Masked Biologist: Getting Outside During "Safer At Home"

Apr 13, 2020

Have you had the opportunity to get outside? The Masked Biologist gives us some ideas for nearby outdoor activity destinations in this week’s Wildlife Matters.

As of the recording of this episode, we all were (and presumably still are) under Governor Evers’ Safer at Home executive order. Part of his order allows for citizens to “engage in outdoor activity, including visiting public and state parks, provided individuals comply with Social Distancing Requirements as defined below. Such activities include, by way of example and without limitation, walking, biking, hiking, or running.”

My family has been doing this, to the extent possible. There is nothing wrong at all with going to a city park, except the dog park is closed, and playgrounds are closed. We go to public land just outside the city and walk in the woods. I have been trying to train my Labrador retriever to find antler sheds, so as soon as the snow cover started breaking up we started wandering into the woods. Taking the dog to public land where he can run off leash makes him a lot happier and gets us out of the house.

If you are only leaving the house to go to the store and stock up on supplies, I strongly recommend you get out and engage in an outdoor activity as the governor has ordered. Here in the Northwoods, we have some terrific options. Across North central Wisconsin, there are all kinds of lands open to the public for nature-based recreation. You can go to the Northern Highland American Legion State Forest, for example. Or the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest. Plus, every county has it’s own county forest. Where I live in Rhinelander, we have some excellent options nearby on county land.

Just south of town, on the shore of Buck Lake, there is Almon Park. I think it may be best known and most heavily used for its excellent swim beach, but there are two great nature trails on the park as well. The wetland nature trail is a one-mile loop, and the upland nature trail is a mile and a quarter loop. Leashed pets are allowed on the trails. It has been a couple of years since I was on the trails, but as I recall they are on the more rustic end of the development spectrum, so you should wear good footwear and you may want a walking stick handy.

West of town is Perch Lake Park. This is kind of an undiscovered gem, in my humble opinion. There is a great shelter here, and a nice little fishing pier. Additionally, it is the parking and trailhead for the Washburn Lake Silent Trails system. In the winter, there are 12 miles of trails groomed for cross country skiing and six miles of snowshoe trails. In the other three seasons, some of the trails are used for bikes but I bet they would be a great place to take a walk in the woods. The standard advice applies here – check first to make sure these places are open, that there are no changes to the governor’s order, and dress appropriately. Tell a friend where you are going and when you plan to be back. And make sure your dog is on leash or under excellent control.

Finally, a plug for iNaturalist. This is a very user-friendly free smartphone app. You can load it on your phone, and it will help you with those questions people tend to send me, about what kind of plant or animal they have seen. If you take a photo with your phone while in iNaturalist, it will help you identify the object in the photo. It helps me as a biologist as well; when you enter your observations and locations into the app, it helps us record important information about the natural world.

Get out in the woods. It’s good for you. Sitting around and worrying or obsessing about things will not help or change your circumstances—or mine. Check on what birds are back, what plants are blooming, and remember all the great things in store for us as we move through spring and toward another Northwoods summer.