Natural Resources Foundation field trips show Wisconsin from every angle

The group began as a defense against state budget cuts and now regularly fills over 200 opportunities to see fields, forests, streams and creatures.

The spring emergence was in full swing in the northern Kettle Moraine, as amphibians and reptiles thawed and began to squirm and scurry towards the warmth of the sun.

The 20 people participating in a herpetology excursion had their own spring emergence. As ospreys soared above and chorus frogs serenaded from the shallows, they waded into the ephemeral pothole pond with nets, hoping to trap a newt or a shimmering mass of eggs. of salamander.

“Give it to me, I’ll pick it up,” said Briella Hawkinson-Madriaga, 8, who waded into the pond in waders up to her armpits. She had many questions for Rori Paloski, the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) reptile and snake expert, who co-led the trip. She held a blue-spotted salamander and learned that the fingernail-sized spring peeper can freeze solid during the winter, only to thaw and begin chirping its heart out for a mate in the spring.

Briella Hawkinson-Madriaga, 8, and her grandmother search for worms, salamander eggs, newts and more during a recent field trip sponsored by the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin.

Briella and her grandmother, Debbie Hawkinson, are two of thousands of people who will investigate Wisconsin’s natural wonders this year during field trips organized by the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin.

The 260 field trips began in late April with archeology and reptile excursions — like this one in the northern unit of Kettle Moraine State Forest — and crossed into fall migration on the Mississippi in early November. . Knowledgeable leaders from the DNR and beyond will take people on a journey to nearly every corner of the state, from slabbing elk on the Flambeau River to searching for a fall-colored hike in the rocky sea of ​​the felsenmeer from the Blue Hills to a raft trip to explore the Death’s Door Islands off the tip of Door County.

You can try your hand at trout fishing on the Kickapoo or see a swarm of bats at sunrise along the Mississippi River near Trempealeau. You can take part in the ancient Japanese custom of Shinrin-Yoku or forest bathing, complete with a tea ceremony.

Other trips focus on history, including a visit to John Muir’s childhood farm and a hike along the Milwaukee River to learn about the “sewer socialists” and their environmental legacy. There’s even a prairie hike to see “non-binary nature,” “weird species native to Wisconsin” in a prairie near Mineral Point.

The foundation, which got its start in 1986 to support MNR’s endangered species programs at a time when budgets were tight, has been offering field trips since 1994, and they’ve been popular. To register, you must first be a member of the foundation – a minimum donation of $25 – then be ready in front of your computer at noon on the first Monday in April. Popular trips were already sold out at 12:03 p.m.

“If you’re not on your computer by noon, you’re going to be overwhelmed,” said Tom Meyer, a DNR staff member who leads popular kayak tours and hikes in nature areas in the Wisconsin Dells.

But there are still around 1,000 openings in 150 trips, which you can find on the foundation’s website. They range from wheelchair-accessible outings to “extreme” adventures, like one that requires a quarter-mile “military crawl” to reach a cave in Door County’s Niagara Escarpment.

Trips cost between $18 and $78 for an e-bike tour of Door County. Some of the trips are fundraisers for specific venues or funds. The reptile trip included a $15 supplement for the Wisconsin Reptile and Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Fund.

Debbie Hawkinson said the trip was worth it for a beautiful spring day in the woods with her nature-loving granddaughter. She had spent much of the past year housebound, awaiting hip replacement surgery.

“If COVID has taught me anything, it’s that when you see something you want to do, you should do it,” she said.

Field trip leader Rich Staffen shows salamander eggs.
A group goes fishing for newts on an excursion organized by the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin.

Meyers said field trips have begun to share natural resource success stories, such as the return of the trumpeter swan, with foundation members who have supported the efforts. They grew from there as people learned they could access some of the state’s hidden gems with expert guides.

And though he’s been leading trips for 25 years, he still enjoys getting down on the sand and looking at spider dens with kids on his “wilderness of Wisconsin” tour of the Blue River Barrens.

“Interacting with kids under 10 is such a joy,” he said. “There are so many wonders in nature.

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