Appleton, WI Saturday July 26
A busy day. We started down in Oshkosh, WI, home of the Experimental Aircraft Association. Many of you may have heard of this organization. They sponsor EAA AirVenture, where 12,000 planes and 750,000 people congregate for a week of air shows, lectures, presentations, entertainment, and lots and lots of vendors. And the congregating begins Sunday with the actual “World’s Greatest Aviation Celebration” running from July 28 to August 3 this year. They actually have 80 air traffic controllers and support staff to oversee 20,000 takeoffs and landings during the week. Maybe one day we will return to experience AirVenture.
AAA listed the museum as a GEM in their ranking and that it opens at 8:30 AM. We got there a little after 9 to see the sign saying the museum opens at 10. There were people outside waiting to get in. I was going to join them. Chris saw that the gift shop looked open and went in and asked about the change in hours. Well, due to the AirVenture week, the museum was open now. Thanks Chris. She was also kind enough to go out and tell the people waiting that they could go in.
The museum has a collection of more than 150 aircraft, and replicas, including home-built planes, gliders, helicopters, racers, military, ultra-light, etc. There are enough written explanatory displays and short videos to keep one busy for several days. We spent 3.5 hours there and enjoyed it all. There are many notable items there. One was a partial replica of the “Voyager”. On December 23, 1986, the Burt Rutan-designed Voyager aircraft landed at Edwards Air Force Base in California, completing the first non-stop, non-refueled flight around the world by an airplane. Its flight of 26,366 statute miles lasted 9 days, 3 minutes, and 44 seconds, piloted by Dick Rutan (Burt’s brother) and Jeanna Yeager.
The second was the SpaceShip One replica, which in 2004 was able to win a $10,000,000 prize by launching a piloted spacecraft, carrying the payload equivalent of two passengers to an altitude of at least 328,100 feet (62.14 miles), and then repeat the feat using the same spacecraft within two weeks.
After EAA, we had lunch in Fond du Lac at Schreiners, a long-established local restaurant. The waitresses still wear white uniforms and the daily vegetable option included creamed rutabagas which were quite tasty. From there it was on to Kettle Moraine State Forest and the Henry Reuss Ice Age Visitor Center. WI is the home to the Ice Age Trail, a National Scenic Trail administered by the State of WI with cooperation of the National Park Service. The route to get there was on back roads, much of it part of the Ice Age Scenic area.
By definition, a national scenic trail is to be hiked. We had allowed plenty of time to hike a portion starting at the Visitor Center. However, the sign at the Visitor Center warned of mosquitoes, ticks, deer flies, gnats, etc in heavy profusion. They were correct. The “hike” turned out to be a fast jog up the trail to an overlook, see lots of foliage blocking a meaningful view, take a picture anyway, and run back to the car, and while doing the get away from me bugs dance. Sometimes hikes are not as fantastic as they are written up to be. We will have to return at a later time for the hike.
The trail meanders through WI mainly following the edge of the last glacier to cover WI. It begins at St. Croix Falls, goes east towards a point northeast of Wausau, turns south to Janesville and back northeast along Lake Michigan to Door County. The trail is still under construction and only portions are hikeable. The Visitor Center displays educate on the difference between moraines, kettles, drumlins, eskers, and kames.
We drove through more of Kettle Moraine State Forest on our way to Horicon National Wildlife Refuge for a 6:30 pm marsh tour. The entire day had been cloudy and threatening rain. The tour was billed as a sunset tour but we were not holding out much hope for seeing a sunset. However, while walking along parts of the Horicon Marsh, the clouds started to dissipate and the skies were blue. (Our tour guide later indicated that this was the first tour to see a sunset in six weeks-they only run the sunset tour on Saturdays.) The marsh covers 33,000 acres. 22,000 are under federal management and 11,000 under state. The marsh was formed by the damming of the Rock River and is one of the largest freshwater marshes in the US. It has been a wildlife refuge since 1941. The depth ranges from 2-8 feet.
Our tour had about 20 people on a pontoon boat. The tour operator, Horicon Marsh Boat Tours, has been a family operation for over 50 years. The sunset tour starts with a little wine and cheese gathering where we met some of the other customers. One was a newly married couple from Chicago up visiting the area to consider buying some lake property. Another was a couple married for 62 years who live in a town about 10 miles away who had never taken the tour before. Our guide, Mark, is the current owner. He appeared very knowledgeable about birds and was identifying many of them by their calls since they were not always visible. We assumed he was accurate. Our tour takes us along the main channel and into some side bays. We saw bald eagles, pelicans, swallows, herons, kingfishers, etc. We saw more sandhill cranes earlier at the marsh, they are not wading birds.
Mark told us interesting facts about the creation of the marsh and its current happenings. For instance, during a major storm about 10 years ago a small group of pelicans were blown this way and the marsh now has a thriving population of them. Carp constitute the vast majority of the fish and due to their bottom feeding, they stir up sediment that makes the water look polluted, although it is not. Recently the trapping of muskrats were discontinued for (I believe) two years. When they re-instituted it, 400,000 were trapped in one season. Each pelt that year brought $10 on the open market. When the beaver population got too large, their foraging was damaging the tree growth and hunting had to be allowed to keep the balance between the two. Most importantly, the large number of insect-eating birds meant that the marsh tour was mosquito-free.
According to the 2010 census, Horicon has a population of 3655. It is home to a John Deere lawn and garden tractor factory. Boy, once we took the Deere combine factory tour in March, we seem to come across Deere everywhere. According to Mark, the tractors made here are the higher quality ones sold at dealers, not the ones sold at Wal-Mart, etc. The company has a good environmental record with its plant here. Another important note. Horicon has an ice cream store open until 9:30 so we stopped in after the tour and ate some of the Cedar Crest ice cream. This is very tasty ice cream made in Cedarburg WI, halfway between Sheboygan and Milwaukee. Our drive back to Appleton took about 75 minutes, but the ice cream gave us the sugar surge to stay awake.
On Sunday morning we made a second stop at Mary and Chuck’s house to chat before heading for home. Instead of returning on a southerly route, we returned via a northern route. We stopped in Waupaca to view one of only two remaining covered bridges in the state, a grist mill and a small chapel. The property is owned by a local couple who are refurbishing the grist mill into a gift shop. We stopped in Stevens Point afterwards to visit the WI Conservation Hall of Fame which we were not able to visit during our earlier stay. The drive home was through alternating periods of showers and sun.
Ed and Chris Sunday July 27 10:15 pm