Come along with me as I explore John Muir’s childhood stomping grounds. This plot of land is a National Historic Landmark, located about midway between Portage and Montello, Wis.
Let’s head for the trail.
First, we stop to read about John Muir, the father of the U.S. National Park System. As a boy, he emigrated from Scotland with his family in 1849, and moved to this Wisconsin property, which the family named “Fountain Lake Farm.”
A map of the area surrounding the lake shows a rich diversity of ecosystems.
We make sure to clear nonnative hitchhiker seeds off our boots. Along this trail, we will see native plant life common to Oak openings, fens, wet mesic prairies, Sedge meadows, and Oak woodlands.
One of the first things we notice is the beauty of young Oak trees—and how plentiful they are here.
Also noteworthy—several species of Milkweed, likely including Asclepias incarnata, A. syriaca, A. tuberosa, and A. purpurascens. (Mental note: Check back later in the summer to positively ID and to watch for Monarchs!)
As we hike across the mesic prairie, we see a pleasant view of Ennis Lake beyond the native grasses and shrubs.
And wildflowers, like Golden Alexander (Zizia aurea).
In the fen, there’s a nifty stand of Meadow Willow (Salix petiolaris).
And plentiful wild Strawberries (Fragaria virginiana).
The Black Raspberry canes (Rubus occidentalis) show signs of plentiful fruit this season.
In another Oak opening, more young Oaks show their stunning colors.
False Rue Anemone (Enemion biternatum) and Wild Geranium (Geranium maculatum).
Another pleasant view of Ennis Lake across the next Sedge meadow. As we enter a large Oak opening, the vegetation dramatically shifts to mature Oaks, Hickories, and woodland plants.
Notable understory plants here include Lowbush Blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium),
And Horsetail Reed (Equisetum hyemale).
Another pleasant view of Ennis Lake at the opposite end—we’re about halfway done with our hike. Don’t worry—only about one more mile. We enter another Sedge meadow, where we could spend hours identifying plants. But there’s so much more to see.
One that catches our eye is hard to identify without the flowers. Is it Northern Bedstraw (Galium boreale), some type of Lily, or something else?
The red twigs of Dogwoods (Cornus sericea) catch our attention as we move from the Sedge meadow to the Oak woodland.
We cross a creek on a quaint bridge and head for the forest. Large, mature Oaks ahead.
But first we notice Choke Cherry (Prunus virginiana) reaching for the sky.
Here we go … into the woods!
These tiny white flowers have a unique shape. Looks like Bittercress (Cardamine spp.)?
Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis), Wild Geraniums (Geranium maculatum), and Star Solomon Seal (Maianthemum stellatum) greet us along the way.
The view along the stream bed.
Almost the end of the trail.
This plant must be a type of Honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens?).
We’re out of the woods and greeted by a giant Juniper tree and an open field showing signs of a recent soccer game.
We vow to come back when the Milkweeds and the Lilies are blooming. (Mental note: Bring mosquito/tick repellent and don't expect cell phone reception next time either.)
What a pleasant walk on a cool, cloudy spring day! And a good way to remember a man who made a difference.
To read more about Muir's first years in Wisconsin and the subsequent uses and restorations of this historic plot of land, click here.