Treasures of Oz Eco-Tour 2020
By Marjie Tomter
Photographs by Eddee Daniel
We thought 2020 should be different when we decided to do an autumn tour instead of the usual early summer. We had no idea just how different 2020 would be. We weren’t expecting a pandemic.
An autumn date turned out to be helpful as it gave us more time to plan a way to keep the event while keeping people safe. Certainly, time in nature is a great healer in many ways and we knew people would be needing this.
We took the event down to the basic concept—discover beautiful places in Oz and fall in love with nature. We extended the time to an entire week so visitors had lots of options, were less likely to encounter others and keep healthy distances and could work around the weather.
Docents and site greeters have made the experience enriching and welcoming but with 7 days to cover and a need to keep social distance that was a challenge. We left things up to our volunteer team—come if you can, when you can and engage visitors as you are able. Visitors might get lucky and encounter several volunteers for some socially distant exchanges. The volunteers did not disappoint. They were in the preserves at peak times and reported many meaningful encounters with visitors.
We kept the concept of event passports but instead of getting them stamped, we went to finding key words at each site. Passports could be turned in to be entered into our raffle. A generous grant from Sweet Water had been received early and we were very pleased that they were open to a new and less instructive format. Passports began coming in on the first day and one eager visitor even had hers in several days ahead of the official time. Although most visitors were from the surrounding area, some came from as far away as Madison.
There was an emphasis on forest-bathing this year, a much-needed addition to our tool kits for stress-reduction. Ozaukee Washington Land Trust board member, Dr. Jen Mackinnon from Froedert and the Medical College of Wisconsin, loves the concept and produced two videos to acquaint and guide people on the idea. The videos are on our website.
Our sites this year were selected for autumn color. Four of the 5 sites are along the Milwaukee River and are full of sugar maple, beech and other flora with colors of crimson, oranges, yellows and greens—Kurtz Woods, Bratt Woods, Shady Lane Trail in Hawthorne Hills County Park, and Blue Heron Wildlife Preserve. The first three have state natural areas designations, indicating that the forest floor is today much as it was in pre-settlement times.
Our fifth site, on Lake Michigan, Lion’s Den Gorge Nature Preserve, was chosen to draw attention to a huge endeavor by the land trust to purchase a similar and even larger property just to the north, Cedar Gorge/Clay Bluffs to add to the permanent treasures of Ozaukee.
Besides returned passports and visits with docents, we had a nice surge in new visitors to our webpage and social media. Several people posted photos of their adventures on this 2020 Tour.
The entire experience was designed to foster a sense of self-care and love for nature. As we know, if you love something, you will care for it. That is our mission in nine words.
Photographer’s note: It took me a little over a full week to visit all five tour sites. Four selections from each my visits are presented in chronological order. The featured photo at the top is from Blue Heron Wildlife Sanctuary. To see the complete set of photos from Treasures of Oz 2020, go to my Flickr album.
Related posts: Treasures of Oz 2018
To contribute to the effort by Ozaukee Washington Land Trust to protect Cedar Gorge/Clay Bluffs, click here.
Marjie Tomter is the Project Coordinator of Treasures of Oz Eco-Tour. Eddee Daniel is Project Director of A Wealth of Nature.