Snowshoeing with Jim Joque
We put on our snowshoes at the lakeside trailhead in Schmeeckle Reserve. The Lake Loop Trail circumnavigates the small 24-acre manmade Lake Joanis that rests in the southeast corner of the Reserve – a landmark of the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. There was ample snow that brisk day when I lead a group of college students on an enjoyable snowshoe hike.
We walked along the lake, over a boardwalk covering a frozen marsh and through a mixed forest with picturesque snow-laden conifers. We stopped abruptly along the way to find two doe a few yards away staring at us. What a memorable snowshoeing adventure for my students, and with us being just a few city blocks from the heart of campus.
A snowshoeing enthusiastic student attending a university having its own snowshoe trails couldn’t ask for more. However, you don’t have to go to college to experience hiking on scenic snowshoe trails located on college or university properties. These unique snowshoe trails are open to the public and can give a visitor the sense of feeling like a college student on snowshoes.
The following are a few examples of such trails on campuses that I found in Wisconsin, Upper Michigan and Minnesota. It may be worth your while to go to college, if only to snowshoe.
Located on the north end of UW-Stevens Point campus, the 280-acre Schmeeckle Reserve is managed by the College of Natural Resources, providing an outdoor classroom for the university and recreational opportunities for students and visitors. Five miles of trails and several boardwalks are available for snowshoeing and is open to the public during daylight hours. The Schmeeckle Reserve Visitor Center is also open to the public and houses the Wisconsin Conservation Hall of Fame, Wisconsin Land of Wealth Museum and a gift shop. For more information about the reserve and a map of trails, go online to www.uwsp.edu/schmeeckle.
Treehaven is located about 75 miles north of campus, between Tomahawk and Rhinelander, and is also managed by the UWSP’s College of Natural Resources. As their mission states, “Treehaven is the Wisconsin center for integrating natural resources education, management, research and recreation.” The 1,400-acre property rests on an ancient glacial ridge overlooking scenic forests and wetlands with roughly 7 miles of trails for cross country skiing and 20 miles for snowshoeing and hiking.
The southeast segment of the property is groomed and marked for skiing, while the northern most trails on the west side of Treehaven’s facility are marked for snowshoeing. Both wide and single track snowshoe trails meander through a dense forest, a marsh and over a creek. Snowshoers must say off the ski trails. The property is open from sunrise to sunset. Trail passes are required for guests and can be purchased in the Center or deposited at the parking lot near trailhead signs. For information about Treehaven, go online to www.uwsp.edu/cnr-ap/treehaven.
Another attractive trail system that lies in the heart of the second largest city in the state is at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Arboretum. “Restoring land and enriching lives” is the theme for this 1,260-acre Arboretum that hosts a variety of prairie and woodland landscapes.
During snow season, there are 10 miles of snowshoe and ski trails that meander through forests, gardens and along service lanes. Since they do not groom ski trails, ski and snowshoe trails are multi-use. So snowshoers are asked not to hike on ski tracks. And stay on the trail to avoid damaging plants and animal habitat that exist under the snow. Also, there are some trails that are designated for hiking only in the Arboretum and are not accessible to snowshoes or skis, totaling 20 miles of trails altogether.
The Arboretum has a Visitor Center that includes an art gallery and bookstore. Visitors are welcome there as well as welcomed to snowshoe or hike in the Arboretum without charge. Go online to www.arboretum.wisc.edu and learn more about UW-Madison’s Arboretum.
And yet another location to snowshoes at UW-Madison is on the Lakeshore Path to Picnic Point. This nearly mile-long peninsula that jets into Lake Mendota on the south shore is a popular place within the University’s Lakeshore Nature Preserve. There are several walking paths throughout Picnic Point that meander past evergreens and eventually to the ice covered lake. The Lakeshore Nature Preserve itself is 300 acres and protects 4.3 miles of land on campus that sits along Lake Mendota. Check out their website at www.lakeshorepreserve.wisc.edu
-In Upper Michigan-
My older brother Darrell is an alumnus of Michigan Technological University, where it is located on a northern most point of the Upper Peninsula in Houghton. When I was in high school, I visited him during their annual Winter Carnival. Snow was deep, with snow banks over my head. It hasn’t changed much over the years. MTU’s website shows that Houghton’s average snowfall is close to 250 inches. That is definitely heaven for someone who snowshoes. If heading to MTU to snowshoe this winter, go during their Winter Carnival slated for February 8-11, 2017.
Today, MTU is blessed with the Michigan Tech Trails system, having over 7 miles of groomed snowshoe trails of which 4½ miles are lighted, and another 14 miles of ungroomed trails… just for snowshoeing. Additionally there are 20½ miles of groomed cross country ski trails for classic and skate skiing.
The Michigan Tech Trail system is located on the south end of the university’s campus. Divided into the Upper Trails consisting of 360 acres and the Lower Trails with 155 acres, there are seven different trail heads within the system. Whether beginner or skilled, trail loops are easy, intermediate and advanced.
Although students and children 17 and younger can use the trails at no cost, there is a fee for nonstudents. Day and season passes can be purchased at the Student Development Center or deposited in collection pipes located at each trailhead. Check online to learn more about the trails, fees and maps at www.michigantechrecreation.com/trails/forest/index.
Heading further west and into Minnesota, you can find picturesque and challenging snowshoe trails at the University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum in Chaska. Cited as “a top visitor attraction in the metro area” with 1,137 acres of forests, wetlands, gardens, prairies and open fields, there are 16 miles of trails for snowshoeing and groomed classic cross-country skiing.
The nearly 8-mile Snowshoe/Hiking Trail traverses over gently rolling hills and through landscapes previously mentioned as well as through an arborvitae collection. Should you leave home without your snowshoes, you can always rent snowshoes at their visitor center. The Oswald Visitor Center is located in the Snyder Builder where they have a gift shop, art gallery and café.
The UM Arboretum protects its more than 5,000 plant species from being disturbed by having winter enthusiasts stay on the designated trails. And snowshoers are to stay off the ski trails. The Arboretum requires that visitors snowshoe or ski only when the visitor center is open (closes daily at 4:30 PM in winter).
To learn more about the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, go online to www.arboretum.umn.edu/skiandsnowshoetrails.aspx. Click on “hours, fees and directions” for specific information. As the website reminds us, the Arboretum is “a beautiful in town getaway, an escape to reflect, re-energize or plan for the future…. a connection with the wonders of nature.”
Whether a college student or a non student visitor, everyone is welcome to put on their snowshoes and hike these university trails. On one such snowshoe hike at UWSP’s Treehaven, I recall the beauty of sunlight sparkling on fresh snow in the path and in the trees. I then looked up one very tall pine tree and spotted a porcupine. When I came to a frozen creek, I found slide marks in the snow swooping down across the ice….signs of otters recently at play. Nothing tops a snowshoe hike like spectacular winter scenes and spotting some wildlife.