It’d been a year and a half since I’d been home to Wisconsin to see my family. To say I was excited would be an understatement. Kyle and I would only be visiting for a few days, but we didn’t have many activities planned so we (we being my brother Nicholas and I) opted for hiking every single day. The hikes we wanted to do, while numerous, were all super short (and of course flat), so I decided to continue what has become our monthly mini-hikes.
How many mini-hikes can you fit into three days? We did 10.
Saturday’s weather report called for scattered thunderstorms all over the southern half of the state. We checked the weather in each of the places on our list and Kettle Moraine had the lowest percent chance of rain. It was still around 40%, but most of the storms weren’t supposed to hit until later in the afternoon. We got an early start Saturday morning to try to beat the storms.
There are so many hiking trails in the Kettle Moraine that we found it difficult to choose which ones to do. We were more interested in the interpretive nature trails, which would take us to unique natural features and historical sites. But since there were still nearly 10 options, we decided to start at the north end and work our way south, hitting as many as we had time for. My parents decided to stay home, as they could only do one day of hiking, so it was just me, Kyle, and Nicholas.
And as a bonus, it turned out to be free state park weekend in Wisconsin, so we didn’t have to pay for a state park pass. Woohoo! (Normally, since we have an out of state license plate, we would have to pay $11/day to visit the state parks.)
Scuppernong Springs Nature Trail | Kettle Moraine Southern Unit
Dousman, WI | 06/01/19 | 1.81 miles | 84′ gain
First up, Scuppernong Springs. Even though we’d arrived early, the sky still looked ominous. Maybe the rain would miss us? We downloaded the online interpretive brochure (they were out of paper copies at the trailhead) and started down the trail. We kept an eye out for the numbered markers along the trail that would indicate where to stop and read a section of the brochure. Even though we were looking closely for the markers, we missed a few, so we believed that some were either missing or possibly just overgrown.
Scuppernong is the Ho-Chunk word for “sweet scented land”. Native Americans lived in the area and used the Scuppernong Marsh, River and Springs for fresh water and food. Back then, the marsh was much larger than it is today, but eventually the land was developed for farming and business.
The most obvious evidence of development along the trail is the marl plant. Marl is a gray/white soil that is rich in lime (calcium carbonate). It was formed by an aquatic plant called chara that existed in glacial lakes. Chara extracted calcium carbonate from the water, and as the plants died, created a layer of limy deposits on the bottom of the lake. This limy ooze eventually turned into marl, which was later (much later) harvested and used in fertilizer and mortar.
In addition to the Native Americans and marl plant workers, many others used this area of the Scuppernong Marsh. The area’s springs and river supported fur trapping, a trout hatchery, a sawmill, a hotel, and cranberry farming. Evidence of the land’s other uses are not as obvious as the large concrete wall of the marl plant, but smaller remnants can be found in the area.
By the time we reached the Native American campsite, it had started to sprinkle, and then lightning flashed across the marsh. And it was CLOSE. The resulting thunder was deafening, the loudest I’d ever heard. Even though we were already halfway around the loop, we knew we’d want to take our time going through the other half in order to learn about the area. We decided to turn back the way we’d come and we raced back to the car. By the time we reached the car, the rain was pouring down with no signs of letting up. We made the decision to come back later to finish, and we went to the Forest Headquarters which had a small museum and gift shop we could peruse until the rain let up. (Scroll down to read about the Forest Headquarters and trails we visited before returning to Scuppernong Springs.)
After a detour to see the museum and a few other trails, we came back to Scuppernong and were greeted by blue skies. We decided to go the opposite way on the loop so we’d see the new stuff first, then we could quickly return down the other side.
This side of the loop contained numerous springs and a few historical sites that weren’t obvious to our untrained eyes. It was worth coming back to see, but definitely not as cool as the marl plant. Many of the springs are down short side trails, so if you want to see them (and you should) you will need to go down each side trail marked with the spring’s name.
It was fun watching the springs bubble up out of the ground and move sediments around. It looked like little creatures moving around underground. We wondered if the white sediments in the springs were marl?
Forest Headquarters Museum, Stony Ridge Nature Trail, & Pond Trail | Kettle Moraine Southern Unit
Eagle, WI | 06/01/19 | ~1.10 miles | ~200′ gain
After the rain kicked us out of the Scuppernong, we visited the small Forest Headquarters Museum. They had a number of exhibits about the area including glacial history, Native American history, and wildlife. They also had a small gift shop and a bathroom.
As we explored the museum, the rain stopped and the sun came out. There were two nature trails starting at the headquarters: the Stony Ridge Nature Trail and a short Pond Trail. We did both but I forgot to start my tracker on Strava so I can only guess at the true length and elevation gain (darn it!) Neither the Stony Ridge nor Pond Trail had brochures, but they did have interpretive signs along the trail where we learned about Stony Ridge’s glacial history.
The Stony Ridge Nature Trail climbs up Stony Ridge, a glacial moraine. Moraines are formed as glaciers retreat, dumping gravel in a series of ridges. Stony Ridge is made up entirely of these small stones. Another glacial deposit found on Stony Ridge is called an erratic. An erratic is a boulder dropped off by a glacier in an entirely different location than where it was formed.
After our lovely glacial tour of Stony Ridge, we dropped down the other side and into a meadow. We eventually wound our way back around Stony Ridge and returned to the trailhead.
The Pond Trail started just across from the Stony Ridge Trail, so we hit that next. It was super short (~0.1 mile) and great for all ability levels. A boardwalk went out into the pond a little bit, and offered a nice view. There are numerous ponds in the Kettle Moraine region called kettles, named so because they are often round and very deep, shaped just like a kettle that people used to cook with!
Paradise Springs Nature Trail & Gotten Log Cabin| Kettle Moraine Southern Unit
Eagle, WI | 06/01/19 | 1.12 miles | 45′ gain
Paradise Springs was on the way from the Forest Headquarters back to Scuppernong Springs, so we stopped quick to walk the nature trail and explore the Gotten log cabin. From what I’d seen online, this trail was extremely popular, so I was a little worried about getting a parking spot in the small lot, but we needn’t have worried. The rains were keeping everyone away and the lot was nearly empty.
We first walked across the street to visit the Gotten log cabin. A few interpretive signs talked about the history of the cabin and how it was built. In the 1850s, Henry Gotten, a Prussian immigrant built the log cabin using nearby white oak. His livestock helped him bring the logs over to the build site, but otherwise the cabin was built entirely by hand!
There was a short side trail near the cabin that led to an overlook on the marsh. The interpretive signs at this overlook were so sun damaged they were nearly impossible to read, but we enjoyed the wide open views and listened to a nearby pair of sandhill cranes bugling.
After our quick detour, we headed back to the Paradise Springs Nature Trail, downloaded the online interpretive brochure (there were paper copies but we decided the online version worked fine), and set off down the short, paved trail. This trail is paved for ADA access, so anyone can access this unique area.
The property has been used for commercial purposes since the late 1800s, and has had numerous wealthy owners ever since. Each owner had different ideas for what the property should offer, but the recurring theme was luxury.
The below stairs are all that remains of the last spring water bottling plant at Paradise Springs. The plant closed in the 1960s.
The workers pumped water from the springhouse (below) to the bottling plant. Built in the 1930s, this springhouse has stood the test of time, only missing it’s original copper dome roof. The springhouse covers Paradise Springs, yet another natural spring in this area. Paradise Springs pumps out 500 gallons of water per minute. That is a big spring!
Paradise Creek was dammed, thus creating Paradise Pond. The pond was stocked with trout and a resort hotel was built as a vacation retreat.
Other features of the resort included a pavilion, wading pool, horse track, and shuffleboard court. Some evidence of each of these still exists, though most of the buildings have been removed.
We finished up the Scuppernong Springs loop (from the very top of this post) after Paradise Springs, then had lunch in the town of Eagle. We attempted a 4th nature trail after lunch but the rains came back and forced us home early. I am looking forward to returning to the Kettle Moraine to check out the nature trails that we missed!