Some resolutions easier to keep than others
When it comes to Wisconsin seasons, spring strikes me as comparable to coming home from work one day and finding your garage blocked by your deranged third cousin’s rusted-out 1974 Dodge Dart. And look, there’s your cousin and his two teenage kids sitting on a stack of their stuff outside your kitchen door.
I suppose spring feels that way because in our nine Wisconsin winters, we’ve generally had by-gosh cold weather and enough snow to keep the riff-raff out – riff-raff being me, as I like to trudge along icy sidewalks and grumble about homeowners not clearing a safe path even while I secretly enjoy being one of the few folks afoot during below-zero temperatures.
I like snow and cold. Mud, not so much.
Warm weather is distracting. Spring fever and all that. But that hasn’t been a bother for me in Wisconsin – at least not until this year.
It looks like we’re basically done with winter, and the post-melt muck and mire are here early. We’ve got a five-day forecast of darn near Texan temperatures coming up, and if anyone has been reading the bad news, it seems the Northern Hemisphere hit temperatures that some scientists and others are calling “terrifying” – 2 degrees Celsius higher than the historic average for the month across the hemisphere.
I’ll just set aside, for the moment, global warming and other horrific disasters, such as the presidential campaign. As we transition from the first season of the year to the worst season (at least in my book), it’s a good time to take stock of where my outdoor resolutions for 2016 stand.
Two places down, eight to go
I committed seven promises in my New Year’s column, and so far I’m on track to keep them. Starting with the last, which was the easiest: I have a new photo over my column, as the former picture was hideous because it featured me wearing a tie.
That’s the power of the press, I suppose. I wrote it; the Gazette’s production coordinator, Paula O’Kray, fixed my column header immediately with something on hand that looks more outdoorsy and more closely matches the column of the Gazette’s hunting and angling writer, Ken Blomberg.
The new header doesn’t help me write as well as Ken, but it’s good to know at least one other person besides the editor is reading my work. Thanks, Paula!
My No. 1 promise was to visit at least 10 outdoor recreation areas in Wisconsin new to me and write about them here. I already visited two in the first few weeks after coming back from a trip to Australia (White River Fishery Area and George Mead Wildlife Area). With good weather coming up – after spring, I mean – that 10-site goal looks easily achievable.
I also said I’d get to Yellowstone National Park, one way or another. Stay tuned.
I pledged to read the book “Last Child in the Woods” and work on getting outdoors even more with my own family. I’ve almost made it to the library twice now, but I’ve already been better on the second part despite the winter weather, so looking good there.
The kids are still speaking to me, which is even better.
My toughest resolution may well be finishing up those two pairs of snowshoes in the basement. My son and I started them two seasons ago during a weekend snowshoe-making workshop at Treehaven, University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point’s excellent natural-resources retreat and learning center near Tomahawk.
I’ve been to the basement. I’ve prepared a table. I’ve found the instructions again.
Now comes the hard part – weaving all that netting, pulling it as taut as can be and tying off all those knots.
It’s a demanding activity for the hands and fingers, but just as therapeutic, in its own way, as a walk in the woods.
The shoes are traditional, 56-inch-long Alaskans, meant for all-around use with their straight tail and slightly lifted, rounded toe. Later on, there will be more on the joys of making and taking these out.
I also wrote that I’d join at least one new outdoor-related organization and pick up at least one new hobby. I’ve still got plenty of time and have added at least one new group into the mix for consideration, so these two promises, rolled into a single commitment, should be a breeze to keep. Again, there’s more to come regarding those.
That brings us to what’s turning out to be the easiest resolution of all. I said at least two politicians, and probably more, would be “skewered” in this column.
I haven’t really called out anybody by name this calendar year, but it’s usually harder to keep them out of this space than put them in. In fact, I hardly consider this a resolution at all – it’s more akin to an extra-credit exam question asking someone to spell his own name correctly.
It’s better for all of us, I think, to try to minimize the politics, or at least try to balance out the bad news with the good. With that in mind, I follow up with a little of each.
Happy Centennial! You’re getting old
This is a big year for America’s national parks, as the National Park Service will be 100 years old Aug. 25.
Unfortunately, we’re not treating our parks with the respect they deserve. Two of our national system’s biggest problems – overcrowding and infrastructural needs – aren’t going away.
NPR reported this week that 305 million people visited the parks in the past year. It’s great that we value our parks, but we aren’t providing them with commensurate care.
The heaviest-used parks, like Zion in Utah, are stretched to the limit and their resources damaged despite already having taken measures like banning almost all cars in the main portion of the park and making shuttles mandatory.
In addition, the NPS 2015 fiscal report, released in February, revealed a backlog of deferred maintenance that has ballooned to $12 billion – up $440 million from the previous year.
In parks that get 3 to 4 million visitors a year, like Zion, Yellowstone and Yosemite, that’s quite problematic. In the Great Smoky Mountains, with 10.7 million visitors in 2015, it’s worse.
But wait! There’s more!
Perhaps the most disheartening story from the parks reached us on March 1 in The New York Times. The paper reported that the name “Yosemite National Park” no longer belongs to … you guessed it … Yosemite National Park. More accurately, it doesn’t belong to the American people.
It belongs to a private company which was a lead park concessionaire for many years and which surreptitiously trademarked a number of terms, including those attached to the venerable Awhanee Hotel (which is temporarily named “Majestic Yosemite Hotel”). For now, the park can’t even sell T-shirts with its own name on them.
Reading news like this makes me want to take the private business that stole our public-park heritage – Delaware North of Buffalo, N. Y. – and dump it into the bottom of a canyon that’s not so grand.
Free enterprise, indeed. We have become slaves to our own idolatry of cash.
At least the park folks are working on fixing that, so enough for now. There will be happier news about our national park units, including those in Wisconsin during the NPS Centennial, in future columns.
To conclude, some vile political speech
State Rep. Kathy Bernier, R-Lake Hallie, accused an Eau Claire school board member, Wendy Sue Johnson, in February of “vile, hateful political speech” when Johnson matter-of-factly compared the economic health of Minnesota with Wisconsin.
That’s relevant because I’m now going third-degree vile by pointing out a letter that Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton addressed this week to Twin Metals, a company that wanted access to Minnesota surface lands for mining near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
Dayton called the wilderness a “national treasure” and said he was obligated to protect it from nearby operations that could harm it.
Dayton also noted that he called the director of the federal Bureau of Land Management to discuss the importance of the area and has ordered the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources not to enter into any state access agreements or lease agreements for mining operations near the Boundary Waters.
I’m sure it’s hateful to point out that the economically thriving state of Minnesota seems to have figured out a way to protect its natural resources while still supporting plenty of healthy and helpful businesses around the state.
It’s completely unfair, I suppose, to point out a governor who’s doing his job on behalf of the people of his state. I’m just kind of awful that way.
Skewers forward, Wisconsin.