Meanderings: Respect, getting around and Marshfield nature centers
Our country is wandering in a political wilderness. It doesn’t even seem metaphorical – the lack of civility has so seeped into politics that a large number of our putative leaders seem literally to have turned to wild animals, acting as if they’re fighting over chunks of meat while forgetting that the rest of us struggle to find a scrap here and there.
During times like this, it’s best to head outdoors and meander, pursuing something healthy to occupy our minds and nourish what’s left of our spirit. This week’s outdoor soup for the soul contains a couple of tasty little natural areas on the outskirts of Marshfield, some kudos for our great Wisconsin drivers and a plea for citizens of all stripes to continue working together on important transportation issues.
Marshfield nature parks worth a visit
Like many from Portage County, we’ve visited Marshfield’s Wildwood Park south of downtown, where a zoo, a famous Christmas-light display and other great things await. Recently, I decided to check out more of the community’s parks.
The Hamus Nature Preserve & Recreation Area and Joe & Bernadine Weber’s Nature Park sounded like homey little outdoor areas, and they are – tucked away on opposite edges of Marshfield, providing interesting transition zones between urban business, quiet neighborhoods, and active farmlands.
Neither is necessarily a destination in itself except for nearby residents. During an evening walk in Weber’s, I had a brief conversation with a gentleman of retirement age who walks virtually every day, year-round, through the wooded trails of the 37-acre park.
If you’re in Marshfield for a medical appointment, business meeting, or other event, both spots can bring the peaceful recreation of the soul that we often need. Both can be explored thoroughly in an hour or less, but are large enough to lose yourself in contemplation and enjoyment of fall’s changing colors, summer’s wildflowers, or any season’s quiet.
They also highlight the cooperative efforts of community members. Arriving at Hamus, you will immediately notice the highly manicured, well-paved access to the pond and picnic area. The park clearly was developed with ease of access for all ages in mind.
A retirement home borders the park, and it’s hard to imagine a better idea – quiet woods with trails secluded enough for the more able-bodied, but wide, level and soft enough to help the less mobile perambulate comfortably (much of the surface is grass, although there are some stretches of gravel). If even that’s too tough, plenty of asphalt pathway with clearly marked lanes encourages everyone to visit.
An impressive set of plaques outside one of the nicest public restrooms you’ll ever see hints at the cooperation and resources that went into Hamus. But despite its well-developed and somewhat artificial nature, especially at the fishing pond with its two railed docks, visitors quickly find solitude on its 32 acres with multiple short loop trails.
A wildflower prairie by the pond, a wetland boardwalk, and excellent interpretive exhibits highlight the preserve, including one on a massive red maple whose history, written parallel with the city’s, is a fine reminder of lifecycles and coexistence.
The park is on the northeastern outskirts of Marshfield, just north of Wisconsin 97, about a mile northeast of the Marshfield Clinic area. It can be tough to find, but is worth the visit.
Only about a mile from the borders of the McMillan Wildlife Area and near a couple of spacious suburban neighborhoods, the reserve is a haven for critters. Hearing a Sandhill crane croak beyond the reserve’s boundaries alone made it rewarding.
Also worth a visit is Joe & Bernadine Weber’s Nature Park on the far western edge of town, just past the campuses of UW-Wood County and Mid-State Technical College on Fifth Street. Nothing says “neighborhood retreat” better than a park with a local couple’s name on it.
With a less developed feel than Hamus, it’s within easy reach of neighborhoods, with wide streets and less traffic, meaning it’s a quick, safe goal for local kids.
A woodsy paradise, also perfect to wander, Weber’s has wide, well-groomed trails. They remind me of those in Germany, where wandering is a national pastime enjoyed by all and the wander-ways have a different feel – often more tame and incorporated into urban life, rather than being sharply distinct breaks from our busy work and home life.
Weber’s also has excellent interpretive exhibits on various trees and a series of trails to help visitors feel lost if they want. But it’s small enough to know intimately after a few trips. It borders farmland to the west and lots of suburban houses to the east, so community noises remind us of our other life even as Weber’s serves as a fine getaway.
Good neighbors make good getaways
They say good fences make good neighbors, but on a recent bike ride down West River Road from downtown out toward Rusty’s Backwater Saloon on the Wisconsin River, I noticed how the courtesy of so many Wisconsin drivers makes a bike ride on a narrow road less worrisome than it could be. They contribute to a sense of community instead of separation.
Several times on a recent Sunday ride, drivers stopped and waited politely instead of turning well in front of me, allowing me to pass the street or driveway they were accessing. I’ve noticed this behavior far more in Wisconsin then I ever did in the South (which starts in Illinois for me and continues to about the border of Mexico).
I spent the rest of my ride noticing how many cars gave me a wide berth and slowed down, as opposed to those rare few who blow by at close range, perhaps staring at their cell phones as they do.
Of course, it only takes one bad driver to ruin things for everybody. That’s just one reason to consider the value of safe transportation options for all – roadways and sidewalks that fit everyone and allow all of us to save money, time, parking space, maintenance and health care costs.
All of those expenses are, ultimately, borne by the entire community, generally in ways we don’t think about until we look carefully at the economic equations of sustainable and healthy transport.
In this environment, even our presidential candidates and major parties can’t get beyond their selfish, short-sighted, childish and often vulgar and destructive behavior. Bad feelings leach down onto our heads like poison from Washington all the way through Madison and ultimately into our local communities, and we sometimes forget that we are in this together.
That’s why it’s great to see places like Hamus and Weber’s Park in Marshfield, along with walkways, bike paths and excellent roads all over the city – one where good health is critical in everything from its famous medical center to the last household in town.
I hope we continue to remember those things in Portage County, especially as we have events like the Nov. 3 Revisioning Point session on understanding four-to-three lane conversions, an issue that seems to have generated a bit of Washington-type bad feeling around here lately.
Because we are indeed one community and good discussion virtually always brings us to better understanding and better solutions, this 7 p.m. meeting at in the Community Room of the Mid-State Technical College, 1001 Centerpoint Drive, Stevens Point, is a fine starting point for us to move onward.
Regardless of past history, it’s always good to set an example for folks beyond our county borders about amicable problem-solving, consensus and healthy living together. Life is too short and precious for anything else.