Saturday, June 30, 2012

What weather pattern changes?

Its been a funny year for weather so far in 2012.  I don't mean funny ha ha, I mean funny strange.  This winter was the most depressing winter in my half century plus memory.  No snow at all in area we like to play in, central Minnesota and most of northern Wisconsin.  The ski races we normally compete in were cancelled and dowhill areas were limited by how much snow they could afford to make, if the weather was cold enough, that is.  For those who rejoiced in this winter, I would strongly encourage you to get the hell out of here.  Buy a nice single wide in Sun City or Boca Raton and settle down to an exciting and stimulating life of 75F and sunny, your very own little Groundhog Day. On the western end of the country, No1 Son in Portland was sending me gloating emails about yet another 20" dump of snow in the Mount Hood area.  This is not the Champagne Powder of the Steamboat area of Colorado of course, but is referred to as Cascade Concrete, heavy wet snow yet plenty of fun to play on.  Feast or famine I guess.

That same scenario has continued into this summer.  This year April was May and May was April around here.  Apples will be pricey this fall because many of the trees blossomed early and then were covered with snow.  Stock up on your apple futures right now.  Another product of the northland, maple syrup, will be in short supply as well.  Warm days and below freezing nights are needed to get the sap flowing.  Warm all the time means very little sap flow and bitter sap near the end of the run.  In our world of cause and effect, no sap flowing meant Podman pulled his taps and buckets and joined the Amtrak pub crawl with us to Portland, OR.  Where we went up on the slopes of Mt. Hood and experienced what nine feet of snow looked like.

Meanwhile, in just the last couple weeks my sis-in-law, JeremiahJohnstone, was fighting one of the many fires in New Mexico and had to drag a woman from a burning trailer.  When I spoke with her the infrence was 'too dumb to evacuate' but that's neither here nor there.  Tinder dry weather all along the Front Range has the USFS ground and air crews scrambling.  Just Wednesday I received an email from my friend Carol in Boulder, CO, "a fire near south Boulder has  put my neighborhood under a pre-evacuation order.  Just now I saw flames on Bear Peak, to the immediate west of me.  We had a few minutes of rain but mostly lightning, a real danger in our tinderbox of a state".  Just yesterday a note from our sea kayaking 'Man in Black' down in Baraboo, WI noted that that part of the state is under a burning ban and that only campfires in rings would be allowed this 4th of July.

A few hours north of there a burning ban is not necessary.  A significant chunk of Duluth has been washed into Lake Superior, per the image above, causing $100 million in damage to the area.  In addition the long term effects of this 500 year flood on Lake Superior won't be know for years.  Speculation is that an entire two year class of Steelhead have been wiped out in the north shore streams.  When we crossed from Little Sand Bay to Sand Island last Saturday with the SKOAC Intro class. not only was the water brown rather than its usual brilliant blue, but there was lots of debris in the water ranging from birch bark to logs that would tear the lower unit out of a motor, were any boaters dumb enough to run wide open after seeing the debris.  No one has a good idea of how long it will take to settle or what will happen when it does, per the linked article above.

If you've read this far I'm sure you are wondering where the hell is he going with this.  I guess my point is to look around you, given your own personal experience and that of your friends and relatives, and let me know whether you think the climate is changing or not.  The fact that 10,000 year ago most of us in Minnesota and Wisconsin were sitting under 100 feet of glacial ice, and that before that fossils would indicate that we were at the bottom of a large warm sea, would tend to make us certain that climate does change.  Whether or not that change is being accelerated by human activity seems to be accepted by roughly 97% of the scientists in the field. The thing that makes some people skeptical of climate change is the same thing that makes a certain number of people believe that John Denver was a sniper in Vietnam before getting into songwriting, or that Mr Rogers wore those long sleeved cardigans to hide the gnarly tattoos on his forearms.  Unfounded, made up, and ridiculous internet crap, crap that really doesn't take all that much effort to debunk.  All I want to do with this little post is to encourage people to look around them, talk to friends and relatives, and maybe do a little hunting on a fact checking site like  And do it with an open mind please.  If you want to confirm your belief that handling poisonous snakes is your road to salvation and redemption you can easily do that on the internet, although as the sites author so succinctly states, "take my opinions with a grain assault".  There you go!  It's much like the guy standing on the spit of Rocky Island in the Apostles, hat blowing off from a south wind and three footers breaking at his feet, while listening to a NOAA weather radio report of  'light and variable winds and waves under two feet'.  He can choose either to believe what he hears on the media or go with his own observations of what's happening locally.   All I ask is that you take a look around and then use your resources and your brain to arrive at an informed opinion.
(photo credits: NOAA sat photos, JeremiahJohnstone, PBS, some guy in a small plane)

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Graduation paddle

Last weekend a number of folks that took the intro to sea kayaking course on tiny Shady Oak lake two weeks ago had the opportunity to put their newly acquired skills to work on very large Lake Superior.  They were joined by more experienced paddlers and instructors for some island camping, crossings, and skills development.  I served as a 'destroyer escort' and joined the group for the paddle over to Sand Island and then had to head back due to other weekend obligations.  We used to run this trip to Basswood with it's short, sheltered one mile crossing but once a person was on Basswood they pretty much had to enjoy either Entymology or historic brownstone because mosquitos, fish flies, and old quarries are pretty much the available Basswood attractions.  Sand offers sea caves, the lighthouse, trails, and historic structures and relics.  There can be some Entymology interaction but a favorable breeze can minimize that aspect of the experience.  The main goal of the trip however was to give new paddlers a taste of the big lake and steer and encourage them in the direction of becoming self sufficient paddlers that can plan and execute an island adventure of their own.

The day started out with a look at the radar which showed a front with moisture heading right for us, including a "chance of showers and thunderstorms".  That phrase seems to have been in the forecast for the past two weeks, and a 'chance of thunderstorms' was the part of the forecast that we focused on the most at the crossing preflight meeting.  The wind and waves were relatively benign, under two feet with wind under 10 knots.  We talked about maps, charts, and why everyone should have one on their deck so they can 'follow along at home' as Bob Barker would say.  In fact the importance of the holy trinity, (map, compass, and watch) was stressed with a few war stories including the woman at the symposium a couple years back that missed Sand Island and had supper in Two Harbors.  She of course, wanted to sue the park service for not warning her when she should have been indicted and prosecuted for gross stupidity.  A few folks had gps units, which we like to think of as a handy back up to the map and compass. The Sand Island shoal was discussed, a band of 4 - 7 foot deep water stretching over two miles from the mainland to the island, and the funny things that waves can do when they hit shallow water. Of special interest in this area are the Lake Superior 'three sisters' waves sets where randomly three waves will each increase in size and then drop back down to the predominant wave height. A wave breaking around the cockpit can be disconcerting a mile from land. Back to that 'chance of thunderstorms' and possible accompanying lightning.  The key that we stressed was that being on the water with lightning was bad and that using all available knowledge including the radar, the nearshore forecast,NOAA weather radio, length of the crossing, and especially your own eyes, ears, and experience was how the decision to go or stay put was made.  Once again it was a collaborative effort designed to make everyone responsible rather than compliant customers on a guided tour.  I did mention that they may have noticed my wooden backup Greenland stick and that at the first sign of lightning I switched to that and a very low stroke while encouraging my fellow paddlers with carbon fiber paddles to go to a high profile stroke to get to land faster.   Most of  'em got the humor........

I think that too many times people sign up for club  tours so they can be taken care of and forget that they need to be responsible and actively thinking.  "Forgetting" your first aid kit, spare paddle, paddle jacket etc., only works once in my opinion.  My dad used to say he'd go fishing with anyone but only hunted with a select few.  I have the same opinion on Lake Superior paddling.  Show me that you are responsible, engaged, willing to learn, observant, and can think ahead like a good pool player, and we can go out and play on Superior.

The other part of being engaged is a willingness to push a bit and get better.  This is essential on a body of water like Superior because you will be pushed.  On the way back Sunday the group wanted to cross to York and battled a 10 knot headwind.  More experience was gained and a little taste of a bit bigger waves. A couple people were nervous but that's to be expected.  I feel, as do most of my fellow instructors, that mentoring folks to be aware and get better is the end game, creating more self confident and thoughtful paddlers. The converse of that, something that rarely gets discussed but is often seen, is that the bigger waves make some people realize that they enjoy relaxing paddles on Lake Calhoun and really don't want to push the envelope on bigger water.  That is perfectly valid as well.  My days of moguls are over on the tele skis.  I've fallen into steep, smooth, and groomed for my gravity skiing mode.  The envelope pushing is over for me on the long boards. After all, fun is the goal.  Some of us like nice safe fun and others like challenging fun that pushes a bit.  One is not inherently better than the other.  We need to keep that in mind while teaching and mentoring on shakedown cruises such as this one.

Our weekend contingent, the GraciousPartier, the Legend, the VOR and I, managed to hit Little Sand Bay just as the ten paddlers were returning to shore.  We had been touring the south shore per image to the right. Compared to the rain that we had launched in the day before, it was as perfect of a summer weather day as a person can find in Wisconsin. The vibe was that everyone had a great time and was very proud of completing three crossings on Gitchee Gumee.  I think vicarious pleasure is one of the best kinds and we all felt good about helping novice paddlers toward kayaking independence, self sufficiency, and along their journey to understanding just how deeply they want to get into this sea kayaking thing.  It was a good weekend on the water.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Kayak tragedy off Pigeon Point

I was alerted by my friend Bryan in Grand Marais that a kayakers body had been recovered off Pigeon Point, the narrow, rocky piece of land that juts out in to Lake Superior and forms the boundary between the US and Canada.  It's an area I've paddled many times and the masthead image on this blog is of the VOR paddling off Pigeon Point in a dissipating fog just about this time of year.  What gave me an uneasy, funny feeling hearing about the situation was the fact that the Canadian Coast Guard had responded to an PLB signal.  The signal came in around 9:30am on Sunday and the recovery was made at around 11:30.  This meant that the the typical pattern of a western Lake Superior kayaking fatality was not in play.  No jeans and a T shirt, rec boat,wet suit missing or in the rear hatch, missing spray skirt, or underestimating the conditions.  A PLB meant a prepared paddler that had backup for their backup and was most likely experienced with the big lake.  Frankly there are not all that many of those folks out there and given symposiums, clubs, and events like Canoecopia, that chances that I knew the person were significantly better than 50-50.  I checked the northland papers at least ten times over the course of the past couple days with more and more of a sinking feeling each time I looked. I even emailed my friend Travis up in Grand Portage and he had heard nothing.  The feeling I had was eerily similar to feelings when my youngest son was a Humvee gunner in Iraq.  I'd read of a convoy ambush, not every one, just once in awhile, and I'd get nervous as hell and go a little crazy trying to find out more information.  It's a bad feeling and I recalled that bad feeling as the day dragged on yesterday.  When the name of the paddler was released, Robert Weitzel from Middleton, WI it didn't click with me.  That is until I got the email from BearBoxSteve asking me if I'd heard that 'Bob from Madison, the guy with the Greenlander Pro that we met up at the ISS in Washburn' had died up on the border.  It clicked immediately.  I remembered Bob instantly and the bad feeling got worse.

As BBS put it in his email, he was the kind of guy you could talk to for 5 minutes and figure out he would be great on your week long Gitchee Gumee paddle trip.   He had good gear, was safety conscious to the point of installing a foot pump in his boat, and was very fit and tuned in.  He was a Wisconsin boy, 57 years old, paddled an Explorer as his expedition boat, had a hard chine Brit boat to play in, loved the Greenland stick, and wrote a blog about his paddling experiences.  That of course, is an exact and precise description of the fellow plunking away on the keys, working on this difficult post.  Sobering.  Very, very sobering.  There but for the grace of God go I. Bob did the Nigel/Doug Devil's Island paddle at the ISS last year along with a number of friends including LoneRangerRob and my buddy Rick from south of Rockford.  He was a strong paddler and very fit and prepared.  The trip he was on was a fund raiser for an organizaton called Big City Mountaineers, an organization that provides at risk kids with an outdoor experience and many times a second chance.

We may never know what happened.  His last post was dated Thursday and he talked about enjoying a cup of coffee in the Java Moose in Grand Marais, MN.  He would have paddled up the north shore past Grand Portage, through the spectacular Susie Islands, and around Pigeon Point, possibly headed toward the border checkpoint at the river bridge, which he had alluded to.  We have no clue to where he might have camped Sunday night but it could have been Grand Portage or even Hole in the Wall. My guess on gear from looking at Bob's stuff at the ISS would be drysuit, EPIRB, new radio, good pfd, and all the proper gear.  The reports said 30mph wind and 42F water but Bryan did some checking and surmised SW winds, maybe not that strong, with waves 2-4'.  It's a remote location, a very solid hour plus paddle no matter where you launch from, and there are no rescue resources close at hand.  Even with proper gear if you don't have any fellow paddlers the margin of error in that part of the lake is razor thin. 

I wish I would have known him better, other than a quick sandwich at a picnic table in Washburn.  This is something we are all going to need to get our heads around. I plan on very carefully and deliberately evaluating my skill level, preparedness, and comfort in different paddling conditions that I may encounter. This will be discussed this weekend at Little Sand Bay.  I also need to evaluate my solo paddles and the progression if things go bad.  In Bob's case the escalation from self rescue to companions to boaters in the area to professional rescue was short circuited directly from self to the pros.  We all need to think about how comfortable we are with that scenario, very common on the big lake.  My heartfelt condolence go out to friends and family, small consolation given their loss.  The fact is that with a community focused guy like Bob it is a collective loss on a number of levels.  Plan, prepare, carefully think ahead like a good pool player, and paddle safely.  We owe it to ourselves, Bob, and the paddling community as a whole.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Fathers Day at the Ore Dock

It was a pretty good Fathers Day weekend in the Northland.  Friday nights Trampled By Turtles show at the Big Top Chautauqua in Bayfield was excellent, and Saturday brought the Rookie memorial tree planting in the morning, and then supper with Pod and the GurneyGranny on Saturday.  A growler of South Shore ESB helped Pod and I hatch a plan to paddle around the ore dock in Ashland and check out the progress of the demolition.  I had never seen it from the 'ore freighter' view and figured that time was wasting since the cranes and backhoes are sitting on top of the structure as I write this post.

Sunday was sunny with a 15 knot WNW wind which caused us to launch a couple miles east of the dock.  Slog out, cruise back is always a good paddle plan.  The Ashland shore is still remarkably wild, even in spots downtown.  The one exception is the giant car dealer that recently built right on the shore.  If I was a city planner with an eye toward Ashland waterfront development, a Toyota dealership would not be my first choice, but I'm sure the tax levy is significant for the property. Bay City creek flows into the bay just east of the ore dock with a number of secluded little beaches.  For those looking for a nice paddle when the wind and waves prevent more ambitious Apostles trips, this is not a bad fall back spot. It both reeks of history as well as harboring some interesting wildlife. One of the old ore docks we paddled past, east of the CN dock that's being demolished, has a nesting area for the relatively rare common tern on top of it. The tern colony took off, gave us a good look, but we were not close enough to the nesting area for a true Hitchcock-like dive bombing.  We were close enough to the end of the dock for a couple nice surf rides on the way back however.  Pod, a lifelong Ashland guy, filled me in on the Peregrine Falcons that live on the ore dock, a bird which coincidentally is considered to be a 'significant predator' of the common tern.  It strikes me as kind of ironic that we are concerned both with maintaining the threatened tern population as well as suffering more than a little angst about where the falcons, which love nothing more than a tasty tern chick or two, will go once the ore dock disappears.  Human environmental management at it's finest I guess.
 We arrived at the base of the ore dock and stayed on the lee side for some photo ops. Each one of the 300 chutes in the ore dock weigh 5 tons, some serious scrap potential for the demolition company.  Railroad cars would come up the trestle on to the dock and dump their ore into the chutes or pockets.  The chute would then be lowered over the ships hold and the ore would slide into the ship.  This vintage video shows the process, which is still used.  The two guys on the top are ore punchers who get the rock moving down the chute.  There is also an ore trimmer that makes sure the ship is loaded with the weight distributed for safe and efficient sailing to the mills in Cleveland and the eastern lakes.  You can sample or even purchase a great tune sung by my unindicted co-conspirator, RawhidePhil, called Ore Dock Pockets.  Its a really good historical story that captures the late 19th century mining industry in the area.  In a recent article in the Daily Press the foreman of the demolition crew, contrary to statements that the dock was rickety, falling down, and absolutely had to be removed as a safety hazard, stated that the other than some concrete crumbling around the edges it "Otherwise is a pretty solid structure.  It could stand there another 100 years".  Yet another interesting example of the politics of misinformation, a situation where you can have an opinion and make up your own 'facts' to support it.  Paddling around the base and among the pilings from the dock next to it, apparently removed in the early '60's, we got the impression that this structure with its concrete base and beams was as solid as a rock.

Most people, me included, like to view nature and its relatively unspoiled landscapes and vistas when we paddle.  That type of experience is certainly not in short supply in the Apostles and surrounding area.  But we homo sapiens can make some pretty impressive structures as well and Sundays history tour of the old Ashland waterfront, with its rows of pilings, old coal docks, and the majestic 1916 ore dock, still standing for at least a couple more years, almost transports a person back to the bustle of the early 20th century. The great white pinery was being logged to make the homes and buildings of Chicago, Minneapolis, and St Louis, brownstone was being quarried for many public buildings all over the midwest, Dupont was kicking out dynamite in its Barksdale plant, and the ore was coming off the Gogebic range to Ashland where it was shipped to the blast furnaces of Ohio and Pennsylvania to build the country.  Immigrants from every country in Europe had come to the area and I would have to imagine the energy and a sense of the promise of the future that hung over that waterfront area.  Its a paddle that should definitely be made before the ore dock becomes just another piece of lost history.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

"When was the last time you did a wet exit?"

The above question was asked of me on Saturday by a student that was stalling a bit with some small talk before performing her very first wet exit.  I told her I really couldn't remember exactly the last time I had to come out of my boat but it had been awhile.  She took a breath, tipped over, and flawlessly executed her very first wet exit, very proud of her succes.  Had she asked me the same question right about now, I could tell her very precisely that it was about 3pm this afternoon, where Rice Creek flows into Long Lake. 

I was all by myself on a hot sunny afternoon and paddled the Delphin up to play a bit in the current and then do some rolls.  The water has gone down a bit but two separate flows come out from under the railroad bridge.  I had gone over here a couple years back while playing in the current with RonO, and then watched the ManFromSnowyLegs, a man with significantly more whitewater chops than I have, do the same thing last spring in the same spot.  I had paddled up, got up on the standing wave and as I started to ferry back across somehow the other current from the second gap in the railroad bridge grabbed my bow and I was upside down in a blink.  No sweat, I tried to grab my hat and my cheap, trade show sunglasses with no luck.  I then focused on the paddle, set up and.......nothing!  I set up again, blew it again, and finally pulled the skirt, following basically none of the techniques I had spent yesterday instructing new paddlers on.

No harm other than to my ego I guess.  I never come out of my boat.....right?  There were no witnesses at all so I could have likely gotten away with it but I kept thinking about the new paddlers yesterday and how this would have been (and will be)  a good teaching point.  We had fifteen excellent students yesterday and five instructors.  It was hot and humid and people actually wanted to get in the water, except when it was upside down, wearing a spray skirt of course. It was a nice age range from about 30 up to roughly 60 or so, and one of the more high level beginning groups I can recall.  No paddle float rainbows on the solo reentry practice, no weeping, and everyone had a rudimentary grasp of the skills when they left.  One person told me, "Today made me feel younger.  It feels good that I am capable of doing all this stuff".  It's what coaching is all about and made us all feel good as we broke down the class, the flow, and the content in the BessemerConvivialist's backyard.  Beer and 'tube steaks' tend to facilitate the clear and uninhibited thinking necessary for useful commentary on the syllabus and all of our presentations.

The one thing I learned yesterday and especially today is something we all need to be reminded of frequently.  Never quit learning, you never know it all, and just when you seem to be getting a bit smug about skills, competence, and life in general, something will come up, usually Mother Nature, and bite you right in the ass.  I rolled another dozen times in that current and discovered that the sweep, my go to roll, was probably the worst roll in the current.  A C to-C or storm roll seemed to be the best choice, and combined with a solid dose of humility the afternoon was very instructive indeed.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Wisconsins ill conceived wolf hunt

It would appear that we are going to have a 'wolf hunting' season again in Wisconsin.  Its actually a wolf killing plan, just like the good old bounty days.  The season will run five months, I believe the longest hunting season in the state, 15 October through February.  People can bait wolves, trap them, use electronic calls, run dog packs, and hunt them 24 hours.  This scheme is pretty much based on politics with minimal, perhaps non existent, attention paid to the science and biology of the whole thing.  In any event, I fired off an email to the DNR and very quickly received a form response back, an email that's as bland and lacking in substance as a warm can of Bud Lite.  Rather than working myself up into a rant or tirade, I'll just post the email I sent as well as the thoughtful response from the DNR...... 

Sent: Thursday, June 07, 2012 07:57 AM
To: Ross, Laurie J - DNR
Subject: Upcoming wolf hunt
Ms Ross & Seceretary Stepp,

As a landowner  in western Bayfield County and homeowner in Washburn, WI I would like to offer my opinion on the upcoming wolf hunt in Wisconsin.  I have purchased a Wisconsin deer license almost every year since 1966 and have friends on both fringes of the wolf issue, people who claim that the wolves have eaten all the deer and boast that they would shoot any wolf they saw, to tree hugger types who feel wolves should be absolutely protected and it would be nice to have a small pack in the River Hills section of Milwaukee. I’d like to think I have a bit more of a moderate position, almost a bad word during these days of political polarization.

I’m not opposed to a limited wolf hunting season.  I think the deer predation thing is greatly overblown and that the main reason that a lot of virulent, anti wolf deer hunters aren’t seeing as many deer is because not as many are walking past the bar stool they are sitting on or crossing the road that they are road hunting.  At our camp  two miles from Lake Superior we have an active pack and winter kill accounts for at least 4 to 5 times as many deer as the wolves can manage.  Its not hard at all to tell the difference between the two.  We take several deer every season with minimal assistance or hindrance from our local pack, although we hear them and see sign regularly.

I just saw an article in the Journal-Sentinel a couple minutes ago.  It says the season runs from October 15 through the entire month of February.  It also says that dogs, electronic calls, bait, and night hunting are allowed.  I’m not sure where to start on this but I’ll give it a try.  Hunting canines with other canines, or bears for that matter, is something out of the middle ages.  We have frequently had packs of slobbering bear dogs come loping through camp during the ‘training season’.  A bit disconcerting when sitting outside enjoying a beverage.  I won’t even comment on interactions with their owners.  Will packs of ‘wolf dogs’ now be ranging through the woods ‘practicing’ during August and September?  Will the DNR still be paying for any of these dogs that get killed by the very animals that they are attempting to kill?  If so, it seems kind of stupid to me as a taxpayer, a plan designed to both bleed dollars from the budget and subsidize the cluelessness of the dog owners.  As far as the electronic calls and bait there is a concept called ‘Fair Chase’.  If the concept is to kill as many wolves as possible that’s great, but if its not, it would seem to be a bit shortsighted.  Letting people hunt at night is serious craziness.  I’ve gone coon hunting over dogs in my youth and after a couple times decided that other than taking a bath with the radio plugged in and perched on the edge of the tub, there was nothing more dangerous or, once again, stupid, than running through the woods at night with flashlights and firearms.

If you need to do it, to have this season, please consider placing some realistic and safe restrictions on it.  Starting slowly and ramping things up if the success rate is too low (which I suspect it will be in the hunting end; trapping is an entirely different matter) would seem to be the prudent course. Not all deer hunters out there are in favor of this season.  Most of the men and women deer hunters I know have a hunting ethic of eating what they shoot.  Shooting an animal to have a hide on the wall or a smiling photo of you and this vicious beast that you lured in at night, to a pile of rotten meat, using a wounded rabbit recording, and then shot with a rifle and a spotlight seems pretty weak and lame to me and most of my hunting companions.  Please consider this comment when assessing the season and its parameters.

Here is the DNR response.......

Youremail has been distributed to all Natural Resources Board members and Department staff for their consideration. On behalf of the Board, I would like to thank you for your comments on Board Order WM-08-12 and Emergency Board Order WM-09-12(E), proposed rules related to establishing wolf hunting and trapping regulations and a depredation program.  For additional information on the proposed rules and the hearings process, please click on the following link:

Emergency Board Order WM-09-12(E) will be before the Board for adoption on Tuesday, July 17 in Stevens Point, WI.  If you would like to testify or send written comment on the Emergency Board Order, please refer to the following website on public participation:  The July agenda and meeting materials will be posted to the website towards the end of June at:  The deadline to register to testify or to send written comment for the July 17 meeting is 4:00 p.m. on Thursday, July 12.

Please feel free to contact the Natural Resources Board in the future with additional comments or concerns.

Best regards,

Laurie J. Ross
Natural Resources Board Liaison, AD/8
Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources
P. O. Box 7921, Madison, WI  53707-7921
phone:  (608) 267-7420
fax:    (608) 266-6983
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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.