Thanks for The Springs

I think I know what Martin Luther King meant when he said “I’ve been to the mountaintop!”

Yes, “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the lord” too. That’s why I do what I do. Since my first backpacking foray into the mountains 25 years ago I’ve seen some beautiful places and literally been to the mountaintop. Many days and nights in the back country taught me to see the lay of the land and filled a wellspring of unforgettable images within me. At The Springs I have a unique opportunity to shape the landscape and manifest my vision. It’s slowly becoming reality and the best part is sharing the creative process with other volunteers who have also “been to the mountaintop”.

The last two days I’ve been slashing and burning at The Springs with Dick Jenks and Andy Buchta. This was Dick’s first time working at The Springs and Andy was back again after his initiation last week. I really enjoyed their company and appreciated the way they “got after it”.

Tuesday we worked along the trail on the northeast section of the loop near signpost #13 and an old cranberry bog.

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Dick getting some licks in.

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Andy piling brush.

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We laid down a lot of nasty buckthorn and opened up the views.

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Later, Pati came out to join me for a walk just in time for a snow squall. It dawned on me that tomorrow would be a great day to start burning brush piles.

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The next day (today/Wednesday) I was back with my propane torch and Dick joined me to help work the piles.

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They were relatively easy to light and we had 21 going in a little over an hour.

Note the buckthorn crowding around the burning piles.

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Borrowing a technique used by Mike Fort and the Friends of Lapham Peak, I cut a dozen or so huge buckthorns that were very near the burning piles and we threw the brush right into the fire. Then I cut a whole lot more but it seemed like we barely made a dent in the thicket.

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Andy arrived shortly after noon, returning to the area we worked on Tuesday, and finished piling everything we had laid down there.

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This past week has been our first taste of really cold weather this season and I’m getting used to it and looking forward to Winter.

The Indian Spring.

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Steam rising from the Scuppernong River.

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My favorite time of day!

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See you at The Springs!

Burn The Scuppernong!

I couldn’t leave.  Everyone was gone except for the burn boss, Don Dane, who would maintain an all-night vigil.  The sun had set and it was a moonless night.  I walked the cut-off trail in the dark for the first time; my path illuminated by glowing snags and the embers from numerous brush piles.  What a day it had been!  We burned the Scuppernong and I wanted to savor the feeling, the smells, the smoke, the trees, and the night sky.

The day, May 6, began as the forces gathered at Forest Headquarters in front of the maintenance shop.

Paul Sandgren and Don Dane discussing plans with the lieutenant from the Eagle Fire Dept.

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The excitement was building as Don prepared to explain the plan to burn 786 acres of the Scuppernong.

Refer to the plan below as you listen to Don’s instructions in the following video and notice that Amanda Prange is the one who steps forward when Don asks for a volunteer for a tough assignment. “Go Big” is the trend now for prescribed burns and Don effectively integrated people and equipment from multiple sources to implement his carefully conceived burn plan.

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Lindsay and I were assigned to line boss Paul Sandgren’s team along with IAT trail boss Pat Witkowski, DNR sheriff Elias Wilson and Rocky, Dan and Melanie, also from the DNR. Our job was to make sure the fires set at the top of the ridge along Hwy 67 did not jump the trail.

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The shifting and variable winds did not conform to the expectations in Don’s plan and Paul and Don decided to light the hillside along Hwy 67 from the bottom up instead of the top down, which was very effective.

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I was assigned to help in this task and grabbed the last drip torch. Unfortunately, the seal around the throat of the torch was not good and fuel leaked from the rim in addition to coming out the torch nozzle. It is a good thing that Elias was there as he immediately noticed the danger and gently persuaded me to stop. I am prone to momentary lapses of reason and common sense when fixated on a goal, and it is quite likely that I would have immolated myself and ruined the day if Elias had not been there.

We listened to our radios with great interest to the status reports coming in from all quarters and I was impressed by the calm and deliberate way that every issue was handled. Incredibly, “the feds” as Don described them, called just as we were getting under way and tried to shut down the burn. They asserted that the WDNR was using funds from the NAWCA grant to pay for the effort, when in fact this burn had been planned for months before the WDNR was even awarded the grant and no money from the grant was used for the project. Don negotiated with “the feds” and resolved the issue.

After the hillside was burned we proceeded to light the valley on the east side of the Scuppernong River. Check out this head fire and notice that it is running from south to north.

IMG_1293We took a very short break for lunch and lit the west side of Scuppernong River. I had a good working torch by now and walked along the west edge of the river igniting an incredible head fire that ran to the tree line on the west bank of the bowl that used to form the lower pond.

All the burn teams were making great progress and we heard reports of all the burn lines being “tied in”. The perimeter was secured and the teams began pushing head fires through the interior of the burn unit. I walked along the north side of the river, where it makes its turn west from the old barn site, taking soakers in both boots as I lit the bank of the river all the way to the bridge where the stream gaging station is. The winds where blowing from the south and this line of fire moved aggressively to the north jumping the cut-off trail.

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IMG_1296Lindsay moved into the black behind the line of fire and put out flames in a huge oak tree that is laying sideways around 10-12′ off the ground saving this interesting landmark. Paul Sandgren sent me over to light the area on the west side of the marl pits on both the north and south sides of the river. The backing fires lit on the west side of the burn unit were creeping east and the time was ripe to drive a head fire towards them. I had just leveraged a south wind to light the north side of the Scuppernong River and now, out in the open, I had a strong east north-east wind behind me. When I got to the marl pit bridge I found the southeast corner on fire and had to dip my water bottle in the river repeatedly to put it out before any major damage was done. As I walked south along the west side of the marl pits, I lit what soon turned into a raging head fire. My escape route ahead of me was to simply jump the fire line of the creeping back fire.

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Here is a perspective looking northeast from marl pit.

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I was able to get a good head fire going on the north side of the river as well and we tried to run it as far as we could along the south side of the trail leading back to the parking lot on Hwy ZZ.

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I think we burned approximately 95% of the unit, but Don might have a more precise estimate, and, much to my surprise, we lit all of the 50+ brush piles created since the end of the winter burning season.

I am heading out to The Springs tomorrow and I plan to take a lot of “after” pictures to pair up with all of the “before” shots I took yesterday morning before joining the team at forest headquarters.

This was an experience I will never forget. The WDNR team of the Southern Unit of the State Forest led by Superintendent Paul Sandgren, Assistant Superintendent Anne Korman and burn boss, Don Dane, is one of the finest groups of people I have ever had the pleasure to work with.

IMG_1150I stopped at The Springs on my way back from Forest Headquarters; I didn’t want to go home. Wandering the trails in the dark amongst the scattered, glowing fires was pure pleasure. I stopped at one of the bogs to capture the sound of the frogs with the glowing embers of a brush pile in front of me.

I arrived at the DNR parking area at ZZ & 67 above the Hotel Spring for a sympathetically synchronous rendezvous with Don Dane and we celebrated the success of the burn. There was a lot of mop up work waiting for his team today. I hope you got some sleep Don.

See you at The Springs!

Burnt Offering

It was Ash Wednesday yesterday as Rich Csavoy and I donned our priestly garb (yellow, fire resistant jumpsuits) and offered 22 brush piles as burnt offerings to the sun god; the dominant visual and physical reminder of the work of The Creator.

Here are some before shots from the Temple of the Springs taken near the Hotel and Emerald Springs altars.

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I was really happy to see Rich coming down the trail just as I was lighting the first couple of piles. We almost had to call tech support to figure out how to attach the suspension system on the inside of his brand new fire helmet. Thanks again to the Kettle Moraine Natural History Association for funding our gear!

The snow cover was a little sparse and we had to keep a close eye on the perimeters of the fire rings. There were a few cases were the fires began to escape, but, thanks to Rich’s help, we are able to easily contain them. I have had sporadic problems with my torch characterized by extremely low btu output and it happened again yesterday. I resolved it by tightening one of the joints in the torch hose and now I think I finally understand how to keep the torch working perfectly. Here are some after shots.

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After a cloudy day, bright blue skies moved in from the northeast; a welcome invitation to take a few late afternoon pictures of the Springs and a sure sign that The Creator accepted our offerings.

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The Emerald Springs.

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The Hillside Springs.

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The Scuppernong Spring.

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There is a new program via which we can text in the current water level at the gaging station. I was too burnt to try it out.

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These are for you Mike!

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See you at The Springs!

Friendly Fires

Hi, and thanks again for following our adventures at the Scuppernong Springs Nature Trail.

We have been waiting for the right conditions to burn the brush piles at the south end of the trail in the area around the Scuppernong Spring and the Hillside Springs and today was the perfect day. Not only was the wind right and the snow cover right but our righteous friends Carl Baumann and Steve Brasch were able to join Lindsay and I. Although we’ve had a lot of snow and rain lately, the piles were bare and pretty dry and they readily took the fire.

Here is the scene before we started burning.

Carl and Steve followed behind Lindsay and I using leaf blowers to fan the flames we ignited, which really got the piles going and saved a lot of propane.

Here is the crew (Steve, Lindsay, Paul and Carl from left to right).

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The winds were pretty swirly down by the piles but as the smoke rose, it was blown away from Hwy 67 by a predominately northeast breeze.

After the 42 fires were “mopped” up, Lindsay, Carl and I took a walk around the trail and we filled Carl in on the details of our plans for the future. It was a splendid day and great fun to work together.

See you at the Springs!

A Child of Nature

Steve Brasch grew up at the Scuppernong Springs.  His mother used to drop him off there with his friends in the morning with a promise to pick them up for supper.  All day they ran wild; building forts, floating on rafts in the ponds, catching creatures, running, hiding, looking, simply being in the woods.  He never lost his love of nature and, armed with a degree, he pursued a career in forestry.  Those were the Reagan years and budgets were tight; Steve had to make some tough decisions and leave the forest behind.

Over the years Steve found opportunities to volunteer with many organizations working on land restoration and his passion for the outdoors never flagged.  He moved into the Scuppernong neighborhood and, noticing the changes taking place at the Springs, decided to get involved.  Lindsay and I really appreciated Steve’s help and camaraderie yesterday as we worked the piles on the cut-off trail.  Welcome Steve!

Here are a few pictures of the brush piles we intended to burn.  This wood was cut and piled within the last month, which is pretty fresh as brush piles go, but they contained enough dead wood that we thought we could start them.

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The plan was to get the existing piles lit and then continue piling the brush we cut last week.

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Despite the cold, we got warmed up fast and the layers started coming off.  Lindsay brought his leaf blower and that proved to be the difference between success and failure; there’s nothing like a jet of fresh air to kick-start a green brush pile.

We made a few new brush piles too.

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We hope to finish clearing the buckthorn and brush between the cut-off trail and the river before spring.  The cut-off trail passes through the loveliest woodlands in the whole Scuppernong Springs Nature Preserve and it is a joyful thrill to open this area up.

See you at the Springs!

An Offer To Burn

The Hartland Marsh is dear to me, as only a place can become once you have invested much into it (see About Paul).  Despite the wintry weather, things are heating up lately at the Marsh.  Ken Neitzke, who led the Waukesha/Milwaukee chapter of the Ice Age Trail Alliance (IATA) for many years, and was inspirational in awakening in me the awareness that I could make a difference, began exploring the possibility of resuming the use of fire in the maintenance of the Hartland Marsh.  Ken lit a fire with the Village of Hartland leadership and Jill Rick, the author of the “I Want To Know” column in the Lake Country Reporter, fanned the flames.

IATA trail boss, Pat Witkowski, passed the torch to me letting me know about Jill’s recent article and I appended a comment to the article offering to help burn the brush piles I left behind at the Marsh.  The fire jumped to Mike Einweck, the Village of Hartland Director of Public Works and he contacted me to let me know his crew was going to burn piles the next day (today). This was music to my ears and I immediately contacted Mike Fort and John Mesching.  They have been working to restore prairies and Oak woodlands at Lapham Peak for many years, and being the jewels of the human species that they are, they both promised to come.  Jack often helps at Lapham Peak and he joined us as well. Closing the loop, I contacted Pat to let her know and she also came to help.

I arrived a bit early to take some before pictures and was greeted by Jill Rick, whom I had contacted the night before to ask if she could get a photographer from the Lake Country Reporter to take some pictures.  A half hour later Todd arrived and documented our efforts.  The Village of Hartland Dept. of Public Works staff members Dave, Jake and Josh arrived around 8:00am and Jill began an interview with Dave, asking rather impertinently, “… do you know what you’re doing?”

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I wondered If I knew what I was doing when I tried to light the first pile.  Although the wood had been stacked for over 2 years and was well seasoned, we had just had a good soaking rain followed by an accumulation of 4″ of snow.  Check out this mess.

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Approximately 80% of these piles were made in one day by Arrowhead High School students under the guidance of biology teacher Greg Bisbee.  Dave, Jake and Josh began with the piles right along the trail heading down from the gazebo.  Situated in a becalmed drainage ditch, these snow encrusted tangles of frozen brush were not eager to embrace the flame.  I encountered difficulty as well with piles by the trail and migrated up the hill looking for a little breeze.  Soon, Mike and John arrived and we hit our stride.  Despite the conditions, together we lit 60 piles.

The best part of the day was being visited by no less than; Augie Wilde, the Fire Chief, Dave Cox, the Village Administrator and Mike Einweck.  These patient souls were subjected to impassioned speeches from yours truly about the need to do prescribed burns at the Marsh.  The Municipal Code authorizes it and the Village’s own Comprehensive Land Use Plan Chapter 4 ( see Public Interest/Current Legislation under Legislation and Public Hearing Notices) implies it, as there is no other way to achieve its stated goals.  I was happy to hear Dave Cox say “Fire is a good thing.”  Hopefully, the Village leadership will be able to define some concrete action items to initiate a program of prescribed burning and implement them.

The Native Americans, or First Nation People taught us to plan for the 7th future generation.  It is time for the Village of Hartland to embrace this credo and preserve and nurture its natural, open spaces for the 7th generation of Hartlandians to come.

Here is a short tour of the burn site at the end of the day.

After the gear was stowed away and I put some dry socks and boots on, I took a leisurely walk around the Marsh visiting all my favorite haunts.  I encourage you to discover the beauty of the Hartland Marsh!

A Yellowstone Moment

Thank you for tuning into the Scuppernong Springs Nature Trail journal!

I spent the last two days at the Springs; yesterday was sunny, today cloudy.  Both days were mild, for mid-January, and it was very quiet and peaceful.  I was in heaven!

I started yesterday lighting some piles that were at the point where the main loop trail first emerges into the prairie.

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I took these pictures this morning.  Its hard to tell, but I cut a bunch of Buckthorn way in the back left below, while waiting for the piles to burn down.

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When I came to this spot at the end of the day today and looked out at the prairie, I was reminded of the grassy plains at the top of the Pitchstone Plateau, in the South West corner of Yellowstone National Park.  Last Fall, Pati and I scouted out a possible route from Lewis Lake across the Plateau to get to the famous Bubbler Hot Springs, where three forks of the the Bechler River meet.   It is two days hike to get to the Bubbler no matter which way you come from but well worth the effort.

Yesterday I tried to light some piles by the Marl pits but my torch quit working half way through.  I had better luck this morning and finished up there.

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When things had settled down at the pits, I went over to the cut-off trail to clear an area by a huge White Oak tree where the trail is relatively close to the river.

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The last time I opened a trail was at the Hartland Marsh.  I can’t wait till you all get a chance to walk this new trail.  You’re going to love it!

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You can see the main loop trail outlined in white across the river.

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Here is a view from the main loop trail looking North towards the big White Oak where I was cutting.

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I’m going to try to remember to capture a water level reading whenever I go out.

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After the gear was stowed away, I took a walk around, which I love to do, and got these pictures.  Rich Csavoy explained that the hole in the concrete of this old foundation on the cut-off trail was used to empty the fire place.

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Yesterday’s sunset was very nice.

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See you at the Springs!

I watched the fire that grew so low

It felt like a warm, sunny Spring day.  The snow had all melted and the ground was wet.  The brush piles on the South end of the loop trail were wet from the recent rain, but the steady Westerly breeze promised all the support we would need, and we started lighting fires.

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Lindsay and I lit 45 piles and Rich arrived shortly after noon to help us mop up.

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Highway 67 is visible through the smoke above on the left and we got a call from the North Prairie Fire Chief investigating a complaint.  I’m not sure if it was a motorist or someone living East of the forest beyond Hwy 67.  The chief just wanted to confirm that we were the party that had called in that morning to notify them of our burning plans.  The smoke was never heavy or thick on the road.  What are they complaining about?

After the piles had settled down, Lindsay, Rich and I took a grand tour around the Springs.  It was the first time Rich was able to hang out with us after working, and we had a great time enjoying the scenery and envisioning the future.

You might wonder if perhaps we had inhaled a little too much smoke when you listen to this conversation.

There is a new depth gauge at the site of the ground water flow monitoring station.

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We gave the piles one last stir after our walk and then Lindsay and Rich headed for home.  I lingered and watched the fires that that grew so low…

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See you at the Springs!

Fire On The Dunes

Today was a gloriously beautiful day at the Springs and I felt very lucky to serve the Creator.  Yes, THE CREATOR!  I think I’m becoming a Deist, and you might consider it too, if you had just read Thomas Paine’s The Age Of Reason.  What a tour de force!

The ground water flow meter, aka stream gaging station, has been installed!  I’m assuming it was Hydrogeologist Mike Parsen, from the Wisconsin Geological & Natural History Survey, and/or his team that did the work.  It looks very cool.  I don’t know if it is “online” yet, there is no data reported for the Scuppernong River at the USGS Water Watch site yet (thanks to John Hrobar for that link).  We’ll keep an eye on it.

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We had clear skies, and steady winds out of the West; perfect conditions for burning brush piles on the Sand Dunes where the First People once made their campgrounds.  I was glad to have Rich Csavoy’s help and we burned another 44 piles.

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As we get the brush cut, piled and burned, new vistas are opening up.  Here you can see the Scuppernong River and the Marl Pit bridge from the Scenic Overlook.

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And now you can see the Indian Spring from the overlook as well.

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I loaded the gear in my truck, slipped into some dry boots, and made my way back via the newly cleared cutoff trail to enjoy the sunset.

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See you at the Springs!

 

Smoke Gets In Your Eyes

We called ourselves the “River Rats”.  With our Blue Dolphin canoe loaded with a chainsaw, pruning saw, rake and garbage bags, we were determined to make the Bark River from Hartland to Lake Nagawicka navigable for canoes and litter free.  Mark Mamerow and I took many work trips down the Bark and, after 7 years, its a really nice paddle.  In his new book “The Bark River Chronicles – Stories from a Wisconsin Watershed”, Milton J. Bates describes our stretch of the Bark River in Chapter 5.  Mr. Bates tells the story of The Hartland Marsh in great detail and even mentions Pati and I.  Although he doesn’t mention Mark by name, he does comment on the great improvements to the river in this stretch since his last visit in the 1990s.  Thanks Mark! 

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Check out About Paul for more info about the Hartland Marsh project.  Here is a map of the Bark River in the Hartland Marsh area.

That being said, it was great to connect with Mark again today as we burned 50 more piles at the Scuppernong Springs.  The morning was crisp and cold.

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Just beyond the row of 12 brush piles you can see below is a remnant of a sedge meadow.

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Our DNR friends Don and Amanda gave us a huge bag of seeds, with over 20 varieties suitable for a Wet Mesic Prairie setting, that we plan to sow in the area around the Indian Springs and in other locations.  The transition from Buckthorn thicket to natural prairie or wetland includes a lot of steps and burning the brush piles is one of my favorites.

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We lit another dozen piles farther down the outflow channel of the Indian Springs, closer to where it joins the Scuppernong River.

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The conditions were perfect so we moved to the West side of the Indian Campground Sand Dune and lit another bunch of piles.  By 11:00am we had 50 piles started and we began the mop up process.

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Snow started falling around 4:00pm and it was coming down pretty good by the time I left.  Since there wasn’t much of a sunset today, here is a great shot taken by Tighe House a couple weeks ago.

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See you at the Springs!