Bluff Creek West

Thanks again for coming to visit me at The Springs!

The Sand Hill Cranes are back and I’m wondering if we have opened up enough new habitat for a second family to take up residence in the area.  It has been an exceptional winter season for cutting buckthorn and, thanks to the Kettle Moraine Natural History Association funding the efforts of Chris Mann and the Kettle Moraine Land Stewards, LLC, we have opened up many acres of wetlands.

Prime real estate is available for ducks as well and on April 2, Brian Glenzinski, former DNR Wildlife Biologist now working with Ducks Unlimited, will be joining me to tour The Spings. You might recall that Brian is the artist who carved The Acorn given out by the Oak Savanna Alliance for their Land Steward of the Year award.  We plan to list with Brian and he was very positive about building some new “upscale” duck homes in the neighborhood.

By the way, don’t miss the Oak Savanna Alliance workshop on May 16th.  Contact Eric Tarman-Ramcheck (TR Natural Enterprises, LLC) for details and be sure to let him know who you think deserves The Acorn this time.

The highlight of the last two weeks was the morning I spent with the Southern Kettle Moraine SNA Volunteers at the Bluff Creek West State Natural Area, just south and east of Whitewater, WI.

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For sanity’s sake though, I’m going to recollect the events of the past few weeks in chronological order.

After weeks of cramming to prepare my defense against the band of thieves and robbers known as government, for my “day in court”, I needed a day in the woods with my chainsaw to settle my nerves.  I returned to the marl factory on March 12th to attack the last stand of buckthorn on the wedge of land between the Tibby Line railroad tracks (signpost #2) and Marl Pit Bridge (signpost #4).  Below, the area as seen from signpost #4.

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Now, imagine you just stepped forward to the treeline shown above and looked right, straight ahead and left.

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We carved a hole in the middle of this buckthorn thicket and now was the time to finish the perimeter.  I had a fine day cutting and stopped early to help my friend Scott, and his buddy Mr. Schnuddles, collect some firewood.

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The view from signpost #4.

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I love to take a walk around The Springs at the end of a hard day’s work!

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Hmmmm, why is that monster parked in the DNR lot above the Hotel Springs?

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The bubbler at the Emerald Springs was especially active.

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Ben, dude, we need to build a bridge here man!

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On Saturday, March 14th I joined Zach Kastern, Ginny Coburn, Jared Urban, and a great crew of SNA volunteers clearing buckthorn from the transition zone between the calcareous fen and the oak uplands at Bluff Creek West.  The area we worked is at the base of the forested ridge shown in the upper right hand corner of the Bluff Creek Prescribed Burn plan shown below.

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Zach and Jared introduced the agenda for the day…

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… and we got after it!

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We made tremendous progress thanks to volunteers like this team from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater Ecology Club.

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I got a chance to talk to Zach Kastern about the project.

I really enjoy these events and you might like it too!

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I spent the afternoon at The Springs finishing the last patch of buckthorn near the marl factory that I described above.

Ben, dude, we gotta fix this boardwalk!

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Sunset at the Sand Prairie.

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On St. Patrick’s day I found evidence that leprecons had visited the springs the night before!

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I had NO IDEA they could operate heavy equipment!

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Abe Wittenwyler, heavy equipment operator with the DNR, wasn’t looking for a pot of gold under the Hotel Spring bridge; he had come to excavate the riverbed to address the hydrology issues that Ben Heussner identified as a result of the elevation survey the DNR conducted last year.  I called Ben for an update, left a message, and got to work cutting buckthorn in the wetlands just down the trail — to the left — from the main parking lot on Hwy ZZ.  Here is how it looked before I got started.

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When I broke for lunch, I got Ben’s message and headed over to the Hotel Springs to meet him.  We walked along the river and reviewed the results of our efforts last year while Ben waited for Michelle Hase, DNR Water Regulations and Zoning Engineer, to review the project.

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Ben Heussner, Steve Gospodarek and Abe Wittenwyler.IMG_5318

Michelle recommended they distribute the “spoils” excavated from the river slightly differently than Ben had in mind.   They regraded the slope on the east side of the river, sowed a crop of annual grass, and then covered the area with straw.  Ben was genuinely proud of the bridge he built there back in 1992 and he’s looking forward to building the replacement this summer.  Me? I’m going to watch the river make a head cut.

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I returned to my work site and cut buckthorn, like a mischievious leprecon, for the rest of the day.

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And later visited my favorite haunts.

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Yesterday I returned to the area and continued to open up dramatic views into, and out of, the very interior of the Scuppernong River Nature Preserve.  I completed clearing the area shown below to totally open the views into the interior wetlands.

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Then I moved much closer to the parking lot to take on this wall of buckthorn.

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It was a flawless day and I cut down a hell of a lot of buckthorn.  Views into the interior wetlands are now revealed.

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And, looking back towards the parking lot, that wall of buckthorn is not so formidable anymore.

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I’m going to cut as much buckthorn as I can before the garlic mustard and other weeds start to emerge.

I got my first call of the season from DNR Burn Boss, Don Dane.  Let’s get it on!

See you at The Springs!

p.s. I did not prevail against the agents of the state in court on Friday the 13th.  It ain’t over yet!

I Left My Heart At Bluff Creek

I’ll always love the Scuppernong Springs, but there is an even prettier, more pristine, more remote complex of springs at the Bluff Creek State Natural Area.  There aren’t any noisy highways or bright lights nearby; just babbling waters emerging beneath old oaks in classic Kettle Moraine country.

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The headwaters of Bluff Creek are a Class I Trout Stream!

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It was great to get back to work in the forest and the highlight of the week was returning to the Bluff Creek Springs with Zach Kastern, Jared Urban and the hard-working, dedicated State Natural Areas volunteers.

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Zach had done some preliminary work cutting and piling and he arrived early to light the fires.

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Soon we were all hard at work.  Thanks to Pati for these pics!

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We wrapped up the morning’s efforts around noon and munched on some Valentine donuts.

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A few of us continued working in the afternoon and here is how it looked at the end of the day.

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That was Chris Mann and Zach Kastern talking shop after we visited the springs on the north side of the ridge.  We hung out by the fire and watched the ducks and geese drift in for the night; it was blissful and none of us wanted to leave.  It’s very inspiring to work with a big group of volunteers like we had yesterday.  Lord knows we can’t rely on the arbitrary whims of the legislators in government to do the right thing by the land. 

I got back to work last Monday cutting buckthorn amongst the tamaracks on the north west side of the Ottawa Lake Fen SNA.  I can’t wait to see the tamaracks sans buckthorn this spring!

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Here is the view from the pond.

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The Buckthorn intertwines with the tamarack and kills it.

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It will take a few more days to finish clearing this grove.

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Ottawa lake sunset.

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On Wednesday, I got back to The Springs to cut and burn buckthorn just down the trail from signpost #2.  Here is how it looked before I got started.

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I’m standing by my sled, which you can see in the picture above, for the next two shots.IMG_4887 IMG_4886

I’m really looking forward to clearing this stretch of buckthorn between signpost #2 and the marl pit factory so that you’ll be able to see across the Scuppernong River Habitat Area to the Kettle Moraine ridges to the south.

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Looking back up the trail towards signpost #2.

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By the time I dropped my gear off at the truck and changed into some dry boots, the sun was already down.

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See you at The Springs!

The Buckthorn Man Calls In Chits

I would never ask for money on my own, but The Buckthorn Man, on the other hand, thinks you might feel an obligation, and he asked me to help call in his chits.  Please participate in his fund raising campaign for the Wisconsin Wetlands Association Inc. by clicking here and making a donation to support this worthy organization’s efforts.

We have featured the Wisconsin Wetlands Association here and here and they have been a real inspiration for our restoration efforts at The Springs.

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Zach Kastern and Ginny Coburn are leading another State Natural Areas Volunteer workday at the headwaters of Bluff Creek, near Lone Tree Bluff, this Saturday from 9-noon.  There will  be Fire!

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See you at The Springs!

The Bluff Creek Springs

The Wisconsin DNR’s State Natural Areas Volunteer Program is a great way to become intimately familiar with some of Wisconsin’s most beautiful places. That is how I was introduced to the Bluff Creek SNA, which features one of the largest spring complexes in the Southern Kettle Moraine, and the scenic Lone Tree Bluff Nature Trail.

Apuleius, the Roman philosopher, rhetorician, & satirist said: “Familiarity breeds contempt, while rarity wins admiration.”, and paradoxically, that has been my experience with the few of Wisconsin’s 673 SNAs that I have visited.  You might be thinking: ‘Hang on there Buckthorn Man; contempt is a strong word, how can you apply it the State Natural Areas?’  The answer is deeply philosophical, so, please, remember what Aristotle said: “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”

I will cut to the chase:  I am an anarchist seeking a voluntary society.  I don’t think the powers assumed by the “State” are legitimately based, especially the use of coercion to tax us.  Under Natural Law, 1, 2, 10, 1,000 or 1,000,000 people do not have the right to delegate powers — that none of them possess individually — to an association they call government.  Do I have the right to demand that you give me 20% of your earnings?

That is the perspective I bring when I become intimately familiar with any of our State owned lands; focusing here on the SNAs.  What I find “contemptible” is the idea that “we the people” rely on government to take care of our most precious natural resources rather than voluntarily assuming that responsibility for ourselves.  Here is the DNR’s SNA management philosophy:

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Land stewardship is guided by principles of ecosystem management. For some SNAs, the best management prescription is to “let nature take its course” and allow natural processes and their subsequent effects, to proceed without constraint. However, some processes, such as the encroachment of woody vegetation and the spread of invasive and exotic plant species, threaten the biological integrity of many SNAs. These sites require hands-on management and, in some cases, the reintroduction of natural functions — such as prairie fire — that are essentially absent from the landscape.

Wisconsin has desginated 673 SNA’s, encompassing over 373,000 acres.  Please don’t assume the DNR has a comprehensive management plan for these sites including: goals, objectives, budget, staffing, timelines etc… they do not have the funds to accomplish this, and don’t assume that it is OK to “let nature take its course”.  Since I don’t accept the legitimacy of government authority, it would be contradictory for me to advocate that we divert even a tiny percent of the money our federal government spends on wars of aggression and the security, industrial, military complex, to nurture and care for our treasured state lands.  Nope, I’m suggesting that each one of us volunteer our time and attention to care for the land.  Visit an SNA near you and become intimately familiar with it; let the rarity of these beautiful places win your admiration (and active involvement!)

The headwaters of Bluff Creek is one of the few Class I trout streams in southeast Wisconsin.

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Pati and I visited the Bluff Creek Springs complex after the November SNA workday and I gave her a tour.

I mentioned in the video how excited I was to return for the SNA workday in December and I was not disappointed (visit the Southern Kettle Moraine SNA Volunteers on Facebook).  We gathered yesterday morning on the ice covered parking lot at the Lone Tree Bluff trailhead on Esterly Road.

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Zach Kastern introduced us to the day’s project.

At the trailhead, you take the left-hand, unmarked path towards the springs rather than follow the steps straight up to Lone Tree Bluff.  This is not an official trail, but it will definitely become more obvious as we continue working there.  When we got to the work site, Zach gave more specific instructions and we all introduced ourselves.  It was a great crew to be with!

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I was in heaven and thoroughly enjoyed the day.  I grabbed these images while taking a break to gas up the saw.

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Jared Urban coordinates volunteers at the SNA’s in the southern part of the state.  The next 5 action shots are courtesy of Jared.

Ginny rips it up.

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Kyungmann in the thick of it.

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Scott, Tom and Zach.

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Tom stoking the fire.

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Group shot minus Dale and Gary. (Back row left to right: The Buckthorn Man, Jared B., Tom, Scott and Kyungmann and Ginny and Zach in the front row)

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The official workday ended at noon but a few of us hung out to talk and share lunch by the fire.  I cut buckthorn all afternoon and Zach and Scott fed the brush piles.  Here is how it looked at the end of the day.

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Back on Wednesday, December 10th, I was joined by Chris Mann, Austin Avellone and Andy Buchta as we continued our brush clearing and piling efforts on the north side of the Ottawa Lake Fen SNA.

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Here are a couple views of the site before we got started.

Looking north from the channel of the spring that flows into the fen.

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Looking down the trail towards where we left off last time.  The buckthorn on the left is doomed.

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Below looking right and left from where Chris Mann left off the previous Monday.IMG_4576 IMG_4577

I was soon joined by Chris, Austin and, much to my delight, Andy Buchta and we got after it.

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We had an excellent day and finished the fen-side of the trail all the way north to the tamarack grove; and even got a few licks in on the south side of the spring channel that flows into the fen, working along the trail that leads to the Ottawa Lake campground.

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When we finished I took a walk from the point where we stopped, shown above, heading back across the channel to where Chris and Austin were still piling brush.

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I had a mellow day last Thursday brush cutting and poisoning the scrub red oak, cherry and buckthorn on the sand prairie.  I think it’s time to start burning brush piles.

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See you at The Springs!

Burn Bluff Creek East!

The Bluff Creek State Natural Area is a jewel in the Kettle Moraine State Forest–Southern Unit.  The rolling moraines, deep kettles, massive oaks and bubbling springs that source Bluff Creek, make this one of the most beautiful areas in southeastern Wisconsin.

The DNR’s SNA team has been prepping the east side of the Bluff Creek property for months creating clean, wide firebreaks all around the burn unit, which is no easy task on the steep moraines.  This would be the second time they burned the area and everyone was anxious to get it done.  Last Saturday I spent the day there with Zach, Ginny, Don, Jerry and Brandon raking the areas around dead snags and taking down some really punky ones that might have fallen across the firebreak.  We worked along the eastern perimeter of the 454 acre burn unit between A and K on the map below.

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Zach and Brandon reviewing the situation.

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A monster dead oak that we cleared around.IMG_2618 IMG_2620

I stopped at Bald Bluff on the way home hoping I would get an invite to come back the next day for the burn.

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I forgot my phone and, sure enough, when I got home, there was a message from Jared inviting me to join their crew to Burn Bluff Creek East.  Cool!

The team from the Bureau of Natural Heritage Conservation included: Burn Boss Matt Zine, Nate Fayram and Jared Urban the north and south line bosses respectively and Jessica Renley, Alex Wenthe, Adam Stone and Bridget Rathman.  Paul Sandgren, Matt Wilhelm, Don Dane, and Dennis Mclain represented the Kettle Moraine State Forest-Southern Unit.  Greg Kidd and Erin Holmes, volunteering their time, represented the NRCS (Erin also works with Pheasants Forever).  And, last but not least, Bill Walz, an SNA volunteer who also works with The Prairie Enthusiasts was there.

Greg gearing up.

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Alex, Greg and Matt.

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Matt Zine explains the burn plan.

It was a pleasure to hang out with the “pros” and be one of the team.  Matt Zine attributes much of their success developing the SNA’s in the Kettle Moraine State Forest–Southern Unit to Paul Sandgren’s leadership and commitment.  A lot of thought and effort went into planning this day — bringing the people and equipment together — and the conditions were perfect for a woodland burn!

Per the plan, we began anchoring the unit on the line between points B and A.

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Then the south line team began lighting a backing fire from A to L while the north line team did the same moving west from B to D.

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The steep moraines were not for the fainthearted to drive an ATV up and down on, and the wetlands on the northern perimeter had some deep, water filled trenches to negotiate.  I was really impressed with the fortitude and level of effort and cooperation amongst everyone involved.  They carried out the plan without a hitch!

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This classic kettle required a bit of extra effort to carry fire through it.

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David Bart, Assistant Professor Landscape Architecture and Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies UW-Madison, contributed the next 5 pics showing the north line team in action.

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Bill and I got “released” around 6:30pm and I quickly changed clothes and headed back to the burn unit to get some more pics.

A happy Matt and Erin.

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Double D.

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I was eager to see the blackened kettles and moraines along the line from A to L.

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Then I headed west from point A and decided to try to walk the perimeter of the burn unit.

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I was blown away when I saw how difficult it must have been to lay down the backing fire on the north line.  Here are a couple views of the wetlands Nate, Jess and Adam lit up.

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You could see lines of fire still creeping through the center of the unit.

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I threaded my way through the black and brush until I came to the big open water where all the springs collect forming Bluff Creek.

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There are dozens of springs flowing into the headwaters.

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It’s a good thing I had walked this area once before on an SNA workday at Lone Tree Bluff and knew where I was.  I had no problem picking my way through these creeping fires on the trail leading back to the parking lot on Easterly Road.

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I found my way in the dark back along the firebreak at point J and came all the way around the south end of the burn unit back to point A.  And reminiscent of last year’s Scuppernong Burn, I ran into Don Dane, just beginning his all-night vigil at the burn unit.

The new Statewide Prescribed Burning Guidelines require that all burning and smoking wood on “the entire burn” be extinguished before the burn can be declared “controlled”.  Don watched the fires throughout the night and the SNA team returned today to complete the mop up.  It is hoped that the guidelines can be amended to acknowledge the low level of risk that smoldering logs pose in the middle of a huge burn unit.  It is hard and complicated enough as it is for the DNR to effectively use fire to help manage the forests.

See you at The Springs!