Monday, June 4, 2012

Nature = God

Due to the sheer novelty of being able to drive four minutes down the hill and launch in Lake Superior, we once again paddled in the Washburn area on Sunday.  This time we headed north and checked out one of Wisconsin's newest State Natural areas, the Houghton Falls Nature Preserve. This preserve was created through the efforts of the Bayfield Regional Conservancy, a NOAA grant which was matched by the DNR's Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Fund, and the Town of Bayview Board, as well as grassroots citizen and landowner support.  It's a sweet little piece of the woods with a gorge cut through the brownstone, a water fall, and a half mile hiking trail that meanders from the parking lot on Houghton Falls Road down to where Houghton Creek dumps into Lake Superior.  We've hiked it in snowshoes in the winter but this was the first time visiting the area on the water.  Between the coal dock in Washburn and Houghton Point there are several small sea caves and sea stacks to play in.  I can imagine that in a northeast blow the rock gardening potential in this area would result in substantial deposits of gel coat.  Arguably the most interesting feature where the creek meets the lake, a sandy beach that extends out into the lake between two sheer sandstone cliffs, is what most would consider to be a piece of graffiti.  It is an inscription carved into the sandstone, block letters about eye height, that says, "Nature = God. T. Blake 1964.

Tom Blake was a Wisconsin boy, born in Milwaukee and raised in Washburn, and pretty much invented the long board for surfing and several other innovative water related things as well.  He also invented the hollow paddle rescue board still used by lifeguards on beaches around the world. He hung out with Duke Kahanamoku and Johnny Weismuller, raced against them actually, and appeared in several movies including work as Clark Gable's stunt double.  He was also one of the early adapters of the 'diet and exercise' regimen, something that our McDonalds snarfing populace would do well to emulate, and lived well into his nineties. There is a wealth of information about him on the web and it is apparent that was a complex, gifted, and thoughtful guy as well as a true character in every sense of the word.  He returned to the Washburn area in the late 50's and carved this inscription in the rock at age 62 in the year 1964.

In July Washburn will be holding the very first annual Tom Blake Board Across the Bay Race and Festival.  SUP, surf skis, kayaks, and other people powered watercraft will be involved and if the weather cooperates it should be a fine time.  In the meantime if a chance to paddle north of Washburn presents itself, especially one of those days when a lee shore is needed to combat a northwest wind, I can highly recommend the four mile round trip from the coal dock to Houghton Point.  The VOR, GreenThumbChef, RangerMark, and I had a nice leisurely paddle on a brilliant summer Lake Superior Day and even learned a little bit along the way. The Houghton Falls Natural Area is an almost textbook example of how state, local, and federal government, as well as private individuals and foundations (including our two heavily involved paddling companions) can work together to preserve unique natural areas for the public good.  Its a compact area yet one that will now have public access preserved in perpetuity.  I can almost imagine Tom Blake at age 62, strolling out into the knee deep water and carving his thought provoking inscription on the soft sandstone.  One more unique and historic spot on Lake Superior that we and our descendants will be enjoying thanks to combined and focused effort.

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