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Finding Your Inner Thoreau

Wisconsin State Parks are a great place to connect with nature

Jun. 10, 2013
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In the magic of the woods, there is a whisper of the wind through the tree leaves above and the feel of soft pine needles below your feet. There is the chirp "hello" from the various birds, the inquiring buzz of many an insect, the butterfly dancing along, seeming to follow you. Meadows or forests or marshes, these are the places in which to meditate. Sometimes the face of a deer will appear—the epitome of gentleness.

It is a good reminder to be gentle with yourself, especially if you seem to have forgotten how. 

It has been an 18-some-year tradition in my immediate clan to choose a different Wisconsin state park every year. There we travel, laugh, cook out, build fires, pitch tents, hike, toss tarot or other cards and watch sunsets and count the stars in the evening. We marvel at how bright they can get far outside the glare of the city lights. The air is easier to breathe and the anxiety just melts away quickly. Things are simplified. We talk of many things into the wee hours. Oftentimes we stay for just for one night. That may be all our busy schedules will allow. But it is always something to be savored, and we have never gone to the same location twice.

Some parks are so large—such as Kettle Moraine State Forest—that they are broken up into multiple units that make you feel like you're going to a brand new spot each time. 

Some of the first state parks were established in the 1920s and ’30s. Their founders blazed the trails for the rest of us to enjoy for years to come. The spirit in which the parks were created may be a bit different from what some people consider recreation today—the ones that drag as many of their modern appliances and conveniences along as possible.

Hopefully, though, most of us still remain somewhat old fashioned about the original concept. It should not be viewed as the worst thing in the world to leave some of your technology behind, if even for a few days. Personally I relish the “no signal” sign on my cell phone and welcome the rare opportunity to steal away unreachable. If you listen and tune in closely, clues reveal themselves quietly and poignantly through the rare sighting of a wild creature, a fallen leaf or the harmony of sound all around you. 

Some parks offer seasonal programs specially designed to draw attention to the special sights and sounds that can otherwise stay well hidden. If you are interested in getting involved in a little hands-on preservation of your local park, there are opportunities for that as well; visit dnr.wi.gov/topic/parks/volunteer.html for more information.


Lakeshore State Park

The closest state park is right here in Milwaukee. Lakeshore is just east of the Summerfest grounds near Discovery World. Although camping is not available, you can hike, bike, fish or boat. It’s open to the public year round from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. and there is some free street parking available.


Kettle Moraine State Forest, Pike Lake Unit

For camping just 25 miles north of town try the Pike Lake Unit of Kettle Moraine, between Hartford and Slinger. It’s smack-dab in the middle of the Kettle Moraine State Forest, and offers a variety of fun trails for the hiking enthusiast.


Kettle Moraine State Forest, Northern Unit

Kettle Moraine North is 45 minutes north of Milwaukee and stretches about 30,000 acres. Camping, biking, fishing, swimming, boating, horseback riding and hiking are featured seasonal activities. The Ice Age National Scenic Trail is a good place to explore at this park.


Kettle Moraine State Forest, Southern Unit

This is a great option if you happen to be gathering people from both Milwaukee and Madison. It is truly a lovely campground, with scenic glacial hills, prairies and pine forests to enjoy.


So if you feel the importance of getting in touch with your "inner Thoreau," patronize a park. There is nothing better you can do mentally, physically, spiritually and—speaking of our own Mother Earth—globally. For locations of our wealth of Wisconsin state parks, visit dnr.wi.gov/topic/parks/.


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