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kayaks on the Root River in autumn

Autumn Odyssey 2: Treasures of Oz and more!

12:10 pm  |  Topics: Events, Places, Stories


By Eddee Daniel

The bright colors have faded, wintry cold has set in. As I write this it is snowing. Sometimes it feels as though I’ve awakened from a particularly luscious dream to harsh reality. Ah, but our remarkable autumn was real. I have the pictures to prove it! Welcome to the continuing saga of autumn 2022.

Part 2 of this year’s Autumn Odyssey takes us back to October 1. That was the day of the annual Treasures of Oz Eco-Tour of Ozaukee County parks and preserves. I will be succinct: I LOVE Treasures of Oz! Followers of The Natural Realm know that I’ve covered this remarkable event for several years. The event is an opportunity for the public to tour several selected parks and preserves in Ozaukee County on a day when County Park staff, Ozaukee Washington Land Trust staff, and volunteers are on hand to provide information about the places—among other things.

Every county ought to have an event like Treasures of Oz! Parks are treasures no matter where they are located. Let’s encourage more counties to celebrate them.

Kayak tour sets out on the Root River in Racine.
Kayak tour sets out on the Root River in Racine.

Unfortunately, this year I was overbooked on October 1 and was able to visit only one of the parks on the tour. But the alternative was also a treat! I spent the morning kayaking on the Root River in Racine. As you can see from the photos, some of the trees had already begun to turn, casting dramatic autumn colors onto the reflective surface of the river. We put in at a boat launch near the Horlick Dam and paddled upstream.

We saw turtles, waterfowl and other birds, including this great blue heron.
We saw turtles, waterfowl and other birds, including this great blue heron.

This was a guided event organized through the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin and led by members of Seno K/RLT Conservancy, which is a land trust serving Kenosha and Racine Counties. A good portion of our excursion took us past River Bend Nature Center, which sprawls along almost a mile of shoreline. But even when we were not adjacent to the park, the rural character of the land we paddled through made it almost a wilderness experience.

Kayakers in a blaze of autumn on the Root River in Racine.
Kayakers in a blaze of autumn reflected in the Root River.

After pulling my kayak out of the Root River and piling it back up on the roof of my car, I sped north to Ozaukee County. With the limited time available to me I headed to a new park on the Treasures of Oz tour. New, not only because I’d never been there before, but literally a brand-new park! The ponderously named Little Menomonee River Fish and Wildlife Preserve is a bit over 56 acres of recently restored wetlands along the Little Menomonee, which is more of a creek than a river at this point in its watershed.

Restored wetland pond and marsh, along with newly planted trees.
Restored wetland pond and marsh, along with newly planted trees.

The land had been acquired by the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District (MMSD) as part of its Greenseams program, which preserves land so that it won’t be developed in order to aid in flood control efforts. Natural lands act as sponges (in contrast to land with roads and structures), absorbing rainwater and keeping it out of streams and sewers. MMSD transferred the land to Ozaukee County in 2021. A considerable amount of effort went into restoring the former agricultural land into a variety of wetland habitats, which can be seen in the aerial views of the park.

The small wetland pond in the lower left corner of this view was created in the shape of a salamander to symbolize the importance of this species.
The small wetland pond in the lower left corner of this view was created in the shape of a salamander to symbolize the importance of this species. The vegetation makes it a little hard to make out. Mequon Road is visible at top.

Park staff had a fish tank ready with a variety of fish and other aquatic creatures that had been plucked from the Little Menomonee that morning. It demonstrated the efficacy of the restoration efforts, highlighting the fact that the restored stream is a healthy habitat. Since I got there late in the day, I witnessed the release of the fish back into the water.

Ozaukee Parks staffer releasing fish back into the Little Menomonee.
Ozaukee Parks staffer releasing fish back into the Little Menomonee.
Yellow sulphur butterfly.
Yellow sulphur butterfly.

Although there are plans in the works for a network of trails, only one was ready for use that day.  It paralleled the creek and gave me the opportunity to capture the close-up images you see here. I shot the aerials with my drone, which is a new tool in my arsenal that I’m still getting the hang of.

Goldenrod amid grasses.
Goldenrod amid grasses.
Little Menomonee River and wetland.
Little Menomonee River and wetland.

Although you could tell it was autumn, the vegetation at Little Menomonee River Fish & Wildlife Preserve remained a bit muted that day. The following day I found some satisfyingly lovely autumn color along the Polk Kames Segment of the Ice Age Trail near Slinger.

Red sumac leaves grace the trailhead of the Ice Age Trail.
Autumn glory lights up the glacial terrain of the Ice Age Trail.
Autumn glory lights up the glacial terrain of the Ice Age Trail.

To round off this installment of my Autumn Odyssey, I bring you a rafter (fancy word for flock) of turkeys from the Root River Parkway in Greendale. You can see a cool dozen in this shot, but there were in fact twice as many in the entire flock/rafter. I couldn’t fit them all in one composition! And so this installment of my odyssey comes full circle, from the Root River near its mouth at Lake Michigan in Racine to the Root River again near its source in New Berlin. Stay tuned as the Autumn Odyssey continues.

A rafter (flock) of wild turkeys on the Root River Parkway.
A rafter (flock) of wild turkeys on the Root River Parkway.

Related stories from Autumn 2022:

Autumn Odyssey 2022: Introduction.

Joan M. Pick Nature Preserve

Hiking Pike Lake State Park in Autumnal Glory!

Fall Colors at Virmond Park

Eddee Daniel is a board member of Preserve Our Parks and a tour leader for the Natural Resources Foundation of WI. Ozaukee County Parks, Ozaukee Treasures Network, Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District, Milwaukee County Parks, and Natural Resources Foundation of WI are all project partners of A Wealth of Nature.