them were introduced at some point by people who had the best intentions. We can’t fault them for it…they saw them as solutions to a problem. This plant here grows very quickly and to the right height, so this will make an excellent row of wind block for the western edge of my cornfield. This ground cover here will work perfect for keeping the riverbank intact, and keep the stream crystal clear all year long. This fish eats and eats, and it will do all the underwater yard work in my lake so that it stays trimmed and clean for the kids in the summertime. The best intentions, but with a lack of foresight.

2014-12-28 09.48.17So in some of these areas where the invasives are denser, organizations like the Missouri Department of Conservation, The Open Space Council, St. Louis County Parks, and other municipal entities and private and public groups with a lot of volunteers spend weekend mornings throughout the year working together to keep these bullies in check. Tromping through the forest in the back end of a nearby park, pulling out Bush Honeysuckle with my kids and other motivated volunteers is kind of fun too, in an “I’m Godzilla” sort of way. We have far to go to eradicate these plants from our environments, but we can each get involved and chip away at the problem. It may seem overwhelming (especially once you can identify Bush Honeysuckle by sight), but their advance can be held back by our efforts if we just keep at it. And then we can appreciate OUR OWN personal impact, through the work that we’ve done, on the diverse and healthy forests nearby that we love to spend time in.

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Within a couple months, this thicket of Bush Honeysuckle will be blocking any chance that native plants have to grow here, as it advances further each year.

For opportunities to get involved across Missouri, click on this link to see what the Missouri Department of Conservation has going on. To get involved in the St. Louis area, click on this link to learn more about the Open Space Council’s OWLs program. YOU can make the woods and riverways a better place. YOU can improve the health of the natural areas you love. Get out there and do it!

Because it is more than just “Camping”. A little back-story, part two

Continued from Part One:

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The confluence of the Current River and the Jacks Fork, at Two Rivers Campground.

So with my muse as the beautiful state of Missouri, and the adventure being spending a weekend outdoors on a camping trip, I embarked on this path. Taking pictures and writing my thoughts about places I had been. I was also taking pictures and really thinking a lot about the trails I was hiking when I wasn’t spending the weekend away from home in a tent. I figured I could write about them too, as more content for the blog. Sure, it wasn’t camping…but it was still part of the adventure. It still showed off some of the natural beauty of Missouri. So after almost 5 months, around the end of July 2013, I had already written 37 posts on the blog. Trail reviews, information about a handful of places I had camped so far, thoughts and ideas, and a series of posts that were somewhat autobiographical. I was expanding on what “Camping Missouri” was with every entry, and starting to really develop a personal style as well as inject a bit of my own personality and history.

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Sunrise behind the windmill at Suson Park.

At this time however, I had also started working for a previous employer, as they had an abundance of work going on that summer. Between new outlet malls in Chesterfield Valley and a retirement home just over the river in Illinois, construction work was steady and I was busier than I had been in a while. Hiking a trail around town was appropriately reserved for the weekend, and heading to the woods to camp had to be a little more planned in advance. Between work and home and being back on a typical schedule, time spent on quiet weekday mornings when I would share my thoughts on the blog were a thing of the past. I had a job, and that was a blessing and a priority. Then in September, I accepted a position with St. Louis County Parks on their carpentry crew. Not quite the same hourly income, but it also was a more relaxed tempo in a work environment that I had a serious personal appreciation for, not to mention that it would be full time work all year long. A steady paycheck. What a foreign concept. And all while getting to eat my lunch in a park almost every day!

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Klepzig Mill, in the Ozark National Scenic Riverways.

So as it had become, the blog was a thing that I didn’t give a lot of thought to. I was just too busy. The weather was getting colder and in November we ended up moving to a more affordable area in town, as the house I had lived in was at the point in the foreclosure process that it was time for us to find a new place to live. It was a shame, and I am not proud that it happened to me, but I know that I wasn’t the only person who was going through it, and I had done a dedicated job of looking for work. I accepted this unfortunate reality and focused on my employment and my family. It seemed like it was time for a change anyway…a new start. It would soon be spring, and maybe as the green started to show across the forest once the gray of winter broke, I would give a little time here and there to writing again. I still wanted to hike and camp and share, but the drive to do it wasn’t nearly as strong as it was when I was facing the challenges that I had been facing previously. I didn’t have nearly as much free time either.

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The Scour Trail, at Johnson’s Shut-Ins.

And then this past February, on a cold Saturday morning while sitting at the kitchen table drinking coffee and wasting time on the computer, I saw something that would steer my endeavors in a particularly more defined direction. I was formulating a plan about where I was going to go hiking, on this freezing morning, when through the randomness of Facebook algorithms I saw that a friend of mine was “going” to a Missouri Stream Team cleanup down along the Meramec River near the Lower Meramec Trails that I would sometimes go walking at.

Now I had heard about the Stream Team program before, but really didn’t know what it was. You would see a random bumper sticker here and there, and I kind of figured it was more about scout troops and hippies than anything else. Normally on a Saturday morning I would hit a trail nearby that I probably regularly visited anyway, but here was an opportunity to go somewhere close and spend a few hours helping clean a flood plain that I was mildly familiar with, at least downriver. I put on my long johns, tied my boot laces tight, and headed down the road to see who these “Stream Teams” were and what they spent their time doing.

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Alley Spring, in the Ozark National Scenic Riverways.

Within an hour or so of seeing the Facebook post, I pulled off of Meramec Bottom Road with the sun shining through the windshield, just peeking over the hills on the far side of the river, onto a frozen mud roadway that led into an old floodplain farm field. A bundled up man on a four-wheeler was near the entrance and after a brief hello, he directed me to park next to the handful of vehicles that was down along the edge of the field already. I parked, gulped the last of my coffee, grabbed my gloves, and shut the car door behind me as I walked over to the few people that were congregating down at the other end of the parking area.

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The Meramec River, at Meramec State Park.

The next few hours were spent wandering through the woods next to the river picking up garbage from the flood of ’93 that had been lodged in the frozen mud and plant debris for 20 years now. The other volunteers were friendly and helpful, having been doing this for a long time already, and I was inexperienced and willing. Being outside in the cold wasn’t unfamiliar to me, having spent enough winters working outside already…but walking through the woods picking up trash? This was different. This was energizing. This made me happy.

In just those few hours down there, I had met some of the best people (most of whom I now call friends) and had seen the incredible impact that can be made in a section of forest along a river if we just work together. And it has forever changed something in the way I see the natural world around me. I was hooked.

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Rocky Falls, in the Ozark National Scenic Riverways.

Then in April, as a birthday present to myself, my gal and I took a trip to Eminence, MO to visit the Ozark National Scenic Riverways. Camping at Two Rivers in a tent right next to the magical Current River, taking a canoe trip down the Jacks Fork, and visiting all the places that we could cram into an extended weekend, I started to really feel that connection again that I had been feeling before. That peace and energy that comes from the forests and the rivers. That indescribable sensation that just keeps reminding me that I am exactly where I am supposed to be and doing exactly what I am supposed to do. Something important, that burns in my lungs at the crest of a hill and hums in my ears in the sound of water. I knew that this was something that can be good for everyone.

10626364_836618679683808_7425783104214885303_oI had found the inspiration to write again, and this time it was stronger than it had been before. The days had warmed and the buds on the trees had grown into leaves. The blades of grass had pierced the compacted and thawed carpet on the forest floor that had been laid months previously, and I started to focus again on Camping Missouri in my free time. It had been a year since I had first started it, and I had been slacking pretty hard on my creativity since the previous August. Spring was here, and I had found a renewed desire. Time to pick it up again.

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The Mina Sauk Falls Trail, at Taum Sauk Mountain State Park.

So I have spent this past year really reaching out and allowing myself to see every excursion as an opportunity to share. As I have hiked and camped and visited places in this beautiful state, I have strengthened my belief that our personal relationships with the forest and the rivers, mine and yours, are relationships that are more important and beneficial to us than we are consciously aware. As I have immersed myself in Missouri Stream Team events and other opportunities to give back to nature with the Open Space Council, I have been refining a persona of advocacy, volunteerism, and stewardship for the natural places around us. It has been one of the most enriching things I have done so far in my life. And with each step I take on the trail before me, I slow down just a bit, and remember to absorb the sights and the sounds and the energy that exists there, wherever the adventure may be at the time. I focus on the peace it brings me, and I allow it to remind me to be thankful and creative. I recognize and appreciate the positivity that it inspires in me, and then I do my best to inspire you, dear reader, to go check it out for yourself.

2014-04-27 12.16.18

Welch Spring, in the Ozark National Scenic Riverways.

It has been almost two years of growth on this path, with this blog. Camping Missouri is more than just “Camping”. Its content is confined only by the abundance of places and history and natural beauty that exist within Missouri. As a person that has spent a lot of time walking through the woods with the constant question “How would I describe this to someone who isn’t here?” rattling around in my brain, I can tell you that there are so many things to see in our state that it would take forever to visit them all. Just scratching the surface myself, I look forward to continuing to share my adventures with you. But only if you promise me that you will go see what’s out there too.

10645099_10204624411630996_7150100949138228360_nThanks for reading.

Gabe

 

Stream Team Adventures: Henry Shaw’s Forgotten Floodplain 1/24/2015

2015-01-24 08.55.17

The Adlyne Freund Center, at Shaw Nature Reserve.

My friend Jay (drumroll, please…of Restoration Streamkeepers, Stream Team #5065!) is a seemingly innocent guy, among others (Bernie and Brian of The Mighty 211…I’m referring directly to the two of you). He has a good heart, and a desire to leave the world in a better condition than it was when he found it, like just about every Stream Teamer I know. He has a tendency to call you up, with a statement somewhere along the lines of “Hey, I’m gonna go do this, and I wanted to invite you along.” And you say “Yes, I will be there” because Jay is the kind of guy who involves himself in projects that deserve that sort of response. Projects that are going to be a bit of effort, but surely an adventure too. So when Jay messaged me and said that he and Besa and Chris (other friends and Stream Team #4872) are looking to do a cleanup at Shaw Nature Reserve out in Gray Summit, MO, of course I said “Sounds great! I look forward to it!”. Little did any of us know for sure what sort of hard work was really set before us…

2015-01-24 09.18.28

Ready for a relaxing stroll through the woods?

And it all started out so harmlessly. A group of 25 or so eager volunteers met at the Adlyne Freund Center, on the east side of SNR. It was about 9 am, with the sun just above the hills in the distance, burning off the cool mist rising from the river valley. It was looking to be a really warm day for January, and our plan was to hike just less than a mile down toward the Meramec River, and start gathering all the garbage and debris that had come to rest in the floodplain along it. We would collect it in bags, pile up the tires and random other things, and then use wheelbarrows to bring it all to a central location, which the SNR staff would eventually collect on a day when the mud was frozen enough to drive trucks on.

2015-01-24 09.50.40So after a bit of socializing, we gathered up our bags and beverages, carried our gloves in hand, and set off down the hill behind the Freund Center. It was a mildly slippery hike down the hill, to a steeper descent off the trail at the base and into the floodplain. Then we headed in the direction of the river; specifically a dried up slough that was the primary basin for where trash had accumulated over the years. Among the goal of just cleaning up bottles and jars from floods gone past, there was also a boat, a couple of refrigerators, mostly-buried 50 gallon drums, and an array of tires (most of which had the heavy metal wheels still in them). It was going to be a hard day but the air was cool and the sun was out, so as we closed in on our target area we donned our gloves and grabbed our mesh bags, and scattered in every direction to start cleaning up the garbage.

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Doug never pushes a wheelbarrow across a floodplain without a fridge on it.

Jay and Doug (two of the logistical taskmasters behind this grueling work) located the wheelbarrows that had been dropped off, so as we started to accumulate our filled mesh bags, tires, and random metal and plastic pieces of things abandoned long ago in various piles along the northern lip of the slough, they worked with some of the more youthful and physically resilient members of our group to load it all and transport it across the mud and sand and downed trees to the central “pick up” location. It was tireless work, and I was thankful to be focusing on the end that was just wandering around searching for trash and putting it in bags. The one time that I asked Doug if he wanted to take a break, and I would run a wheelbarrow trip, he looked at me with a grin and a determined fire in his eyes and refused any reprieve. A man on a mission, for sure.

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Dr. Bernie, preparing to operate on a boat.

As the morning wore on and we successfully collected most of the trash we could find in the area, we started to focus more on the transporting of it to the main pile. Bernie had chopped the abandoned and damaged boat into bite sized pieces, and was carting it off, so the rest of us started taking turns with the wheelbarrows, rolling larger tires, and dragging bags across the leaf litter as the mud was starting to warm considerably in the late morning sunlight. When we finally got everything we had harvested into the pile, we all breathed an exhausted sigh of relief and satisfaction, took some pictures, and then started to make our slow but triumphant way out of the river bottom and up the hill to the parking lot.

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A hardworking crew of Stream Team volunteers!

This was just about one of the most physically exhausting cleanups that I have been a part of, and it was pretty notable how everyone had a positive nature about them, willingly taking on whatever feat of strength was asked with no complaints at all. It can be difficult and relatively thankless, but there was a worthy sense of accomplishment and pride among all the volunteers, as we wiped the sweat from our brows and looked upon our collected pile of bad choices, pulled from the dirt and sand of a quiet flood plain along the Meramec River in a somewhat never-seen area of the Shaw Nature Reserve.

Thank you to all the volunteers that worked with us that day, and a special thank you to Besa and the staff of Shaw Nature Reserve. Without your permission, support, and coordination, we would not have accomplished such an impactful cleanup, and without your stewardship of the land, we wouldn’t have such a beautiful place to spend a Saturday morning.

2015-01-24 12.34.10

Jay, one of the orchestrators of this event!

And I know this for sure, if a Stream Teamer calls you up and says “Hey, I’m going to go do this, and you ought to come along and help.”, your answer should be always be “Yes!”. Because no matter how hard the work may end up being, it will be done with joy and enthusiasm. Remember, many hands makes the heaviest of projects a shared weight, and we can make a heck of a difference when we all get out there and do the work together. To get involved check out the Missouri Stream Team Calendar for upcoming Events!

Stream Team Adventures: The Big River Tire Farm of Leadwood, MO. 1/17/2015

2015-01-17 10.39.57It was a chilly start to a January Saturday morning, but with sunshine and unseasonably warm air in the forecast, I knew the frost was going to be long gone by the time we got to our destination. My friend Kim and I were on our way early that morning to Leadwood, MO between Park Hills and Potosi, to meet up with various Missouri Stream Team volunteers for the Big River Tire Round-Up, put on by Sam and Jill and the dedicated members of the “Big River Baggers”, Stream Team #4169.

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The Big River, looking upstream from the Leadwood Access.

Arriving at the Missouri Conservation Department’s Leadwood Access around 8:30 am, Kim and I had some time to wander around and take pictures of the water and ice of the Big River, flowing through an old concrete culvert dam, before meeting Sam and some other people around 9 am. It was enriching to take a few minutes and soak in the morning air. We all tend to visit rivers more often in the warmer months, so we can miss out on a different perspective that happens, as they take on a significantly quieter and peaceful nature in the crispness of wintertime. This morning was no exception. With a surface as smooth as glass, extending silently upriver to the next bend with a flawless reflection of the naked sycamores looming over it. Great skeletons of trees, peering down at themselves in the sunlight, enjoying the quiet and dreaming of the growth yet to come once springtime finally arrives again. It was good to witness the whole reason for us being there that morning.

2015-01-17 10.06.10

Tires everywhere!

Once everyone that was going to help out had gotten there, we caravanned down Route 8 just a bit farther, headed down a hill, drove past a field of sheep sleeping quietly next to a farm pond, and then down through the woods and onto the farmland where we would be hunting tires today. After a safety talk and an explanation from Sam about the objective of the day, we headed out across the field to the treeline along a little tributary stream of the Big River. We were looking for tires, and as we neared the longer, laid over grass just before what looked to be an old farm levee, that familiar round silhouette started to come into view, scattered here and there on the ground. The hardworking volunteers started moving as a group into the woods, scrambling between the trees, pulling tires out of the briars and leaf litter. Abandoned rubber donuts everywhere, partially frozen in the ground, waiting for the afternoon sun to warm them as they lay there.

2015-01-17 10.08.33We fell into a system of moving forward, popping them loose, and then carrying them two at a time (SOME people carrying up to FOUR at a time!!!) over to the nearby fence line where ATVs pulling trailers would load them up and drive them to a central pile. An army of Stream Teamers…dedicated and focused. Men, women, and children, working our way through the woods along this stream, scouring the forest floor and waterway for all the tires we could find; none of which belonged there.

2015-01-17 10.40.15After about an hour or so we had found all the tires that were out there on that side of the road, so we regrouped and worked to load the final piles we had collected onto the trailers to move them to the main pile. It was then a walk back across the field to the charcoal grilled hot dog lunch and bonfire that was set up. Not bad for a quick run through the woods. After a bit of food and socializing and a raffle drawing, we made our way up the road and gathered all the tires that were in the woods on the other side, just along the Big River. Not as many as we had already found that morning, but certainly a large amount that also didn’t belong in there.

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Sam (Team #4169) and Ken (Team #4660)

Sam has been a Missouri Stream Team member for a long time, focusing primarily on the Big River, when he isn’t helping out other teams somewhere along THEIR waterways. He told me of how in past floods, this farmland we were on was completely submerged by the overwhelming levels of rising water. Being against a significant curve in the river, and compounded by the people who over the course of time have made the disrespectful decision to dump garbage, it is no wonder that we found as many tires as we did. The estimated number before the round-up was 1200 (!!!!!), and I don’t know what the official count turned out to be…but a Saturday morning volunteering with the Big River Baggers of Stream Team #4169 and the other Stream Teams that joined all of us certainly had a huge beneficial impact on the health and beauty of a little out of the way farm, nestled in a valley along a curve of the Big River in Leadwood, MO.

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An amazing group of Stream Teamers!

What always astounds me, beyond the question of “Where do all these tires come from?!?”, is how quickly a group of rabid volunteers can head into the forest and change it for the better. Thank you to Sam and Jill and all the great people I am lucky to know that came out to help that morning. I look forward to next time!

If YOU want to start having Missouri Stream Team adventures of your own, go to http://www.mostreamteam.org/ and check out their calendar of upcoming events and/or contact them about nearby teams or starting a team of your own. It really is a lot of fun, and YOU ought to get involved!

2015-01-17 10.55.03

A Hill To Remember. Beulah Trail, Greensfelder County Park 1/11/2015

2015-01-18 11.24.17It has been a roller coaster winter already when it comes to the temperatures. Some really sub-freezing days followed by a weekend of unseasonably warm weather. Doesn’t mean a person has to stay inside at all, and on a chilly Sunday morning I drove out to Greensfelder Park to hike with some of the enthusiastic members of “Let’s Hike”, a local hiking group through Meetup.com. It was a group that I had been a member of for a while, but hadn’t really gotten involved with yet. After going on a few group hikes, and messaging back and forth with Kim, the lead organizer, I have started to list on there when I am planning on hitting a trail so that other people are welcome to join me if they want. Today we were going to hit the Beulah Trail, on the eastern edge of the park.

2015-01-18 11.21.08How to get there:

From the interchange of Interstate 44 and 270, take 44 west for about 14 miles, to exit 261 (Allenton Road/Six Flags). Make a right onto Allenton Road, and follow it past Six Flags and into Greensfelder Park. As you near the top of the first hill, there will be a parking lot on the right followed by a road also on the right. This road is the Scenic Loop Rd through the park, and you want to make a right on it. About 3/4 of a mile down the road, there will be a parking lot and shelter on the right, with a sign for the Beulah Trail and Overlook Trail. This is where you park. Taking the trail clockwise, you follow a ridge top for about half a mile, and then start to descend into the valley to your right. It gets a bit steep and rocky, crossing a muddy spot and then coming over a rise before finally landing down in the creek bottom. It then stays in the bottoms for just a bit, winding back and forth across the wet weather creek, before beginning the sustained and impressive ascent back up to the top of the hill. When you FINALLY make it to the top, the trail turns to the right and stays along the ridge top and back out to the parking lot just past the Beulah Shelter.

2015-01-11 10.38.06What I like about this trail:

Beulah was a mule that was born in the early sixties, and purchased by Ed Bright in Eminence, MO in 1967. Just four years later in 1971, she won the title of “World’s Champion Riding Mule” by the American Donkey and Mule Society. With such a prestigious new designation, she became something of an ambassador for the state, riding in parades and Bicentennial events throughout the midwest. When Ed Bright, whose donations to St. Louis County Parks contributed to the building of equestrian facilities at Greensfelder Park, died in 1979, Beulah was given a home at Suson Park. She lived out the rest of her life there until she passed away in 1998.

2015-01-18 12.07.32At just 2.1 miles long, it is one of the shorter trails in the park, so this may be the perfect one for you if you want a challenging hike but don’t have all day to do it.

The trailhead for the Overlook Trail is also at this parking lot, so you have options if you want to hike longer and see more of the park.

This is one of the lesser hiked trails in Greensfelder, so sometimes you can enjoy a sense of solitude as you hike, especially when you get down into the creek bottom between two of the more impressive hills in the area. Being somewhat out of the way down the Scenic Loop Rd, it is just on the eastern edge of the park.

2015-01-18 11.46.36What you need to know:

This trail is home to some of the steeper and taller hills in Greensfelder. Taking the trail in either direction gives you one heck of a climb on the way out, but I tend to think that counterclockwise is just a bit more severe. Certainly a welcome challenge if you are looking to get out and get your blood pumping and your chest heaving, but not so great if you are looking for a leisurely stroll in the woods.

2015-01-18 12.03.18There has recently been some trail construction going on in the area, and some of it crosses the Beulah Trail. One of the results of this is the potential for heading off on the wrong trail, up on top of the hill, and finding yourself a mile away from your car before you realize the error. This is one trail with which to familiarize yourself with the map. Note which direction you ought to be heading in at different points, and approach your hike with a knowledge and awareness that will get you back to the parking lot.

This trail does have some muddy spots, especially down in the creek bottoms. Unless we have had a long dry spell, expect it. Watch your step and take your time.

2015-01-18 11.47.15I have hiked this trail before with my kids, so it isn’t the most challenging trail…but that hill is one that doesn’t soon leave your mind, as well as the ache in your legs and the emptiness in your lungs. A truly noteworthy angle, traveling both up and down it, and overall a life-affirming and worthy hike through the steep eastern hills of Greensfelder Park.

 

Because it is more than just “Camping”. A little back-story, part one

104As the amount of people who follow Camping Missouri increases, I have given a lot of thought to defining the idea of what I am actually trying to accomplish here and how it has evolved from what it was when I started this blog almost two years ago. What was going on in my mind in the beginning, and how that has changed and grown. Obviously the things that I post are about more than just camping. From trail reviews to natural places in Missouri to adventures in the forests and on the rivers, the term “Camping” is a bit limiting, with “Outdoors” probably being a little more appropriate. Blame hindsight? Maybe. What I thought it was going to be originally has been expanded on AND somewhat neglected, due to my own limitations and obligations and desires…but I like where it is at and where it is taking me. So where I find myself at this point, I thought it might be helpful to give a bit of origin story, to clear up any possible questions.

Because it is more than just Camping.

061It was early March, 2013 and I was a 34 year old out of work carpenter, living in St. Louis, MO. The economy was terrible, especially if you were in construction, as it had been for a handful of years already. I spent most of my days looking for a job. Calling around, taking my resume to offices, filling out applications. Doing what I could to try to find work within the field in which I had been professionally trained and a part of for over ten years already. Just about every morning, after calling at least ten contractors and hearing each one of them tell me “We don’t have any work right now”, it starts to wear on a guy, and it gets increasingly difficult to keep your chin up. The constant rejection, compounded with the growing financial instability of my only income being unemployment insurance and food stamp assistance, can be rather crushing to a person’s optimism and willingness to see every new day as a welcome one. My house was on its way to foreclosure. I was not the provider that I was supposed to be. Things were tough and stressful.

458464_10200104296470942_2018024798_oSo I found myself on a lot of days, after my morning job hunting, heading to the woods somewhere nearby to just get away from the depressing effect of it all. Spending some time on a trail away from everything, getting some exercise and immersing myself in the distracting calmness of the forest was becoming routine. The positive effect of it was helping me to find a good emotional place to be, but I hadn’t really noticed it consciously, yet. The awareness of all this would come later…but I knew that I was heading to the woods more frequently. It was a growing habit that was starting to become an addiction, and I began to look online more and more to see what else was out there to go check out. What can I say, I had a lot of free time and the dog needed to go for a walk.

Now, I had been a hiker and camper for most of my childhood and youth, and adulthood so far…but I had never really thought about how it affected me. When I was a kid it was just a thing that my parents would take us to go do. Spend some time in nature. Try to appreciate being in it. I would go along, sometimes reluctantly if you can believe it. I was young and they were my parents, so I didn’t really have a choice. I remember Sunday afternoons in the Fall, driving somewhere to look at the changing leaves, sitting in the back seat stewing because I could be having so much more fun just wasting time in my room at home. Ugh.

DSCF2326When I moved out of my parents house in my late teens, heading to the woods became a routine adventure. As a ritual proclamation of our independence, friends of mine and I would spend our days off driving to some trail somewhere to see what was out there. I learned a lot, saw a lot of cool natural places, probably broke some trespassing rules here and there, and strengthened a longing that I hadn’t yet realized was inside of me. I was pretty lucky to have had people in my life that knew more than I did about what there was to see in the forests of Missouri, and some of those places are still special to me.

2013-04-25 11.41.42After becoming an adult (having a couple kids and gaining a mortgage), the forest was set aside for more domestic pursuits…temporarily. The obligations in life changed, and the amount of gear that was needed for an excursion into the forest increased, almost to a level of “Is it worth it?”. With very new little people in my world, the outside was put on hold for the most part. Careers and child rearing became the adventure, with the occasional weekend trip to the local county park to run around on the playground. As the kids grew and became more autonomous, the chance for adventure increased. Eventually the playground was exchanged for a trail once in a while, and at least a couple times a year, a weekend at home sometimes became a weekend at a campground.

20130405_115508Fast forward to 22 months ago, and there I was…getting depressed every morning because I was facing a lot of financial and emotional stress and anxiety, and then spending an increasing amount of time walking through the woods in the afternoon, just to get away from it. I also started to spend a lot of this unwanted free time really absorbing as much information as I could about natural places to see in Missouri. It has been the state that I have spent the majority of my life in, and I figured that there had to be a couple campgrounds and trails that I hadn’t been to yet, at least within a couple hour drive from where I lived. The internet is relatively free, so after filling out online job applications on rainy days, I would look up the state park websites and the conservation websites to see what was out there. And it was good for me. It was giving me something to focus on that was bringing some optimism into my life, at least as a distraction. Yeah…steady work still wasn’t to be found, but I was tapping into a positivity that I hadn’t fully recognized.

20130413_130608So after a couple of trips to the forest that I had taken some pictures on, and with encouragement from some of the people in my life, I did some research to figure out how to start a Blog. Not anything special or out of the ordinary. Just a way for me to share my experiences in the forest, and to have some sort of creative outlet. Maybe it could even become an online archive of places that other people could visit, once I had compiled enough posts.

DSCF1766I knew that I was limited financially to keep from taking trips all over the country, so I decided that my focus would be on just Missouri. Like I said, this is the state that I’ve lived in most of my life, and even though we lack the obvious topographical grandeur and vast scenic horizons of some of the more notable states in this country, I felt that there must be a lot to see and experience here. Natural places with their own charm and magic. I knew they were out there; I had seen some of them before. So my focus would be held to showcasing natural and historical places in Missouri. As it is limiting, it gave me a clear target. And I knew that it would be about the camping trips that I took. I felt that could be the center of it. Camping for a night or two was the thing that I did that got me close to all these great places to see. A whole weekend here and there of exploring some natural area, taking some pictures, and then attempting my hand at “writing”. I was going to call it “Camping Missouri”. This could be fun.

2013-04-08 10.37.44But this was just the first section of the trail.

To be continued…

2014 was YOUR fault! (Take some credit, you’ve earned it!)

10645099_10204624411630996_7150100949138228360_n2014 started out kind of slow and harmless, but before I knew it things were flying along. I had a lot of adventures, and that is due to a lot of help and information and events and encouragement supplied by other people and organizations that I was merely a smiling (and sometimes clueless) recipient of. Consider this the “credits” of the adventure side of this past year. If I forget anyone, please let me know…tactfully. If you know me personally, you know that remembering names is a personal challenge of mine which I am generally doomed to fail at. And I have already started the list for 2015, as I look forward to an even more involved and adventurous year. Roll credits!

10514400_836616419684034_4938634119111369493_oMissouri Stream Teams:

The most impactful thing that I did this year by far happened on a cold February Saturday morning when I had nothing planned to go do. I was wasting time on my laptop while sipping some coffee, considering trail options, when one of those little Facebook “Hey-your-friend-is-doing-this-today” posts slid up my screen. It was for a Missouri Stream Team cleanup down by the Meramec River, and I figured I ought to go see what THAT was all about. The rest is history…

10560467_836157686396574_3036020923773446898_oSo I want to thank all the people involved in the Missouri Stream Team program. Thank you to the organizers and administrators, all the people who get these things going in order to make the waterways of this state a healthier place. Thank you to the people who invest a Saturday morning here and there to put in some hard work as volunteers. You are the reason that this program works, and Missouri is a better place because of you. There are too many people to specifically mention, many of whom I consider very good friends (If you think that YOU might be in that group, you’re are!). Thank you. My favorite days from this past year have been spent with you.

10485954_872711526074523_2556401239282956622_oThe two guys however that I couldn’t NOT call out are Brian Waldrop and Bernie Arnold, the leaders of “The Mighty 211”. I have yet to meet anyone as dedicated, enthusiastic, giving of themselves, and just slightly nuts as the two of you. Thank you for allowing me to come along on some of your crazy, hair-brained adventures. I love every minute of it.

2014-04-27 08.01.18The Ozark National Scenic Riverways:

There is a lot of Missouri that I have yet to see…but I already know where the prettiest parts are. The Current and Jacks Fork Rivers are a place that everyone needs to spend time in and on, and I am thankful to the people that make that possible. Thank you to all the National Park Service Rangers who have dedicated their lives and careers to protecting that area. Thank you to the local communities along those rivers that make it a wonderful place to visit. And thank you to everyone who has a special place in their heart for the ONSR. Without a shared appreciation of the natural beauty in these sacred waterways, it certainly wouldn’t be as protected as it is. A special shout out to (Ret.) Park Ranger Bill O’Donnell. You are an inspiration to many, including this vagrant right here.

2014-07-05 15.15.57Also, thank you to Steve King and all the people that are part of the Missouri Scenic Rivers Facebook group. If you want to know ANYTHING about these rivers, this is the place to start. Check out Steve’s Missouri Scenic Rivers website HERE.

The Missouri Department of Conservation:

Not everyone knows how important the MDC is in this state. They are involved in so many aspects of outdoor recreation and conservation in Missouri, and their managed land is probably where I have spent a majority of my time in the forest this past year. We would truly be in trouble if they weren’t around and weren’t doing what they do. If you aren’t familiar with the MDC, make that your goal this year. They create so many opportunities to get outside and strengthen your connection with nature.

2014-10-11 13.38.00The Open Space Council for the St. Louis Region:

Started in 1965 and tasked with the protection of the Meramec River, the Open Space Council is an entity that has done so much for Eastern Missouri. With very little recognition, they are devoted to the conservation of waterways and natural places all around my part of the state. If you are unfamiliar with them, look them up and get involved. They organize a lot of chances to spend time outside and give back, and we are better off for it. Thank you to Kat Dockery (the busiest person I know), and all the staff and volunteers for the work that they do.

2014-06-07 09.42.22Some of the other organizations and groups that you need to check out:

The Missouri Hikers group on Facebook. Danny McMurphy is an invaluable source of information and wisdom when it comes to spending time outdoors. A group that I am very thankful to be a part of, that you should go be a member of too.

The Ozarks Adventure Group on Facebook. Zach Ledbetter is the mad professor of Missouri forests, and I am an inspired person being able to absorb all the information and enthusiasm he has to share. When the apocalypse happens and society crumbles, I am headed your way, Zach…if I don’t get down to your part of the state sometime before that.

DSCF2181Meetup.com. Go to this website, enter your location, and then find people that like to spend time doing things you like to do too. Something I have just recently become involved with, I have already met more people than I was expecting that are ready for adventure. Groups I am a member of that you should check out are Let’s Hike and St. Louis Adventure Group (SLAG). Go join them, because you can never have too many excuses to do something fun.

I want to thank Facebook. I know that a lot of people see it as a tool to waste time and encourage disconnecting from the world around you. I am here to tell you that that isn’t completely true. The connections that I have made this past year and all the fun adventures I have had are a direct result from the networking capabilities that Facebook creates. And so many of you are here because of it too. Don’t knock it, it’s a valuable tool.

20141019_125009And finally, I want to say thank you to my family. I appreciate your understanding and encouragement as I increasingly find myself out in the forest in my free time. I consider myself an advocate for nature and one’s personal relationship with it, and as Melissa says, “It’s a good fit” for me. Thank you, Sweetie, for your willingness to let me go out and do my thing. And thank you to my kids, who know that every weekend “Dad is gonna make us go hiking somewhere”. You are the biggest reason for most of this obsession of mine. The changing of a community for the better happens most directly in the education of the next generation, and I am doing what I can.

2014-08-09 15.47.42You can’t completely sum up the vastness of a year in a blog post, but I do know that 2014 was a great adventure, and these people and organizations had everything to do with that. I look forward to where the path takes me, and all of you, in 2015.

Now get off the computer and go outside somewhere!

-Gabe

Hey, look at Camping Missouri’s 2014 Report!

1106This is a report that was generated by WordPress, and I wanted to share it with all of you. This past year of camping and hiking and spending time outdoors in Missouri has created a lot of growth for me personally, which I am very lucky to have received. I would probably still be doing this even if I only had five people paying attention, but it wouldn’t be nearly as rewarding as it is without all of you following along on the adventures. YOU make me a very lucky and humbled and grateful person. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I hope that I am creating something here that you find to have value and worth, and that you continue to be a part of this.

Because my primary goal with all of this, beyond it giving me a creative outlet, is to inspire as many people as possible to head to the woods and spend more time outdoors. To share places in this state that are worth seeing. Natural areas in Missouri, that having a connection with is something that I know for sure we can each personally benefit from. A connection that is good for us in so many ways, even if we can’t see that connection directly. These places are all around us, and I want you to go be a part of them. If I can do that, then I am on the right path. Thank you sincerely, from Max and I, for being a part of it this past year. Here is to many more adventures in the future.

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 25,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 9 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

The Depth of the Hills. LaBarque Hills Trail, Young Conservation Area 12/24/2014

2014-12-24 12.56.39It was the morning of Christmas Eve, and I was off of work until the following Monday. Tomorrow would involve opening presents and food and doing things indoors, so Max and I agreed that we needed to take full advantage of the day and hit a trail. I have been falling in love with the forests around LaBarque Creek, south of Eureka, MO, and there were trails yet to be explored. We have already been to the Missouri Department of Conservation areas along and around that creek, but I hadn’t yet hiked the entire LaBarque Hills Trail at Young Conservation Area. It was a cold and drizzly morning, with a lot of people focusing on last minute details miles from where we were, so I knew we would probably have to entire place to ourselves. We weren’t disappointed.

How to get there:

2014-12-24 13.31.34From the interchange of Interstate 44 and 270, take 44 west toward Eureka for about 11 miles. Exit at Route 109 (Exit 264), and make a left to go under the highway and head south on 109. After just about 2 miles on 109, make a right at the “T” intersection and head west on Highway FF. After about 3 miles on FF, the main parking lot for Young Conservation Area will be on your left.

2014-12-24 10.37.14From this parking lot, there are a couple of trail options. One trail heads down the hill from the parking lot past a little fishing pond to LaBarque Creek and then loops around and meets up with the main trail. That main trail leaves from the northwest end of the parking lot and parallels FF back the way you came for about a quarter of a mile. It then turns left, dips, and comes up a slight rise. It then meets up with an access road that goes down the hill toward LaBarque Creek where it crosses the only bridge in the area. It passes through a field on the other side of the bridge, and then curves toward the creek. It takes you up along the side of a hill, passing next to a forest restoration area while moving away from LaBarque Creek. Then down the hill into a bottomland forest where you follow a little tributary that feeds out of the hills.

2014-12-24 11.06.54You will pass the Taconic Loop Trail on your right, and it eventually forks where the LaBarque Hills Trail begins. Max and I took the left fork, turning to the east. The trail meanders along one of the wet weather tributaries, darting away and back again as it makes its way through these foothills. After about a mile on this loop, it crosses the stream one last time and then takes a serious turn upward. Climbing the hill, you eventually rise just next to an area that has seen a bit of wind damage recently. It heads downhill for a moment, and then takes a healthy turn upward again. It is an impressive climb, overall. When you eventually get to the top, at stays along the ridge, curving slightly to the west. When it turns sharply to the north, that is when you begin a descent that is steep and direct. After the main downhill part, it curves a bit, and puts you down in the ravine next to the other wet weather tributary which leads to where the LaBarque Hills Trail split at the beginning. You stay with this stream, crossing here and there, before finally coming back to the start. Then it is just about a mile back to the parking lot.

2014-12-24 12.13.39What I like about this trail:

When you finally get back in there to the southernmost point on the trail, waaaaay up the hill along the ridge, no pictures or descriptions adequately convey the immensity of these woods. Couple that with the openness of the forest in wintertime, and you feel small, like a dot on the map. It isn’t the grandeur of the peaks in the Rockies, but it is what we have here in Missouri and it is pretty cool to experience. To look out through the trees across the breadth of hillside reaching down from where you stand, it isn’t a feeling that you get from a lot of trails around. Take your time and let it soak in a bit. And then to get down the mountain and hike along the stream across from the broad hillside where there has been some (prescribed?) burning this past year, it really invokes a striking sense of depth and perspective that we don’t have that often in our daily lives, which I think we need on a regular basis. Let go as much as you can from the distractions in your life and allow yourself to connect to this, dynamically. The next steps you take will be to walk away, and it would do you good to carry some of this back with you.

2014-12-24 11.34.17I always say that a good trail needs a water feature, and when you aren’t breathing hard while climbing a hill, you are following a stream. There are just about as many miles of trickling water as there is trail to hike, and that adds a playful and warm ambiance to the journey. The sound of splashing and splattering, as the liveliness of the collected rain makes its way down the rocky trenches it has cut into the hillside next to you is always a welcome companion in the woods.

2014-12-24 11.59.43There is a section of the trail where it looks as though there has been some pretty severe wind damage. According to one weather site, in May of 2013 a tornado did pass to the south of this area, but I don’t know for sure if that is the cause. A hillside scattered with snapped off trees, still pointing to the sky, headless. It is a terrifying thing to see, if you really think about it, but it is fascinating as well. Nature has a strength that we really fail to see used to its full potential, and this area is a strong example of what it can do when the elements are there for it.

What you need to know:

2014-12-24 13.02.28The MDC page and brochure for this area states that the length of the LaBarque Hills Trail is 3.5 miles. Something that is not stated is that it is just over a mile or so to the beginning of the loop, so a round trip is going to be somewhere between 5 and 6 miles. If you don’t feel like going that far, hike the Taconic Loop Trail instead, which according to my calculations is actually 2.5 miles from the parking lot and back.

2014-12-24 12.41.33Young Conservation Area is a popular place for hunting, so be aware when you venture into any part of it as to which hunting seasons may be going on currently. Just as we wouldn’t want someone disrupting an afternoon hike by filling the air with the sound of gunfire, we should be mindful and accommodating to those that want to practice their hobby of harvesting game when the state allows. If the parking lot is full, maybe find another trail to hike that day, like the LaBarque Creek Trail or the trail in the Glassberg Conservation Area, so that we can all enjoy the ways in which we spend time in the forest.

2014-12-24 11.12.16This has the potential to be a difficult trail. The hills get big toward the southern end, and as this trail has water alongside most of it, the two times I have been back in there there has been water ON the trail in spots too. A wet forest is a healthy forest, but it is also a slippery and shoe-soaking forest. Be prepared for a bit of a challenge, especially in sections down in the bottoms, as well as in the multiple water crossings. It can be fun, but after a handful of miles, some people just see it as tedious.

2014-12-24 12.55.54This was the first time that I had hiked the entire loop and with the weather as dismal and cold as it was, along with people out buying last minute gifts, this Christmas Eve hike was very much an isolating and reflective journey through the forest. With no one to talk to except for Max and the splashing of water, the time we spent in the hills above LaBarque Creek gave me a peaceful opportunity to experience the depth and challenge that exists in the forests just nearby. One of those places that you realize you kind of don’t want to share with anybody else, but you also realize that it would do some good if everyone visited at least once. Merry Christmas!

A Forest for Heroes. Myron and Sonya Glassberg Family Conservation Area 12/21/2014

2014-12-21 13.03.15I take all my pictures to this point with the camera on my phone, and for the last few months, the lens on it has been so scratched that I just haven’t felt like I could really even use any of the pictures that I have taken with it. However, yesterday afternoon we went and got new phones…so of course I had to get out today and see what I could capture with it. I grabbed some water and my day pack, and Max and I headed out to the LaBarque Creek Watershed south of Eureka, MO to hike the trail at the Myron and Sonya Glassberg Family Conservation Area. Mostly cloudy and about 40 degrees, we almost had the entire place completely to ourselves.

2014-12-21 13.49.12How to get there:

From the interchange of Interstate 44 and 270, take 44 west toward Eureka for about 11 miles. Exit at Route 109 (Exit 264), and make a left to go under the highway and head south on 109. After just about 2 miles on 109, make a right at the “T” intersection and head west on Highway FF. After almost 4 miles on FF, the Glassberg Conservation Area will be at a parking lot on the right side of the road.

2014-12-21 12.28.59There are two trails in the area. The main trail is a 3 mile loop around the area, and the other trail is a half mile loop around Buder Lake, just off of the main trail about 3 quarters of a mile from the parking lot. Max and I were going to hike both of them today.

We left the parking lot and headed along the trail into the woods, taking the left fork where it splits off and heads up the hill. It quickly rises and takes you into a small prairie along the hillside, before leading you into an old cedar grove forest. The trail meanders up the hill, back and forth before taking you into a power-line corridor, and then back into the woods. With dips and curves, it continues to rise the hills, taking you once more back under the power-lines, and then somewhat turns to the east and along the right side of the ridge to the overlook.

2014-12-21 13.24.43Once at the overlook, it starts to head back down the hill, past Buder Lake, to the creek valley floor, and then follows the creek out to the parking lot. The Buder Lake trail is simply a half mile hike around the perimeter of this beautiful, secluded-within-the-hills fishing pond, and is well worth hiking too, while you’re there.

2014-12-21 13.02.15What I like about this area:

The overlook. I haven’t met a person yet that didn’t appreciate standing on a bluff over a river and taking a moment to absorb the sight before them. And this one has a great view. With the Meramec River winding through the valley before you, coming in through a sweeping bend to disappear behind the tree line, then make its way to the base of the cliff deep below you through the trees, and then head along the edge of the hills to the east, this is one of the most pleasant places in the area to just stand and listen and look. As we came to the handrail at the edge of the installed deck, a bald eagle flew past along the river. Pretty cool.

2014-12-21 13.42.00The forest in this area is filled with life. All along the trail there was evidence of quite a bit of deer activity. From tracks to droppings to obvious game trails splitting off from and joining the trail, Max and I both had our eyes and ears darting back and forth as we hiked along. When we had almost gotten to the ridge before the overlook, we had a group of about 15 turkeys run down the hill and take flight through the trees right in front of us. I would imagine that this place would be pretty busy on your average spring morning.

2014-12-21 12.04.18Opened for public use just about 2 years ago, this land is a tribute to the hard work and dedication of conservationists in Missouri, specifically Myron and Sonya “Sunny” Glassberg. Both avid conservationists, they spent their lives working together where they could to promote a healthy appreciation for the outdoors. Myron, the nephew of Albert Greensfelder, passed away in 1991 after 51 years of marriage to Sunny. She continued on with their philanthropy, most notably contributing to revitalization around Forest Park, including the Turtle Playground next to 40/64, which she visited regularly until she passed away in May of 2013. We owe them a debt of gratitude for the legacy they created through the work they did, very much modestly and behind the scenes, to promote a stewardship of the lands and forests and rivers and history around us.

2014-12-21 12.44.35What you need to know:

This trail is muddy and not quite “seasoned” yet in spots, due to it being so new. We hiked it clockwise to get to the scenic parts after the long winding ascent through the forest to the bluff. If you take it that way then you get all the hard work done, and are rewarded with the overlook and the lake on your way back down the hill.

There is hunting permitted in this area, so pay attention to what hunting seasons are going on and allowed, and stick to the trail if you aren’t wearing something with high visibility colors.

2014-12-21 13.04.56I would call this trail difficult due to the length of the climb and the trail surface being slippery in spots. If you just want to hike the mile to the overlook, most of that section is paved all the way up. Take the right side of the fork, and it will take you right past the lake and up to the bluff.

I have very quickly found myself falling in love with this LaBarque Creek Watershed valley, and this conservation area is such a gorgeous example of why it is so special. With bluffs and creeks and a forest that has a very healthy feel to it, it is the kind of place that just makes you feel renewed by spending time in it. But something else I am really glad to have some thoughtfulness about, is the people this section of forest is dedicated to. Myron and Sonya Glassberg, while not household names, are examples of the type of people we all need to be more like. To promote conservation of natural places, protection of the history around us, and to live with a sense of stewardship in our hearts, I am very thankful for the work they and those like them have done. Spend your time hiking through here with an appreciation for all those who dedicate their lives to this path.

2014-12-21 12.05.52

 

Winter Camping in Missouri?!? You’ve clearly lost your mind!

051Wintertime is upon us! It is certainly not the same world out there in the woods that it was during the summer. The leaves have dropped from the trees, the smell of campfire tends to waft through suburban neighborhoods instead of the campground, and we spend more time indoors because, let’s face it…it’s just more comfortable. I work outside, so I am very familiar with the extremes that the Missouri seasons have to offer, especially this time of year. The best way to cope is to either wear enough layers to where it becomes difficult to actually move, or just stay inside altogether. The spring will come and the grass will start to grow again, and we can just go out into the forest then…in three or four months, right? Wrong. Sure it’s cold, but the winter can be a great time to get out into the forest with a tent and a campfire. You just have to have the right gear, approach it with a positive and cautious desire for an adventure, and be aware of the dangers.

1058Just like in the heat of the summer when you have to watch your activity level, give yourself time to cool down, and drink fluids…winter has its own rules concerning personal temperature control.

Unlike summer, the danger isn’t that you might overheat. The problem lies in the sweat that soaks your clothes. Imagine you are backpacking and it’s just around freezing. You’re hiking along, get to your campsite, gather some wood, and then start a fire as the sun goes down. It gets dark and the temperature drops, as well as your activity level…and there you are, trying to stay warm in front of a fire in wet clothes. Or maybe you didn’t notice that you were that wet (or figured it would just dry out naturally) and you go to bed in a less than capable sleeping bag. At some point in the night you are going to be freezing, as the moisture holds the cold, and you will put yourself at risk of hypothermia, a cascade of danger that involves your body not being able to create enough heat internally to stay alive. Sweating in the woods when it is cold is dangerous. Don’t over do it. Set your pace in whatever you might be doing to keep from getting too hot. One of my favorite quotes of all time, from Les “Survivorman” Stroud: “You sweat, you die”.

034Wear clothing in layers. The temperatures you are in will fluctuate depending on the conditions. Thirty five degrees with the sun shining and the air still is actually rather comfortable if you are strolling down a trail. Downright hot if you are carrying any weight. You will likely start to sweat under your coat, so having a layer like an outer jacket or hoodie that you can take off, as well as removing your hat, can be a regular way to make sure you aren’t soaked with sweat by the time you get to wherever it is you’re headed. And imagine the swing in temperature that can happen if the clouds move in and a breeze picks up. Wear the type of outfit that allows for insulation changes so that you can adapt to the situation. More layers of thinner material makes it a lot easier to regulate your temperature than one big jacket. In the wintertime, you will find me sitting around the campfire in a set of thermal underwear, a t-shirt and pants, maybe a long sleeved shirt and a hoodie, and then an outer jacket on top of that. If it’s REALLY cold, I will likely be wearing a set of insulated bib coveralls too. A good pair of wool socks is a great idea, maybe even two pairs, as is a lot of the other clothing technology out there that is not within my budget usually. And don’t forget a warm hat, some gloves…and a scarf. Being able to warm your face and neck can make a world of difference and improve your mood more than you might expect.

066Always have an extra set of dry clothes. The easiest way to warm up quick when your wet socks are letting the cold creep into your toes is to put dry socks on. It takes a moment of cold to change outfits, but it will be well worth it. I have been outside, below freezing, with snow coming down, topless…and it was totally worth that couple seconds of cold to get a dry shirt on.

If you are camping in the cold, a cold weather sleeping bag is the ONLY way to go. You can bring all the blankets in the world and still be shivering compared to the toasty warmth you can get from a good zero degree bag. A thermal pad is a good idea too. The ground has been there all season in the subfreezing temperatures, and it will suck the heat right out of you if you lay down on top of it. A thermal pad will insulate you pretty successfully from the frozen forest floor beneath you. I have gone wintertime camping and slept on an air mattress too, but you have to watch it because the air in it gets just as cold as the air around you. Again…get a good sleeping bag. Also, when you take your clothes off to go to bed, if they aren’t gross and grimy from the day, keep them in your sleeping bag with you. That way when you wake up the morning, you won’t be forced to live the agony that is having to put on frozen pants.

334Dehydration is actually a very real danger in the woods in the wintertime. Having worked outside in the past (how old am I?) 12 winters, I can tell you that you don’t get thirsty when it is cold out. You can exert yourself pretty definitively and feel just fine, because, hey…you’re still cold. That doesn’t mean you don’t need water. Keeping hydrated is essential to your body being able to combat the elements, and your cognitive ability. Make sure that you are drinking fluids, especially if you are on the move, even if you aren’t thirsty.

048When collecting firewood, make sure you have as much as you think you will need for the evening. A good big pile of logs to keep it going for as long as you feel like staying up is usually a good amount. Then double the size of THAT pile. Seriously. Collect how much you think you will need, twice. Firewood tends to burn up faster than we estimate, especially in the cold weather when you will probably want the flames to be bigger and warmer than usual, so make sure you have enough to be able to pile it on. You also need to give yourself options in the case that you wake up in the middle of the night freezing cold. You won’t feel like stumbling around the forest in the dark to search for what you need to build the one thing that will make your misery a little more bearable.

015So, to summarize:

Wear layered clothing.

Have enough clothing to cover completely.

Have a set of dry clothes.

Have a good cold weather sleeping bag.

Remember to hydrate.

Double the amount of firewood you think you need.

2014-03-29 18.00.26There are other things you can do. Other gear you can bring. And there are certainly always tricks that I know I have yet to learn. There is also a lot of clothing and gear technology out there to research and purchase, so do your homework. Camping in the forest in the winter can be one of the coolest experiences, no pun intended. The bugs are nowhere to be found. With the lack of foliage the woods just completely open up. There are measurably less people to share the woods with creating an even stronger sense of being in the wilderness. The campfire is used for more than just ambiance. And the icy sky just seems to be brighter and deeper. Yes, you will be cold and you may shiver, but it can be a very memorable experience. You just have to make sure that you know what you’re getting into and that you have everything you need. Don’t give up going to the forest because it’s cold out!

The next step down the trail.

104So I have been doing this blog for over a year and a half (two years this coming March), and this will be my 76th post. (To see them all from the beginning, follow this link, or just click on “All Posts So Far” just above.) It has been a fun and satisfying hobby, and I plan to keep doing it, as it is an established part of my life at this point and there are still so many places to see. Just as I get a lot out of walking through the forest, or sitting by a campfire with friends, or waking up to the sounds of nature through the nylon walls of a tent…I get a lot out of doing this blog.

2014-04-27 12.16.18And I find myself struck with the question…what is the next step on the path? I know that I will continue to do this, but is there someplace I can take it, other than just writing about more of the places that I have gone to? The primary goal for me, with almost every post, is “what can I say about it to get people to go there?”. The sharing of information, and the attempt to inspire. That is the icing on the cake, beyond just being able to be creative. The idea that something I wrote about a place may have compelled a person, one of you, to go spend some time there. Pretty remarkable and humbling, from where I sit. But could I do more?

DSCF1767As I look at all the content I have created and the places I have been, I feel as though there could be a step beyond this…a next step…but I don’t know what it is yet. I would eventually love to publish a book. An actual book that you could take with you on your adventures. A compilation of the reviews of trails and campgrounds and sites to see that I have visited so far. Edited (maybe my writing has improved over time?), with some really nice pictures. That will always be on my mind until I have done it. But beyond that…I don’t know. Merchandising? Group hiking or camping trips? A more professional website with expanded content? I do know that if a door were to open that would allow me to do this sort of thing for a living, I would probably jump through it, given the chance.

20130406_140146And maybe there is no next step down the trail. Maybe this will be as far as it can go, and I should just continue to do what I have been doing. I don’t really know. I do know that it isn’t difficult to do something you love, and I love sharing my impressions of all these natural places.

Just something that has been on my mind. I welcome your thoughts and ideas, and as always, thank you for checking out the blog. Here’s to being on an adventure!

1106Gabe and Max, the adventure dog.

 

 

The Beauty across the Glades. Valley View Glades Natural Area 11/8/2014

2014-11-08 10.03.16It was a Saturday morning, and my son and I needed a place to get out to so that we could get some exercise, walking through the woods with the dog. The place I wanted to go is a trail that I hadn’t been to in a couple years, so I figured it was time to go visit it again. Two and a half miles through some rolling hills and wide open glades near Hillsboro, MO just north of Desoto. Winter is on its way, and the trees had shed most of their depth of color, but it is never a good day to NOT spend some time in the woods. We grabbed some water bottles and headed south to the Valley View Glades Natural Area.

2014-11-08 10.01.30How to get there:

From 270 and Tesson Ferry/Highway 21 in south St. Louis County, take 21 south for about 25 miles to Route B. Make a right on B, and take B for about 4 miles. The parking lot is on the right, just off of the road. The trail heads down the hill, right into one of the biggest glades you will ever see, and forks into a loop. We went to the right, and it continues down the hill, across a wet weather gully, and up through the glade on the other side. The trail then heads into the woods and makes a wide meandering curve around the edge of the Natural Area, ducking in and out of glades and forest, down into gullies and up over hills, and follows a creek for a little bit before it meets up back at the beginning of the loop. Then it is back up the hill to the parking lot.

2014-11-08 10.04.32What I like about this area:

Personally, I had never seen glades as big as these, before I had hiked here. Now a “glade” is defined as just an open space in the forest. Not so notable, not so exciting. But here in Missouri, our glades are pretty remarkable “open space in the forest”, and there is a lot more going on than what one could discern from a dictionary. It is an area that has a lack of tree canopy, with exposed rock, and a noticeable lack of soil in a lot of areas. Imagine a spot on a hillside where maybe some trees died, over time the weather washed a lot of the dirt and biological materials down into the creek at the bottom, and now it gets a lot of exposure to the elements. What happens then, is it becomes a micro-ecosystem of sorts. It becomes an environment where particular plants and animals can thrive in, which don’t do so well in any other places in the forest. It becomes home to lizards, snakes, insects, rodents, native grasses, and quite a few flowers. Life that lives better in the warmer, sun exposed, rock littered hillsides of glades. And it allows us an opportunity to observe how the natural world works in harsher conditions, contained in these isolated dry islands of the forest. Pretty cool, especially if you were once the sort of kid that liked to look under rocks. (Note: Please do not relocate rocks in glades. The animals that live there need their neighborhood to stay intact so that they can survive. Glades are one place that NO ONE should stack or remove rocks.)

2014-11-08 11.37.36The views from across the glades are kind of spectacular. The forest in this area does a good job of hiding these open panoramas, and it can be a feeling of immediate expansiveness when you crest a ridge and walk out of the forest to the edge and see across the whole place. It is sort of a miniature version of just about any observation deck in Missouri that looks out across the rolling green mountains of some ozark scene. Make a plan to visit this trail in late Spring, when the wildflowers are blooming and the green of the plant life has taken over the area.

2014-11-08 11.22.19I think this would be a cool area to visit after it has rained. With all the gullies and elevation changes, I bet it would be a lively place to witness the splashing of recently shed clouds trickling down the hills and into the creek that traverses the lowest spots of the trail through the place.

 

2014-11-08 10.05.46What you need to know:

This can be a rocky and muddy trail here and there. There are some steeper parts, and it can get a little rugged. Prepare for that, and in those sections of it, just take your time and watch your step.

This Natural Area is surrounded by private property, and the trail skirts around it pretty close to the edge. Respect that fact, and if you do some exploring off trail, head in the direction of the center so that you don’t end up trudging through the woods off of public land and into someone’s yard.

2014-11-08 11.04.44This time of year causes me to point out that while on conservation land, there are other people in the woods enjoying another hobby. Be aware of hunting seasons. If there had been cars in the parking lot, I would have found another place to hike that day. We all go to the woods for our own reasons, and we need to respect and accommodate each other’s hobbies and pastimes. It would be rude to disrupt the peace of the forest as a hunter in a stand is waiting for deer to come past on his one day to be out there. Pay attention to when the hunting seasons are in the areas you might be hiking through, so that we can all get the most out of the different methods of recreation that we practice, while we enjoy being out in the forest.

2014-11-08 11.07.17If there is one trail that I hike where I can envision a little country house being that I would live in, it has consistently been this one. There is a section where you emerge from the woods out into a glade, and there is a spot against the treeline on the opposing hill that I have always imagined a little house standing. A house that in some far off fantasy might be where I reside, in this beautiful place, raising a family and living off of the land and the forest.

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