Thursday, January 26, 2017

Backcountry: For The Forest


I’ve become very wary of posting my opinions, particularly those relating to politics, and the environment, on THE social media outlet (you know the one I mean), not because I can’t deal with constructive criticism, but because for some of my supposed friends, particularly long-time friends who have known my political views since we were in high school, have spewed some pretty virulent attacks on me in recent days, and upped their game to “destructive criticism”.

The new president of this country is going to change things up quite a bit. Nobody is denying that on either side of the fence. While I am a social and fiscal conservative, when it comes to the backcountry, I am probably best described by the line from the song “Smokey the Bear”; “But don’t you harm the trees, for he’s a Ranger in his heart.” I have also heard it said, “You can take the Ranger out of the forest, but you can’t take the forest out of the Ranger.” It was for this reason that I continue to staunchly oppose the Minnesota DNR’s Division of Ecological Services plans to turn Sand Dunes State Forest, where I used to work, into an Oak Savanna Prairie by removing thousands of red and white pine trees.

As I have written here, and other places, one of my conservation heroes is the first Chief of the US Forest Service, Gifford Pinchot. In addition to being the first Chief of the Forest Service, Pinchot also served as two-term governor of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and president of Penn State University, where my father went to college. He was, along with Carl Schenk, the first to bring the science of forestry to the United States in the late 1800s, and his oft-quoted philosophy of “The Greatest Good” (“Where conflicting interests must be reconciled, the question shall always be answered from the standpoint of the greatest good for the greatest number, in the long run.”) has guided me not just in my conservation efforts, but in many of the other things I do as well.

Forestry is a very adaptive process. No one procedure, technique, or application is going to work for every piece of forest land. This applies, among other things, to the differentiation between, “wilderness” and “backcountry”. Last year in this space, I wrote a piece on how I believe that mountain bikes could or should be allowed in certain wilderness areas, with certain reservations. It was the single most read post I have published in the 11 years that I have been doing this blog, with over 1000 hits. What I said in that post reflects my “greatest good” philosophy. It doesn’t fit in every place, or apply to every wilderness area.

I came to a couple of realizations last week while visiting the Chequamegon National Forest in Northwest Wisconsin. I braved some very icy road conditions off of the major highways, to try my hand at a little stream fishing just north of the Porcupine Lake Wilderness Area, northeast of Cable. In fact, I parked in the parking area for people visiting the Wilderness, crossed the road and fished and took pictures of 18 Mile Creek in what, back in New York, we would have simply called “Wild Forest”. The US Forest Service, like most government agencies, loves to put big titles on things, so the area is known as the “18 Mile Creek Semi- Primitive, Non-Motorized Management Area”, which is a step down from true wilderness. The biggest difference between a “semi-primitive, non-motorized, management area” and a “wilderness” area is that you can use mechanize transport, i.e. mountain bikes in the semi-primitive area. I mean it is just on the other side of the road from the wilderness, the terrain is the same, the forest is the same, and the river runs through it.
 
The realizations I came to are these; First of all, I am totally sick of all the politics and the mean-spirited, no, scratch that, downright nasty things that people are saying to each other in the aftermath of the presidential election. The other thing that I realize is that at my age, other than casting my vote and on occasion writing my representatives in Congress, who probably won’t listen to me anyhow, because I don’t have the dollars to back me up, there’s not a lot that I can really do. What I can do is continue to be a good steward of, and advocate for the Backcountry.

Whether you call it backcountry, wild forest, semi-primitive non-motorized management area, or wilderness, America as a nation is blessed with an abundance of wild places, and there are those, unfortunately primarily on the Republican side of the aisle, who would sell those off to the highest bidder. I am a member, in fact a Minnesota board member and Habitat Watch Volunteer with an organization called Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, and we’re the ones along with the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, Trout Unlimited (of which I’m also a member), and a new organization made up of many of the major manufacturers and distributors of outdoor recreational equipment called the Outdoor Industry Association are pressing back. The threats to our public lands are very real, and those in Congress who are inclined to believe that the new administration will back them up when they tried to sell our public lands may be surprised when they realize that President Trump has pledged publicly, to “Uphold the legacy of Theodore Roosevelt.” That legacy is our public lands.

Public lands are our American heritage. The only thing that politicians recognize more than $$ is the power of the ballot. Not only do we need to vote, but we need to let our representatives at both the state and federal level, know that we vote, and how we vote. That we vote in support of keeping public lands in public hands.

The other thing that came to me while standing along that creekside in northern Wisconsin was this; I am going to learn that creek, and 20 Mile Creek which is adjacent to it, and I am going to learn them so well that by the end of the season I will be able to serve as a backcountry guide again.

And we’ll do it on fat bikes!

Proceeding on…
2WX

Sunday, January 22, 2017

An Adventure by Train

During December I spent five nights sleeping in railroad cars. Three of those nights are spent at the Northern Railcar Inn, in Two Harbors, Minnesota, great place to stay, but that’s another story. Two of them were actually spent on real moving trains, as in railroads, riding Amtrak from St. Paul to Washington DC to visit family and friends, and back.

I’m not exactly new to travel by train. In 1996 and ‘97 while serving as a missionary in Northwestern Russia, the only way to get to and from St. Petersburg to Petrozavodsk was by rail, and seemingly all the trains from one city to the other seemed to run at night. While that may not be relevant in July, it certainly puts a damper on any plans to sightsee from the train in October. Petrozavodsk lies a mere 200 miles from the Arctic Circle, basically the same latitude as Anchorage, Alaska. Generally, there were four people assigned to each room on the train, which may or may not be anyone you are traveling with or even know. More on that later.

Previous to that, while I was in high school I attended a year of private school in New Jersey, while my father’s office was in New York City, directly above Pennsylvania Station. So any time there was a break in the school schedule I would take the train from Trenton to New York and then fly home on Mohawk Airlines with my dad. Then there were two trips in my childhood, where I traveled from Syracuse to summer camp in the Adirondacks on the old New York Central railroad. That was cool.

I have to say that none of these previous excursions measured up to my experience on Amtrak. Although I used to love to fly, and even was well toward my private pilot’s license when a tragic accident dissuaded me from flying myself, and the development of the Transportation Security Agency (TSA) in our nation’s airports, together with the abysmal and expensive parking, crowds, uncomfortable seating conditions, and lack of services on the airlines today soured my taste for air travel. Amtrak answered all that for me.

Typical Roomette
Coach seating on Amtrak is equivalent to first-class seating on any airliner. Not only that but you are free, in fact encouraged, to get up, walk around, visit the cafĂ© car, the observation car and generally relax. Sleeper Class, Roomette service, which is what I chose from Chicago to Washington and back, is way beyond first-class or business class on any airline. Not only do you get a comfy room with two facing seats, again as wide as any first-class airplane seating, but unlike Russia, unless you are traveling with someone you get the room to yourself. In the evening a passenger car attendant will turn down your bed (basically making the two seats into a comfortable 6 ½ foot long bed) and if there are two of you in the roomette, lower the upper bunk and set it up as well. Another nice thing about roomette, room and state room service is that all of your meals are included in the price. So if you are making the 17 hour trip from Chicago to Washington DC, you are going to get an excellent dinner, a hot breakfast and lunch included with your accommodation. The seating is very comfortable, each roomette has a large picture window, electrical plug for chargers or laptop, individual temperature controls, privacy curtains and a door. Basically you can stay in your room the entire trip and never be bothered by anyone except the car attendant and the conductor, except when you go for meals or to use the restroom.

Another perk of traveling in Sleeper Class is that you get to utilize the very posh Metro Lounge at Chicago’s Union Station. If you have to wait three or four hours for your connection, this is a great place to do it! They have free snacks, beverages and if you’re there at the right time, you can participate in wine tasting, sample various domestic cheeses, or enjoy chocolate truffles. The airlines could really learn something from the railroad, but I don’t think that’s going to happen. The Metro Lounge is brand-new, having opened shortly before Christmas of 2016. Speaking of Christmas, since I was traveling two weeks before the holiday it was fun to see, in both St. Paul and Chicago, the Polar Express excursion rides set up for families to celebrate the season. Chicago’s was particularly noteworthy in that there was a three-quarter sized Polar Express engine set up in the Great Hall of the railroad station, and children and in some cases entire families, would wander by dressed in pajamas and have their pictures taken with the replica before boarding the excursion train for a half hour ride up the Lake Michigan shoreline.

Chicago's Polar Express
There are some drawbacks to traveling by train on the Amtrak system. First of all, Amtrak does not own the tracks they roll on. Those are owned by the respective Class 1 railroad freight carriers, such as CSX, Canadian Pacific, BNSF and Norfolk Southern, so their trains have priority over the Amtrak passenger trains. This often causes the Amtrak trains to be delayed and that is something you need to factor into your travel plans. Other issues such as weather, which might ground airline flights are not as much an issue on the train, although snow can cause delays. We experienced that going from St. Paul to Chicago, and to a lesser extent from Chicago to Washington, primarily from Chicago to Cleveland, Ohio. If you look at the Facebook groups about Amtrak travel, usually grouped under the name of a particular train, such as the Empire Builder or Capital Limited, most of the complaints have to do with timeliness.

Another drawback is that surprisingly few Amtrak trains have Wi-Fi on them. From what I could figure out looking at the literature, is primarily those trains serving Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York City and Boston that have Internet, while the rest of the country waits for trains that are equipped with the appropriate equipment. I made up for this myself, by bringing a portable hotspot, but there were some spots notably in the Appalachian Mountains that there was no cell service and hence the hotspot didn’t do anything either. According to the National, Amtrak’s in-house magazine, they are working to correct this but there is no timeline as to when it will be universally available.

I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed the trip. I had no reason to be in a hurry, and decided to try Amtrak. I was hooked. I’m a fan. If the train is going where I am going, from now on I’m taking the train. Taking the above comments in consideration, I would suggest looking at Amtrak as a way to get wherever you’re going as long as time is not of the essence.

One other note: I love author Clive Cussler's Isaac Bell series of adventure novels, most of which involve trains to some extent, and some are railroad themed. They make great reading (or listening to the audiobook) while having a railroad adventure of your own!

(Some photos courtesy of Amtrak.)

Next week it’s back to topics about the Backcountry.

Proceeding on…
2WX






Friday, January 06, 2017

A Visit to Mercy Street

As anyone who has followed my blog or Facebook page for any period of time can attest, I have a multitude of interests, some minor and some passionate. One of my more passionate interests is the history of prehospital medical care, or more correctly extra-hospital medical care since in the very early days there were not hospitals as we know them today. Having been directly or indirectly involved with prehospital care all of my adult life, I have seen huge changes in the field since I took my first EMT class in 1973. But having grown up in the Northeast, with the early history of this country surrounding me, from the days of the French and Indian War through the Revolutionary War to the Civil War I’ve become very conscious of the fact that medical care as we practice it today in the prehospital setting has very strong roots in the history of this nation.

I have said a number of times that Meriwether Lewis and William Clark were the first paramedics in the United States, long before Johnny and Roy graced our TV sets on “Emergency!”. In preparation for the Corps of Discovery, President Thomas Jefferson sent Lewis to Philadelphia to study under the esteemed physician, Dr. Benjamin Rush, who Jefferson considered to be one of the most enlightened men of the 18th century. That time, combined with Lewis’s knowledge of holistic methods, which he learned from his mother Lucy Marks, and the medical training given every officer in the Army at that time, put him in good stead to take care of his men during the expedition. Similarly, William Clark learned to take care of other family members, (the Clark family was very large) from his mother, Mary Rogers Clark, and also had the training given to Army officers of the time. I have three books about the medical history of the Corps of Discovery on my “Lewis and Clark” bookshelves, and the title of the first book published really synopsizes the contents of all three; “Only One Man Died”.

Looking up "Mercy Street"
Last month, (December, 2016) I had the opportunity to travel by rail (which will be the topic of next week’s blog) from Minnesota to Washington DC, to visit my mother, sisters and their families, and an old friend. My mom currently lives in the Alexandria, VA, area, having moved from upstate New York a number of years ago. Alexandria happens to be the setting for the wonderful PBS TV series, “Mercy Street”, and is one of the program’s sponsors. When my wife and I were in the city in 2015, Carlyle House, the museum most directly associated with Mercy Street and the Manor House Hospital, was undergoing remodeling from the filming of the series first season, so we did not get to tour it. This trip, I was able to tour Carlyle House, the first floor of which is devoted to the Carlyle family, who built the original mansion. The second floor Is devoted to the Green family, who owned the property and the Manor House Hotel, which was taken over by the Union army as a hospital, during the Civil War. In fact, the title of Mercy Street is derived from the street that runs from where Manor House Hotel/Hospital once stood to the Potomac River, and was called “Mercy Street” because it was the quickest route to get the injured from hospital boats to the hospital.

Image courtesy of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine
In talking with the docent who led our tour, and the museum’s curator, they suggested that I would enjoy a visit to the National Museum of Civil War Medicine in Frederick, Maryland. Since I was going to Maryland the following day to visit one of my best friends from high school, I figured I could add a few miles to the unlimited mileage on my rental car and take in the museum. Unfortunately, our lunch and reminiscing took somewhat longer than I expected, which combined with a system failure in my phone’s navigation app, cause me to arrive only 35 minutes before the museum closed for the day. I decided to go ahead and take in what I could and limited time frame, and I’m glad I did.

Although I only got to go through the first floor of the two floor Museum, I was impressed with the exhibits I was able to take in, particularly the very first diorama, which showed a doctor administering care to a wounded soldier in the field. Next to the doctor manikin was his medical bag, containing numerous bottles and vials of primarily morphine as well as other drugs. I was struck by the similarity between the medical kit carried by Meriwether Lewis, the “jump kits” we carry on the ambulance today, and the field kit used by this doctor in the 1860s. Also of note was the fact that some of the medications that were used back in the 1860s, most notably morphine, are still in common use today on paramedic ambulances today. Morphine and laudanum were also staples of Meriwether Lewis’ medical kit, 60 years earlier. Fortunately, by 1863 the infamous Rush’s Rockets, a mercury-based purgative of great effect, were no longer to be found in medical usage.

Lewis' 1803 medical kit 
It is also interesting to note that field medical care in the 1860s, as well as on the Corps of Discovery, is still very closely tied to what we now call “wilderness medicine”. All of the elements of modern wilderness care could be found on the battlefield during the Civil War, and certainly along the journey from St. Louis to the Pacific Ocean and back in the early 1800s. Extended patient contact, environmental extremes (after all it was a battlefield), limited and/or improvised equipment and medication, and lack of effective communication, the things that define wilderness medical care as opposed to urban/suburban emergency treatment, were all part of taking care of any injury or illness back in those days.

As usual, during the winter I have my road/touring bike, Discovery, set up on a track-stand in the family room downstairs in front of the television. Prompted by my visit to the museum, and the upcoming second season of “Mercy Street”, I am currently peddling my way through the first season of the show with a fresh insight into the actual conditions that doctors and nurses and others dealt with during the War Between the States. Frederick, where the museum is located, was described in one report from after the battle of Antietam as, “one massive hospital”. I am looking forward to going back sometime this coming spring or fall, hopefully with my bike, and visiting the locations that were highlighted in the museum, as well as on “Mercy Street”. In the meantime, if you have the opportunity and happen to be in or near Frederick, Maryland, the museum is located at 48 East Patrick St. and is certainly worth the time to visit and tour. Just remember to get there more than 35 minutes before they close at 5 PM!

Proceeding on…

2WX





Friday, December 09, 2016

BHA Habitat Watch Report-2016: Year of the Storms

If you are going to go anywhere, on foot, on mountain bike, or canoe, expect to do a lot of bushwhacking. Regardless of which side of Lake Superior you are on, this was the year the winds took down the trees.

I am the Backcountry Hunters and Anglers Habitat Watch volunteer for the Superior National Forest and the Lake Superior watershed. Since the Lake Superior watershed also includes parts of Wisconsin, Michigan and the province of Ontario, and since I spend a fairly substantial amount of time on the Chequamegon National Forest in Wisconsin every year, realistically I consider myself the Habitat Watch person for the entire western end of the lake. Unfortunately, this year it doesn’t matter. The Kokapelli winds wreaked havoc with the entire region at one point or another, this past spring and summer.

As I explained to the MN- BHA board when I accepted this assignment, I am more of an angler than I am a hunter. (Although it could be argued that I am not much of an angler either.) Be that as it may, access affects all of us who use the backcountry, whether it’s for hunting, fishing, hiking, canoeing, mountain biking, any activity.

Although an earlier storm caused significant damage in the Isabella area of Superior National Forest, it paled in comparison to the devastation left in the wake of the storms of July 11th and 21st. From the eastern and of the Chippewa National Forest through Duluth and Minnesota’s Arrowhead region, and on the south shore, battering the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest’s western reaches so badly that the forest shutdown most of its northern areas. The damage on the Minnesota side resulted in numerous roads and trails being blocked by blowdown, as well as raised water levels in lakes, streams, rivers and even bogs.

I’m going to concentrate more on the damage done on the Chequamegon side, because it had a tremendous impact not only on the habitat, but also on the people of Douglas, Bayfield and Ashland Counties. Although a dozen or so campers were evacuated from the Boundary Waters Canoe Area following the July 21st storm, in Bayfield County three people died and 11 or injured during the passage of the two storms. It is estimated that 12 to 15 inches of rain fell on July 11th in about four hours time. This created tremendous pressure on the rivers and streams of the region, producing considerable erosion and in some cases re-creation of existing waterways. One trout fishing guide whom I am friends with, said that the Marengo River in Bayfield County, WI, (one of my most favorite trout streams) is now a totally different stream that it was on July 10th. Twenty Mile Creek, a class one trout stream, cut through over 30 feet of asphalt, gravel, and dirt on US Highway 63 north of Grand View, leaving only the bare concrete culvert structure, and taking the life of an elderly motorist and nearly killing the deputy sheriff who attempted to rescue her.

In addition to the major roadways near Grand View, Marengo and High Point, forest roads took the brunt of the storm’s fury. Even as I write this on December 5th, several Forest Roads on the Chequamegon remain closed, and will likely stay that way until early summer of 2017. The access road to the Beaver Lake Campground, a popular destination with bear and deer hunters was totally washed away, closing the campground for the season. Much of the forest remained closed and inaccessible until mid-November, and was actively patrolled by Forest Law Enforcement Officers, state Conservation Wardens and sheriff’s deputies who issued citations to those who entered the area without authorization. 

On the Superior National Forest, attempting to access a number of trout lakes and streams in the Isabella and Sawbill Trail areas also proved challenging, and at times prohibitive. At one lake I observed moose tracks that tried to enter the blowdown to get to the water a several different points before the animal broke through. Trying to access (politically incorrect) Redskin Lake on my Cogburn bike, a USFS fire lane was impossible. Pancore Lake was a in similar state.

The massive rainfall has produced another issue on standing water. Lakes, ponds and bogs are overflowing, making passage difficult for man and beast. Add to the high water levels, a very thriving beaver population and many roads, trails and game paths are under water.

The Forest Service has advised me that they are, and have been working on these issues since the storms (both Superior NF and Chequamegon NF) and hope to have things in better shape. Until the fire season required crews to go out west and then to the southeastern US, fire crews were dealing with the blowdown issue on roads and popular hiking trails, along with qualified volunteers.

I do receive SOPA (Schedule of Proposed Actions) and permit/variance reports for the Superior, Chequamegon-Nicolet and Chippewa National Forests, and similar information from the MN and WI Departments of Natural Resources. Other than the mining issue that we have all been dealing with, and the MN trout stream classification changes that I posted and sent out, there has not been much that would have a direct, or even indirect effect on fish and wildlife habitat. It should be noted that MN Trout Unlimited (of which I am also a member) is actively working with the DNR to preserve some of the streams scheduled to be delisted, citing the great success they have had with the Vermillion River in the Farmington area, at bringing back “dead” streams.

Going forward, we are going to have to remain vigilant. The new administration is going to bring about changes, both good and bad. It is too early and unfair to say that just because the Republicans are in control that the environment is going to go to hell in a hand-basket. There will be challenges, but the President-Elect has pledged to “Honor the legacy of Teddy Roosevelt”, and if he holds to that, it can’t be a bad thing. (TR is one of my heroes.)

Respectfully submitted,
Trailpatrol
MN-BHA Habitat Watch Volunteer

Isanti, MN

Monday, October 17, 2016

The Official Fat Bike of Fall


The truth be told, I’m not a real good fisherman. A good part of it is simply lack of practice and lack of adequate instruction. During the 26 years that I was a Park Ranger I rarely took time to do any fishing, and when I did it was with my ultralight equipment that I bought in the Adirondacks, 35 years ago. I used to really enjoy fishing in the trout stream behind our cabin in the Adirondacks, or in Fall Creek below our home in McLean. And when my father-in-law was still alive, and we went to their home in East Texas I usually joined him in some bass fishing. Ironically, when we moved to Minnesota where the walleye is king, and trout streams are few and far between, I pretty much put away my fly rods and even my ultralight pack rods, except to teach my granddaughters how to fish.

In the past year two things have changed that. One is my retirement from the Minnesota DNR, and the other is my Cogburn CB4 fat bike. Although I have another job, and my EMS/STS training business, I now have more time to devote to fishing. I have even become active in organizations such as Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, and Trout Unlimited. You could say that retiring gave me the time, and the Cogburn gave me access.

Cogburn Outdoors is a division of the cycling giant, Quality Bicycle Products (QBP), headquartered in Bloomington Minnesota. QBP was the first bicycle manufacturer to embrace fat bikes, back in the early to mid-2000s with the introduction of the Surly Pugsley. Fat bikes had their origin in Alaska and a transplanted Minnesotan brought the idea back to Quality, who did more than take it and run with it; they created three separate divisions, Surly, Salsa and Cogburn, to design and market the wide-tired mountain bikes.

Of the three, Cogburn is the one specifically geared toward the outdoor sportsmen, primarily hunters and fishing enthusiasts. With it’s custom wrapped frames featuring camouflage from Realtree, Kuiu and First Lite, internal cable routing, exceptionally low gear ranging, and of course the 4-inch wide tires, Cogburn’s CB4 aptly deserves its self-created description as a “human powered all-terrain vehicle designed to take hunters and anglers far into the backcountry quickly and quietly.” That last section of the description is what “hooked” me. I had the use of a Surly Pugsley for the year prior to my test-riding the Cogburn for the first time, and although they share the same tires and front fork, the aluminum Cogburn handles like a totally different machine. It was “love at first ride.”

The thing I keep telling people who ask me about my Cogburn, is that it puts the fun back in bicycling. Not that I don’t enjoy riding my Volcanic mountain bike and Bianchi touring/road bike any less, but riding the Cogburn is like being a kid on your first bicycle. Even my daughter, who I hate to admit is in her 40s, had this huge grin on her face the first time she rode the Cogburn. It is, quite simply, a fun bike to ride. My year on the Pugsley taught me how to manage tire pressure, so I keep the tires at 10 to 15 pounds in the spring, summer and fall, and 5 to 10 pounds on snow in the winter. The drive train is Shimano Deore 2 x 10 speed, which obviously is not the best Shimano offers but is perfectly adequate for this application. I find I use the small ring whenever I am on less defined trails and forest roads, and the large front ring on gravel and paved roads and trails. As most people who have ridden with me know, I am not in this for speed or competition, so this set up works fine for me.

At the time that I bought my bike, QBP was going through some redesigns on their cargo racks, so I opted for a Blackburn Outpost rack and cages on the bike and they have worked out extremely well. When I decided to get the Cogburn Gear Carrier to tote my cased fly rod, the Blackburn rack took a little engineering finesse, but I have had it working really well ever since. While I am talking about the gear carrier, the one drawback to the whole Cogburn system is the clamps that hold the carrier to the cargo rack. They are small, they require the use of an Allen wrench, and it is very easy to lose pieces, because you almost have to stand on your head to get the clamps in place. To be honest, I do not keep the gear carrier on the bike because it will not fit in the back of my truck with it on, and if I put it on the rear rack,  it sticks up above the topper thereby affecting gas mileage. So when I am in the field, putting all these little pieces together, inevitably I lose something. I would like to see Cogburn offer accessory packs containing extra clamps, bolts and nuts, and different sized gear brackets, but that’s just me.

Although I ride my Cogburn year-round, off and on, I have dubbed it “the official fat-bike of fall.” Whether it’s backcountry fishing on the Chequamegon or Superior National Forests, or simply leaf-peeping in nearby County parks, for me fall seems to be the season when the Cogburn really shines. It is also a fantastic “bikefishing” vehicle. Over this past summer the National Forests I frequent were subjected to severe windstorms that left much blowdown. Forest Roads into numerous designated trout lakes and trails along my favorite rivers were often impenetrable by truck, but with a little work I could almost always get the Cogburn through. It’s really nice on a sunny fall day to be able to skirt the blowdown, and go into a backcountry lake, knowing that if you see anyone at all, it’s because they either hiked in or were on a mountain bike themselves.

The Cogburn is not inexpensive, but it is worth every penny. It is an extremely versatile bicycle and as I said earlier extremely fun to ride. As much as I like my custom Volcanic Vx7 patrol mountain bike, if the Cogburn had come out a year earlier I may never have ordered the Volcanic. (Yeah, I would have. You really can’t beat the comfort of a custom – built bike.) If you are somebody who would use in ATV for utilitarian purposes rather than sport riding, and if, like me, you prefer human – powered transportation, then I would encourage you to check out the Cogburn at your local QBP bike shop. Okay, I admit you’re not going to haul a full-grown bull elk out of the Montana backcountry with it, but it is going to take you farther and faster than on foot, and quieter and cleaner than using a motorized vehicle. I still may not be the best trout fisherman in the world, or even the neighborhood, but at least with my Cogburn Outdoors CB4, I am getting out there more often!

Proceeding on,

Trailpatrol


Monday, September 05, 2016

Stream Fisheries Report from the WI DNR Following the Devastating July Floods

20 Mile Creek near Grand View, pre-flood. This was one of the streams most heavily impacted by the storms.
Below you will find  a report on the condition of the stream fisheries in Ashland, Bayfield and Iron Counties in NW Wisconsin by Zachary Lawson of the WI DNR, following my inquiry about stream conditions. The good news is that's it not all bad news:


Pre/Post catastrophic flood comparison of trout stream assessments in Iron/Ashland County streams
Severe storms on July 11 and 12 of 2016 set records in Ashland and Iron Counties for the largest flooding event ever recorded in the area. In some areas it is being recognized as a 100 year storm and in others more toward the 1,000 year mark. Regardless of the classification, the storm had catastrophic impacts on the landscape. Local infrastructure and private property took a heavy hit as mudslides, record-high water, life-threatening flows, uprooted trees, road materials, and large debris scoured the riverine floodplains in Northern Ashland and Iron Counties. While this storm clearly had a tremendous visible impact on many of our waterways, it left many wondering: What about the fish in those waters? Maybe folks haven’t had time to get out and chase our favorite finned-quarry, maybe they had written the fisheries off completely, or maybe some are just curious about what such a powerful storm would do to the organisms that call these waterways home. Thus, starting on July 23, the Mercer Wisconsin DNR Fisheries Management crew began assessing impacts of the flood on our local fisheries. Survey results showed that most of the fisheries were in good shape; below we have electrofishing results from individual sites surveyed in the impacted area, a summary length-frequency distribution of all individuals surveyed within each respective system, and a few pictures depicting key notes from the assessment work.

First of all, pre-post flood habitat assessments show that local streams and rivers are changed. Quantitative measures showed that quality habitat remained similar between pre and post flood time periods in most headwater creeks (i.e. unnamed headwater tributary streams). As you travel downstream along these creeks to larger streams that have multiple smaller creeks flowing into them, we noticed that these areas are noticeably impacted (i.e. City Creek in Mellen). Essentially stream channels were cut down to bedrock, uprooted-trees and large pieces of debris were deposited in or near the stream (creating instream structure), but banks became more unstable and near-shore areas were less-heavily vegetated in the floodplain (setting the stage for future erosion concerns). We observed similar trends continuing downstream into the larger river ways (i.e. Marengo River), only the aforementioned flood effects were magnified. In summary, smaller systems remained relatively unchanged. In larger systems, we observed changes – some for the better and some for the worse (better exposed rock for quality spawning habitat and more instream cover, but less near-shore cover to provide shading during summertime and potential erosion problems). Additionally, the largest changes occurred at stream crossings. Although some sites have been restored in the process of reconstruction, future project work will address unnatural debris that was deposited in or near many of our local aquatic resources.

As previously mentioned, we sampled fish populations in a variety of types of systems across the impacted area. Headwater streams seemed to remain relatively unaffected by the flooding (see Unnamed tributary to Vaughn Creek, or City Creek). We observed similar catch rates (fish/mile), similar size structure (primarily young-of-the-year or ‘baby’ brook trout, many young adults, and a few larger harvestable size individuals), and similar species composition (a few forage species accompanying brook trout, i.e. mottled sculpins). In many of the mid-sized streams (see Devil’s Creek, Vaughn Creek, Trout Brook), we observed similar trout densities. Perhaps a few of these mid-sized stream reaches contained slightly fewer fish following the large flood event, but were close to pre flood numbers and for the most part, these systems as a whole looked pretty good. We noticed plenty of adult sized fish that will provide angling opportunities today, but more importantly we observed good densities of juvenile trout which will carry these fisheries into the future. Many studies have shown that large flooding events (100-500 year events) will reduced densities of adult fish and completely wipe-out younger year classes. In these situations, the ‘seed’ or remaining adult population will take 3-6 years to fully recover from catastrophic events. However, in the case of the Ashland/Iron County systems, not only is there plenty of adult ‘seed’ to carry the population; we shouldn’t have many missing year classes since it appears that plenty of juveniles survived flood conditions. Finally, in some of the larger systems (see Marengo River), we observed similar abundances of trout in the few areas sampled. Perhaps the most promising aspect of these numbers is that survey conditions were hindered by poor visibility, so there were likely more trout present than detected in the survey. All-in-all, local fisheries remain in pretty good shape. We no doubt lost a few fish here-and-there during the catastrophic flooding of July 11/12, but miraculously, fish populations prevailed. It was encouraging to see all species and all size classes of those respective species still present in the streams sampled.

It is hard to believe that a 2.5” fish can survive in a raging river that has the power to move a dwelling or tear towering trees from nearby streambanks. While it seems impossible, we must remember that these species have evolved in these high-gradient and flashy environments for millions of years, and as such, have the capacity to cope both extreme and rapidly changing environments. The fish populations in our local waterways are no exception and proved resilient to the catastrophic flooding from July 11/12. While the local environment was altered, our fisheries remain intact. There is still plenty of fishing season left to go – and by far the best and most enjoyable right around the corner. For those that enjoy trout fishing in the area, get out and hit your favorite hole-you may just have a new log or two to step over on your way to the river.   

Vaughn Creek Brook Trout Catch Per Unit Effort (#/mile)
Year
Hwy. 169
Curry Rd.
2013
129
418
2016
211
373

 

 

Unnmd. Trib to Vaughn Creek Brook Trout Catch Per Unit Effort (#/mile)
Year
Hwy. 169
2013
868
2016
1400
 

Devil’s Creek Brook Trout Catch Per Unit Effort (#/mile)
Year
1st Ave. in Mellen
Lake Rd.
2014
722
1,689
2016
531
1,126


City Creek Brook Trout Catch Per Unit Effort (#/mile)
Year
N. Lake Rd. Crossing
S. Lake Rd. Crossing
2012
868
257
2016
1400
483



 
Marengo River Brown Trout Catch Per Unit Effort (#/mile)
Year
Hwy. 13 Crossing
Reimer Rd. Crossing
2012
73
89
2016
59
97



Trout Brook Brook Trout Catch Per Unit Effort (#/mile)
Year
Hwy. 13 Crossing
2015
177
2016
290


 

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Cycling into the Wild: Why I believe mountain bikes should have at least limited access to wilderness, and why it’s not the most important thing.



I am an avid cyclist, primarily a mountain biker, although I do have a road/touring bike that I enjoy riding particularly on gravel roads. I started riding mountain bikes as an adult in 1993, while I was an Anoka County Park Ranger, and seriously in 1995 when I was appointed Lead Ranger of the newly created mountain bike patrol. That was followed in 1997 by a missions trip to Karelia in Northwestern Russia, where we rode from village to village in the Russian backcountry on mountain bikes. 

Due to an injury I sustained a few years ago to my left foot and ankle, complicated by an ankle fracture and subsequent surgery when I was in seventh grade, biking has taken the place of hiking for me. What I used to do with a backpack now is done with panniers. It’s not that I can’t walk on it, but in the long run it is more comfortable to ride my bike to my destination and let it carry the load, then to carry it on my back were similar distance and have to give special care to my foot and ankle at the end of the day. 

As a bike patrol Ranger, and a volunteer bike patroller I have been fortunate to take a trail construction and maintenance course from the International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA), sponsored by Subaru. In that class I learned techniques to build mountain bike trails that are low impact, in many cases negligible impact, on the landscape and sustainable as long as they are used and maintained to the standards taught in the course. This has served me and our cycling community well in the design and construction of singletrack mountain bike trails in Isanti County’s Springvale County Park. Indeed, much of the time unless you know what you’re looking for, you cannot even tell that riders have been on these popular trails. Not so with horses, which, although banned from the bike trails, cannot seem to resist the temptation to ride on these trails that were built with volunteer cyclist sweat equity. You can always tell when horses have been on our trails, not just from the “deposits” they leave behind, but also from the hoof prints, and in muddy season post hole tracks, on the trail. 

A decade ago, when fat-bikes were a new thing, one of our patrol members asked to ride his Surly Pugsley in support of the City of Lakes Loppet cross-country ski race in Minneapolis. After some discussion it was decided he could ride it only on the flat, lakes portion of the course because the organizers were concerned about the effects of the tires on the groomed ski tracks. In following years we were told that we could use the bikes anywhere on the course because it had been discovered that the effects on the trail were minimal. Now the Loppet even has a fat-bike race as one of it's events. Since then fat bikes have taken off the proverbial rocket, but often, you can still hardly tell when they have been on a trail. 

My point here is not that all mountain bikes should be allowed in all wilderness areas, but I do believe there are certain wilderness areas that can tolerate the presence of bicycles and come out of it with much less impact than from horses, which are allowed. That being said, if IMBA would direct more of its efforts toward limited rather than blanket access, and the folks on the other side of the fence (or trail, as the case may be) would be willing to work some sort of compromise, and not look at every new piece of wild forest as something they need to seize to keep those in wicked mountain bikers out of, they could both devote their attentions to the much more serious issue of our public lands being sold off to private interests. After all. if the “no trespassing” signs go up then nobody, be it on foot, bike, or horse is going to be able to go in there. We are the public in “Public Lands”. We need to concentrate on that issue and compromise on the issues that are currently distracting us from keeping our public lands open to ALL users.

A special note to my friends back in New York: Don't think it can't happen there! The protection provided by Article 14's "Forever Wild" clause is only as strong as the people who support it, working TOGETHER. Money talks, and money rules, whether it's in Washington D.C., St. Paul or Albany.

Proceeding on...
Trailpatrol