Now that the holidays are behind us, I've been taking a breath and looking back at the past year. All the nature adventures, park strolls, and hikes in all four seasons. Last March was the 8th anniversary of The Park Next Door. At that time, there were 180 listings on the website. I set a goal to reach 200 by the end of May, and surpassed it by a few. At the end of 2022, there were 233 listings on the website, in addition to several new special features.
That's 53 new adventures taken, not including repeat trips to several local parks and preserves. I managed to fit in a few longer day trips, including a weekend trip to Door County last fall. Not a single outing disappointed. The weather may not have always cooperated, but no matter. Wisconsin is truly a natural beauty, no matter the weather or season.
In no particular order, here are some of my favorite highlights of 2022.
Discovering the ancient beauty of the Niagara Escarpment as it winds its way through the state, led us to three gorgeous parks: Ledge County Park, in Horicon, Oakfield Ledge State Natural Area, near Fond du Lac, and Cave Point County Park in Sturgeon Bay. Each one had it's special features, and natural drama.
Heading northeast to the Manitowoc/Two Rivers area, we visited three amazing landscapes. Van Der Brohe Arboretum, a retired golf course blossoming into a new nature preserve and arboretum; Cherney-Maribel Caves County Park, another beautiful park along the Niagara Escarpment with caves you can tour; and Woodland Dunes Nature Center & Preserve, a premium bird watching spot and educational center. There is so much nature to be enjoyed in this part of Wisconsin, I will definitely be going back.
The ongoing work of community members came together to create nature trails, preserves, and personal healing, at three first-time hikes. Eagle Nature Trail has been a labor of love in the community of Eagle, since 2009. Belle Reynolds Nature Trail in Oakfield has community roots beginning in 2002, and the Conservancy for Heritage & Healing was 17 years in the making, with its grand completion ceremony taking place in 2022. Here you will find not only nature trails, but a tranquil healing garden, and a unique chapel perfect for finding some moments of solace and peace.
Looking to add a bit of art to adventure led to two separate excursions. The first, at the height of summer blooming, to West Of The Lake Gardens in Manitowoc. The gardens infuse elements of mid-century modern design, and Asian garden design along the bluffs of Lake Michigan. There's definitely
a Hollywood in the 50's vibe here, along with some of the most well plotted out gardens in the area.
A second art in nature adventure took us to Steven's Point Sculpture Garden and nature trail in Steven's Point. In the early days of fall, the trail was colorful, and the art installations along the walking trail were unique in design and placement. If you're in the area, don't miss it.
An October hike at Hobbs Woods Nature Area in Fond du Lac, was one of the most memorable hikes of the year for me. Not only is Hobbs Woods incredibly beautiful, but we were accompanied on our hike that day by a local black cat. We covered about two miles on our hike with this Unexpected Companion with us every step of the way. It was, for me, a kind of magical experience. I think about it often. I'm certain she lives at a neighboring house or farm, and I hope to see, and hike with, her again one day.
Late summer and early fall introduced me to some amazing flower farms and cutting gardens in the area, and brought on an obsession with Zinnias. What an astoundingly beautiful flower! I can't wait to plant a cutting garden filled with them in our garden this coming summer. I doubt it will keep me from visiting the flower farms, though. The vast array of beautiful blooms they grow are a visual feast. Most of the flower farms have pick-your-own sunflower fields as well. It's hard not to be cheerful when walking through the tall maze of a sunflower field. Here are a few of my favorites.
I wouldn't go out of my way to plan a trip to Door County in the rain, but when rain happens, what can you do...my first trip to Door County was on a blustery, cold, rainy weekend in early November. Most of the bright fall color was already gone, but some of the russet tones were hanging on. And a walk through wet, leaf-laden woodland trails was manageable. The beauty of the state and local parks I visited still shone through, and I definitely plan to return. Whatever the weather. There's so much to see and do in Door County. If you haven't gone, I highly recommend it.
On the local...fall in Wisconsin is a sight to see. So I'm going to wrap up this favorites list with a few of the glorious local parks that were golder than golden this past autumn. They are beautiful, of course, in all seasons, but you might want to put them on your list of must-dos for next fall.
Kinsey Park, in Brookfield, is a small neighborhood park, with an exceptionally beautiful woodland trail behind it. It was absolutely stunning this past October. Lizard Mound State Park, in Farmington, was so incredibly dressed in gold this fall I gasped when we arrived. The autumn colors truly defined the sacred burial mounds in such a stunning way. The Forest Exploration Center, in Wauwatosa, is a popular spot in all seasons. But if you don't get there in fall, well, you're missing out. The Mukwonago River Unit of the Kettle Moraine State Forest, in Mukwonago, is often known as Rainbow Springs (it was once a resort). The lake at the river unit here is as clear as can be, and the fall colors along the trail and surrounding the lake are truly gorgeous. I know it's only January, but I'm looking forward to next fall!
A nature lover, bird watcher, wildlife fan, amateur photographer, humane gardener, traveler, and singer of songs. I've been keeping closer to home these days, and truly discovering the beauty that lies in TheParkNextDoor.