Pickerel Lake Natural Area good pick for quick hike
Who knew there’s a crow-hunting season in Wisconsin? Not me, although now that I know, it’s coming in handy, because it’s time to eat a little of that.
I learned this while preparing for an outing to the Pickerel Lake State Natural Area, one of 11 SNAs in Portage County. But I’m getting slightly ahead of myself. First, I have a mea culpa: it wasn’t a pothole, and that’s my fault.
In providing the photo for last week’s column, I incorrectly identified a glacial kettle – a depression in the land where a small lake can form – as a glacial pothole. They’re different, as a pothole is generally formed by the rushing, swirling waters of melting glaciers that trap tumbling stones and grind round holes in rock.
My memory failed me on that one, and although I meant to confirm whether it was pothole or kettle, I didn’t, and for that I apologize.
Snail’s pace suffices at Pickerel
The arrival of daylight saving time this past Sunday, along with beautiful 20-degree-Fahrenheit weather, was plenty of encouragement for an excursion to celebrate outdoor life in general.
Events conspired to make an outing with the family difficult, and the prospect of falling behind on the week’s work because of an all-day trip spurred me to try something new and nearby.
I thought about the New Hope Pines State Natural Area, very close to last week’s hike on a portion of the Ice Age Trail, but I decided that was lacking in imagination. That’s when I found a list of SNAs and was surprised to see how many there were, and how few of those in Portage County I’d heard of.
After reading about and targeting Pickerel Lake, I realized it is probably most visited for hunting, so I used the Department of Natural Resources website to confirm that I wouldn’t be shot full of potholes myself. One never knows if it’s the season for Greater Wandering Addlebrains or some such creature.
It turns out we’re still in Wisconsin’s crow season – yes, it exists – but in general, I figured I wouldn’t need any blaze orange to distinguish me from opossum, weasels and skunks, although some of my acquaintances might beg to differ.
The last prep task was to rustle up some company, so I called last week’s hiking companion, Al Bond, who told me he had too many important things to do that afternoon, so he’d be along in a couple of minutes.
We were soon at Pickerel Lake, about seven miles northeast of Almond as the you-know-what flies. Pickerel was made into an SNA in 1990 partly because it provides great habitat for some specialized plants due to its water-level fluctuations.
These include such world-famous vegetation as needle spike-rush, boneset, heart’s-ease and Kalm’s lobelia. I could identify none of these even if my heart and bones depended on them, although I’m pretty sure I could properly distinguish any of them from a glacial pothole.
Pickerel is a small parcel, 143 acres total. It includes part of the lake bed and an upland area primarily south of the lake, made up mostly of oak woodland with scattered small patches of prairie vegetation. The DNR says this indicates the area was once savanna.
We spent most of our time – around an hour – wandering through the brushy, thorny woods toward an open, dry-grass meadow in the southwest corner of the parcel that apparently has served as a staging area for logging work.
The highlight of our walk was coming to a ravine leading down to the lake that once served as a dump for some interesting historical junk – a very old truck or auto with undergrowth overtaking its rusty frame, an ancient milk can, what appeared to be the coils of a crib mattress, a large blue-and-white enamel-coated serving or mixing bowl, and other indicators of rural life from sometime early in the last century.
On our return trip, we decided to go downslope to the lake and test the ice for an easier path back to the parking area. It was plenty thick and provided nice, deep, blooping and gurgling sounds as air and water shifted underneath us.
The water in this “hard water seepage lake” was high, meaning the ice was up past the small trees and dead grasses that probably were well short of the shoreline just months ago.
That provided some nice photo opportunities for lichen-covered boulders poking above the smooth surface of the ice and the various textures of tree bark and dried grasses against the background of a cloudy sky.
We both ended up lying down on the ice to get shots of a snail, suspended in the air on top of a column of ice underneath it but connected to a curling frozen sheet that curved up and held it on the top side. First time I’ve seen an ice vise.
Both of us got a little wet from where we’d warmed up the ice, so we decided it was time for beverages, and that was the day at Pickerel Lake SNA.
If you go, be sure to get the fries
Pickerel Lake is a short trip east down Wisconsin 54 toward Waupaca. About 11 miles from the interstate, a right-hand turn on County A leads to a stop sign. Go left to continue on A, followed by a curve to the right.
About a mile south of that, a sign for Camp Brachman marks Asbury Drive, which runs on the north side of the lake. Another 1,000 feet to the south, an unmarked, unpaved road at a two-story private home (apparently a former town hall) takes you west to a small oval drive at the lake.
After we finished our exploration, it was again time to support the local economy. Last week we discovered Iola’s Crystal Café and its incomparable pies; this week it was Mr. Brews Taphouse in Plover and some really fine fries.
Our first post-ice choice had been hot chocolate, but as we drove back to town, we decided to check out Mr. Brews, a 10-franchise chain centered around Madison. It has central Wisconsin roots, though, along with a single Florida location, one in Appleton, and one in Milwaukee.
All we cared about was our local outlet, and as we did last week, we ended up wondering what took us so long to try it.
A well-seasoned basket of fresh-cut fries (sea-salt and cracked pepper), complimented by a Johnny Blood Red amber ale from Titletown Brewery in Green Bay for each of us, was our reward for putting off an afternoon of real work. We’re now planning a hike that will be worth an entire burger and a different on-tap beverage.
I can guarantee it will be better than crow.