A Walk in the Wilderness of Cedarburg Bog!
February 17, 2023 | Topics: Events
By Eddee Daniel, with contributions from fellow wilderness walkers: John Gurda, Cory Gritzmacher, Dan Collins, Chuck Stebelton, and Andy Holman.
Bogs are notoriously inaccessible places. On top of being water-logged they are thick with vegetation. In Southeastern Wisconsin, in fact, no place epitomizes true, unadulterated wilderness better than the Cedarburg Bog. I don’t mean the kinds of “urban wilderness” I usually write about, which are generally agreeable places to go hiking. I mean the kind that made pioneer explorers turn back and find different routes. The idea of walking in a bog is a little like swimming in molten lava: you just wouldn’t consider it.
Unless it is frozen! On a crisp winter day in early February the bog was frozen and accessible enough for over a hundred willing hikers to enter and explore. The timing was fortunate. After two months of abnormal winter that saw mostly above freezing temperatures, the previous week had seen the mercury plunge to well below normal.
What are the odds of hiking out into a large, uninhabited wilderness and running into someone you know? Well, the odds are reduced considerably when it is an annual hike organized by the Friends of the Cedarburg Bog. And I did run into a surprising number of people I knew. A few of them agreed to provide written testimony of their experience for this blog, for which I am grateful.
“There’s something special about tramping out to the middle of the Cedarburg Bog in winter with a gaggle of like-minded nature-lovers. Only once a year could you find such a mass of humanity in such an inaccessible place, and it’s a privilege to be part of the group.” ~ John Gurda
“The winter hike is a rare opportunity to be able to explore a place that is usually inaccessible in the summer months. The bog has very limited public access and this is a great way to see a truly unique ecosystem to southern Wisconsin up close and personal. I am always amazed how much life there is in nature during the dead of winter.” ~ Cory Gritzmacher.
“The Cedarburg bog winter hike is like no other. You can really grasp the vastness of this wild place in winter. This hike would be unimaginable in summer. Slogging in muck boots for miles wouldn’t be as fun, approachable or even possible. In winter you cruise near the grasses and sedges, the pitcher plants, the patterning of the land, the variety of spaces that is the bog. You can imagine the setting existing for hundreds, or maybe thousands of years. You might also imagine this is what miles of boreal spaces are like in northern Canada or Russia. I heard people talking about bobcats and wolverines. Where else would you have those thoughts?
“I liked that this experience was universal. We were a group of maybe 100 people, many first-timers, some old, some young, all having the same peek at the landscape. The landscape has a bigness that is rare to find and hard to convey.
“I think the take-away is to just get out in nature—and to invite others into nature. Excursions don’t need to be complicated.” ~ Dan Collins:
“The winter hike has been an annual tradition for at least twelve years. The first thing the hike taught me was how to get through the Wisconsin winter. You have to get out in it! It was also an introduction to other year-round Friends of Cedarburg Bog and UWM Field station workshops and events. The winter hike is a rare opportunity to experience the bog wilderness because you get to walk in along the frozen stream bed, across the string bog, and out onto frozen lakes in areas otherwise inaccessible most seasons.
“As with all public Bog programs, you get to do so in the company of folks who know the plants and fauna and hydrology. These are expert researchers in their fields and seem to delight in sharing their knowledge. I learn something new every year.” ~ Chuck Stebelton
“It is wonderful to revisit some sights that seem exotic at first yet grow more familiar over time, like the delicate and subtle shapes of arrowgrass, frozen pitcher plants sticking up through the snow. The landscape of dwarfed cedars and tamaracks in the middle of the bog has an ancient, weathered look that is spectacular in its own particular way.
“It is remarkable also to recognize some of the same hikers from year to year, and to see new generations join in each year. This is the sort of community that is required to sustain such vulnerable landscapes.
“I’m always looking for birds. I saw a couple tree sparrow photos near the feeder and a very distant eagle. The only other birds I saw were a surprisingly large flock of winter robins, and a quick glimpse of a merlin taking off.” ~ Chuck Stebelton
“It was great to be on the winter hike in the Cedarburg Bog with so many interested people. We were able to go deep into the bog which is only possible in the winter when everything is frozen. It was surprising to see pitcher plants (one of the special denizens of the bog) poking their leaves out of the snow. The icing on the cake was seeing a sundog near the end of the hike. Sundogs are halos caused by ice crystals in the atmosphere. In this case the partial halo had multiple colors. ~ Andy Holman
“The Bog is a treasure of southeastern Wisconsin with unique biodiversity. In warmer months it is possible to take a guided hike to see pitcher plants, tamarack trees, rare flowers, many bird species and even mammals such as raccoons and otters. I have been a board member and supporter of the Friends for the past three and a half years and I encourage everyone to learn more about this amazing place at bogfriends.org.” ~ Andy Holman
For more information and photos about Cedarburg Bog State Natural Area go to our Find-a-Park page.
Eddee Daniel is a board member of Preserve Our Parks. All photographs are his except as noted.