Great Lakes Hikes 2003 NCTA School House Gathering

November 7 and 8, TImber Creek to 5-Mile Road | November 9, 58th Street to Croton Dam

GLH Gathering, November 9, 58th Street to Croton Dam

After our traditional Sunday breakfast of blueberry pancakes and other stuff (thanks Siler) the group slowly got itself together for the hike today. We did things a little differently this time than we have in the past. This time we would not return to the Schoolhouse so the clean-up had to happen before we left. No real big deal here with so many people helping out. I think we left the place in fine shape. As the cleaning went on people who could not lend a hand spent time outside in the bright sunshine that streamed down on this crisp but warmer morning. While the temperature dropped to comparably low levels as the night before the morning quickly warmed up and we were sure to have a lovely day for hiking.

Everyone piled into cars and we drove to 58th Street in Newago County for our approximately 8 mile hike to Croton Dam road near Croton Dam. With one thing and another we did not start hiking until a bit after 11:00AM. The hiking today would be markedly different from yesterday.

Everything was different. The weather was much brighter and cheerier, the forest was different, and it seemed as though the general feel around the group was also different. Some people who had hiked the day before did not join us today for various reasons, those that were left were quite happy to be here. We strode through the denser forests of oak and occasional red and white pine stands. The trail often snaked its way around these trees at times for no apparent reason other than to be extra curvaceous.

The pine groves today felt completely different than those we walked through on Saturday. I am not sure why today the groves lacked any sense of eeriness but they did. Perhaps the shorter trees failed to filter out enough light to change the light level in the right way, perhaps their deeper green gave a warmer feel, or perhaps the density of trees made a difference. The forest was denser when we were strolling through it, but the forest was hardly the only type of terrain we would walk through.

This portion of the North Country Trail wanders in and out of prairie lands. These prairies sometimes have flora that I would not have thought would ever grow here in Michigan: cactus. I just find it incongruous that a desert plant could grow here in Michigan but perhaps these prairies receive so little rain that they qualify as desert terrain. I really like walking through the transitions from one type of biome to another. The trees give way to the grasses (and prickly pair cactus) of the prairie and then the prairie fades away as the forest returns. Even the clear-cut we went through has a charm that I cannot quite explain. I am not suggesting that clear-cuts are good but they certainly add interest to a hike.

Another thing that everyone enjoyed walking through were the frequent stands of red and white pine. The red pines are especially pretty with the slightly red-tinged bark and long needles.

The only thing that really marred the entire day was the intrusion of two people on horseback with their unleashed dogs. This portion of the NCT is for foot travel only. That means human feet, not animal powered feet. Horseback riding is forbidden. However, there are some people who consistently refuse to accept this ban and they ride where they want tearing up the trail in the process. At least they were not moving any faster than a walk.

The hike today was a relaxed affair and very enjoyable. I got to experience something completely unexpected in the prairies with their prickly pairs and that was worth the whole trip by itself. There were, of course, many other fine things about the hike not the least of which were the people I was hiking with. When the hike came to its end, just after I caught the briefest glimpse of a bald eagle, around 3:00PM I was sorry that it was done and with it another NCTA/GLH Schoolhouse Gathering.


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