How can we measure a year like 2016?
It’s time for my annual accounting of the previous year and my groveling promise to do better this time.
Not that 2016 was a complete loss, but sometimes it feels as if my major accomplishment was that I was NOT one of the final two U.S. presidential candidates.
At least there’s a cure for that: following whatever outdoor resolutions I make for 2017.
Some promises are easier than others
My goals were ambitious, and I had mixed success in meeting my seven 2016 resolutions. In retrospect, one can hardly be called a resolution, but seemed bolder at the time: I wrote that I would skewer at least a few politicians in my weekly column.
Given that politics are about as appetizing as a pickle, baby powder and rusty paper-clip milkshake, which seems like a promise anybody could keep.
I called out only one “public servant” by name but many more by implication, largely on issues related to forced state land sales, potential environmental disasters, and general political stupidity – the latter a redundancy if ever there was one.
Frankly, that’s too easy. Although the main purpose of this column is to promote fun, we sometimes need reminders to protect the resources that allow fun.
Since we’re talking politics, I might as well get my 2016 failures out of the way. I vowed to finish the hand-crafting of two snowshoe pairs in the basement. Utter flop on that one, but I’ll take a freezing-rain check.
I also promised “Yellowstone or bust.” Busted.
I came within hours of packing the kids into the car and going, but it would have been foolhardy in a year that had already been long and adventure-packed. Still, it’s another carryover resolution.
Conversely, an easy target was one I did nothing about. My original photo and column header in this space were as useless as an ethics office in Washington, but all I had to do was write that down and the Gazette’s intrepid and creative designer, Paula O’Kray, had it finished for me by the next column.
Progress should always be so stress-free.
Well, what DID you do, then?
I promised to take up a new outdoor hobby. Defining “take up” liberally, I assert that because I’ve chosen the bow I’m going to buy, found a place to shoot and done a lot of preparatory reading on archery, I’ve met the major part of this goal.
As part of the same resolution, I also said I’d join at least one new outdoor-related organization, which I have – the Wisconsin Outdoor Communicators Association (some might claim it was just under the wire for writing this column, and that would be correct, but done is done).
I wrote that I’d read “Last Child in the Woods.” I haven’t finished it, but I have it in both hardback and audiobook form and am taking my time to digest it. Every kid in my family, including the big ones, suffers from nature-deficit disorder, but we battle that at every turn.
Which brings me to Resolution No. 1 – visit and write about at least 10 Wisconsin outdoor recreation areas new to me in 2016.
For the most part, I didn’t have to go far and included the kids in many visits to places both new and familiar.
The closest new spot was Stevens Point’s hideaway Parkdale Park (about four miles from the house), and the farthest was the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway headquarters and St. Croix Falls, the “City of Trails.”
In between, there were the Emmons Creek Fishery Area, Lunch Creek near the White River State Fishery, Mosquito Hill Nature Center, Bitzke Wildlife Refuge, Richland 360 Area, George W. Mead Wildlife Area, Hoffman Hills State Natural Area, and the snowy fields around Freedom in the Fox River Valley while seeking out snowy owls.
I visited three lovely Marshfield parks in one day and crammed them into a single column. I camped with one or more of my kids at Wyalusing State Park and Lake Wissota State Park, and we spent a fine morning in Madison’s Governor Nelson State Park.
I may have forgotten one or two places, but that’s at least 14, so my first resolution was one I kept with no problem.
I squeezed those visits around several to more familiar locales (like Hartmann Creek State Park and the Green Circle), plus three weeks in Australia for a class and two more for a family visit in Costa Rica, neither of which were part of my resolutions, but which may help explain my laggardness.
Down under, I visited the Blue Mountains and Sydney Harbour National Parks, as well as writing about urban parks in Sydney and the urban outdoor experience in general, including malls and street life. Costa Rica gave me three good weeks of writing – about beaches, outdoor life on the family farm, and an outdoor Father’s Day celebration (which was actually from a previous year).
Then there were sites in Minnesota (three wonderful, historic Renville County parks, plus a one-of-a-kind camping experience at the Danube historic railroad depot), Texas (Waco’s Cameron Park), Oklahoma (Turner Falls) and Kansas (Konza Prairie).
While in Danube, I will now admit, I might have accidentally broken a city ordinance and climbed the water tower. It’s a tradition there, or so I was told. Who am I to buck tradition?
From the top of the tower, everything seemed bright and promising, as most beginnings do. This week’s photo is among my favorite unpublished pictures from last year’s adventures.
All in all, a fun year to remember. It was also tough because Yami and I lost parents – both our kids’ grandfathers in the space of five weeks during the holidays. As I wrote last week, that reminds us to fiercely protect the outdoors for our children and our extended family, which includes all Americans and all people of the world.
So what’s in store for 2017? Simple: do my part to enjoy, write about and protect the outdoors for future kids of all ages. Tie up loose ends on 2016 resolutions. Try to match last year’s total of new Wisconsin places visited, with an emphasis on places along several state byways: the Ice Age Trail and as many of the state’s wonderful bike trails as I can reach.
It promises to be another big year. Here’s hoping it’s a good one, both outside and inside, for all of us.