The Holiday season is rapidly approaching and it is a busy, busy, busy time of year for many people. After you’ve enjoyed the annual New Year’s Dropping of the Carp in Prairie du Chien and welcomed in 2015, make a resolution to explore something new and enjoy winter at the same time.
A wonderful way to delve into winter in the Driftless area is to attend the Winter Festival at the Kickapoo Valley Reserve. In 2015 the festival will be on Saturday, January 10th. The event is fun for people of all ages and many of the activities are free. The no-cost activities typically include horse-drawn bobsled rides, ice skating, sledding, skiing, archery, snow sculpture, ice cave hikes, chain saw carving, animal presentations, face painting and a sled dog race. The La Farge Lions Club hosts an annual chili and bread contest for the public. An silent auction of goods and services produced in the Kickapoo Valley is held, and the proceeds benefit the KVR Education Program.
Last year our family tried snowshoeing for the first time. A KVR volunteer helped us strap them on and gave us basic instruction on how to walk in them. Having been walking moderately successfully for over 30 years, I assured my children I would be a pro at this. All three of them enjoyed seeing me step on my own snowshoes and fall into a snow bank near the covered bridge. However, once you get the hang of it, snowshoes are a delightful way to explore the outdoors. Our amazing KVR volunteer was not only an expert guide, but shared his wonder at the nature around us. Before we even set off, he had us close our eyes, be still, and listen. I typically think of the winter landscape as being silent and slumbering. However, in just those few moments my 7-year-old was able to identify three different birdcalls. It heightened the sense that nature is still thriving around us, we just have to look a little harder in winter.
Next we took a guided hike and visited the ice caves (not on snowshoes!) We were warned that the hiking could be difficult, steep, slippery (you are going up a bluff after all), but it was worth the challenge. A winding path took us through the woods to a series of ice caves. Simply walking in the woods was majestic. The sun shone brightly through the trees creating prisms on the snow. We walked on a path that twisted and turned and seemed to be going nowhere when suddenly an ice cave would appear carved into the side of the bluff. Some were so small that you had to crawl through icicles to enter, being careful not to disturb the delicate structures. The last cave was large enough for dozens of people to stand upright and walk around in. As we gazed through a massive, bluish sheet of ice, my older son commented that it felt prehistoric and he expected to see cave paintings on the walls behind him. The guide confirmed that these caves very well could have been dwellings or shelter for ancient people.
You can experience your own adventure all winter at the Kickapoo Valley Reserve. The KVR maintains approximately ten miles of groomed cross-country ski trails, for both classic and skate skiing. A segment of Wisconsin’s self-funded snowmobile trail system winds its way through the Reserve. A local snowmobile club grooms and maintains the trail from December 15 through March 31, snow cover permitting. Whatever you decide to do, you will enjoy winter like never before!