Little Kestol Prairie

Little Kestol Prairie is a secret nestled in the rolling moraines and oak savannahs of the Kettle Moraine Oak Opening State Natural Area (SNA).  Well, OK, it’s not a secret anymore, it’s outlined by the black circle just south of Young Road on the map below.


Zach Kastern has known the secret of this remnant, dry prairie, for some time and has been working to keep invasive species, as well as fast spreading native woody trees and brush, from overtaking it.  So when Jared Urban, the DNR’s SNA volunteer coordinator, asked him for a location for the March workday, Zach was quick to suggest it was time to reveal the Little Kestol Prairie.  (Ed. note.  After I posted this, Zach commented that the prairie was probably named after Joe Kestol.

The Joe Kestol house on Territorial Road was built when the Kestol family came from Norway about 1846. It has been occupied by Joe Kestol until 1993, when he went to live at a Retirement Home.

Georgia Kestol corrected the history in a comment posted on 5/5/15:

J. W. Kestol refers to the late James Kestol, my father, who was a teacher in Janesville, Wisconsin. The farm, about 200 acres bordered by the state forest, has been in the Kestol family for 105 years. Little Kestol Prairie is named for James Kestol, not Joe Kestol. Joe Kestol, deceased, was James’ brother. He owned the farm on Territorial Rd, a sesquicentennial farm that has been in the family since 1851.

Thanks Georgia!

The Little Kestol Prairie is also mentioned in the Walworth County Land Use and Resource Management Plan.)  Listen to Zach share the secrets of this ecological remnant and what he hoped we could accomplish on a beautiful Saturday morning.

A great crew of volunteers including: members of S.A.G.E. (Students Allied for a Green Earth) at UW Whitewater, the Kettle Moraine Land Trust, and free agents like Don, Brandon and Ginny (thanks for the cookies) contributed to a very successful workday.


My day started at The Springs, where I stopped to get some “world class” spring water to drink.


When I arrived, Zach, Jared and Ginny were reviewing the plan for the day.  Below, Zach documents Little Kestol Prairie with some before photos.

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Soon we were hard at work on the slippery, snowy, wet hillside.


Herb and Stephanie cleared an area at the bottom of the hill.


I spent the morning following Brandon, who was swinging a brush cutter, with one of Jared’s patented poison daubers, and that was a nice change for me.  Zach flagged the hazelnut, hickory, oak and other “keepers” so the brush cutters (Rebecca and Brandon) had to be very discriminating.  As the morning warmed up, even the snow on the north side of the hill began to melt.  Although many of us got cold, wet, feet, nobody bailed out!

Ginny and Herb double team the brush.


Wrapping up…


Here are some perspectives from the top of the Little Kestol Prairie.

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I spent the afternoon back at The Springs harvesting black locust firewood for my upcoming camping adventures at My Shangri-La.


I ran into Carl Baumann and John and Sue Hrobar, who reported seeing American Woodcocks by the new spring we uncovered in the Buckthorn Alley (I forgot to mention the Sand Hill Cranes returned this past Monday, the 10th.)  Carl was picking up some black locust and cherry firewood for his new friend Marty, who lives in the neighborhood and, like many others, ran short of firewood this season.  Nice work Carl!


That’s Marty in the skid steer loader and Carl in the back of the truck.


See you at The Springs!

Kettle Moraine Oak Opening

A lot of ingredients go into a successful land restoration recipe and you’ll always find persistence as the base stock. Our chef Saturday, February 15, at the Kettle Moraine Oak Opening SNA chilly bowl, was noted Oakologist and Wisconsin DNR Conservation Biologist, Jared Urban.

Restoring and preserving oak savannahs and woodlands is an important goal of the DNR’s Endangered Resources Program (newly christened as the Natural Heritage Conservation Bureau), and Jared has been focusing on organizing and empowering volunteers to accomplish this.


Zach Kastern gets the party started.

Our chef sets the table.

Feast your eyes on this work crew!

Jared likes to spice up workdays with unique mixes of people, locations and activities and Saturday’s stew pot included burning brush piles and cutting and poisoning buckthorn, honeysuckle and other brush on the sunny south side of an oak covered moraine just northeast of the intersection of Bluff Road and County Hwy H.  Enthusiastic volunteers from the Ecology Club, and S.A.G.E. (Students Allied for a Green Earth) at UW Whitewater, the Kettle Moraine Land Trust, and others, provided the meat and potatoes for the savory stew but Jared’s “secret ingredient” was Gary Birch.

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Gary has dedicated his professional career (first with the Wisconsin DNR and currently with the Wisconsin Department of Transportation) and a lot of his personal time to nurturing, protecting and researching the flora and fauna in Wisconsin.  Here is a small sample of Gary’s diverse activities:

NR40 establishes classification of invasive species and regulates certain categories of plants. The BMPs (Best Management Practices) identify measures that ROW (right-of-way) managers can take to minimize the introduction and spread of invasive plants by applying maintenance resources effectively. A growing concern for more than 20 years, experts point to invasive species as a threat to ecological balance and the economic value of Wisconsin’s lands and water.
Gary Birch, an ecologist with the WisDOT Division of Transportation Development, says the department is reviewing the impact of NR40 on its policies and mowing directives for state highways.  WisDOT also is working with the DNR to create programs on invasive species management for use around the state. Birch hopes to circulate the DNR Field Guide at future workshops, part of “a monumental effort” to help road maintenance managers and crew members recognize problem plants and what methods to use, when.

Gary’s life’s work epitomizes  persistence, which is the key to any “monumental effort”.  His latest tip is to check out the Pleasant Valley Conservancy SNA, which I plan to do soon!  Thanks for everything you do Gary!

Meanwhile, back at the Oak Opening, Jared led a crew of brush cutters, stump poisoners and brush haulers and I led a team to set the piles on fire..




Zach Kastern led another team clearing brush along the horse trail.



Jerry took one for the team.


Herb Sharpless, with the Kettle Moraine Land Trust, led another crew working farther north along the horse trail, but they were in brush so dense that I didn’t see them!

It was another wonderful and satisfying day working at the Kettle Moraine Oak Opening SNA!


See you at The Springs!

Eagle Oak Opening

What’s in a name? The Wisconsin DNR’s Endangered Resources Program has been rechristened the Bureau of Natural Heritage Conservation. Now, I don’t know about you, but I’d rather be kicking some invasives’ butt with the Endangered Resources crew than resting like a folded doily in some mothballed bureau. What’s not to like about ER? I can’t even pronounce BNHC!

Long live the ER team! It was less than 2 years ago that Jared Urban began coordinating with local volunteers to adopt a State Natural Area and yesterday we saw the maturation of that effort in a splendid workday at the Eagle Oak Opening SNA. ER crew leader Jessica Renley, along with Jared, Adam Stone, Scott Stipetich and Don Dane formed the nucleus of a high powered and highly organized effort to remove red cedar and other unwanted trees from the Eagle Oak Opening.


We had a great group of volunteers!


Jared explains the who, what, where, when, why and how.

The ER team had prepared four different work zones ahead of time by clearing small areas and stacking brush piles. Shortly after we divided into teams, we had 4 fires raging, 3 sawyers sawing, 2 poison daubers and whole lot of brush piling. Actually, there were 6-8 chainsaws ripping and everyone was busy doing their part.

Scott, Jess and Izak.



Jill and her boys work one of the hillside piles.




Don and Zach Kastern led the team at the base of the hill and they had some challenges getting the red cedar out from under telephone lines.



Alex stokes the fire.


Back at the top of the moraine Jared, Maggie, Jim and Nannette worked the pile.


Time, sparks, sawdust and cedar flew as we cleared the hillside.






Some of the volunteers left around noon, as we stopped for lunch and talked about what was working; or not.

Jess set the pace all day!


The DNR crew, Zach and I worked until around 4:00pm.

I didn’t want to leave; I felt totally at peace and savored every minute of it.











Watch the Volunteer Page for the next chance to work with the DNR’s Endangered Resources team at one of our beautiful State Natural Areas.

See you at The Springs!

Friend Of All The World

I lost control of my truck on the unexpected ice and barely stopped before intersecting the oncoming traffic. What was that? Seconds later, as I waited to turn left into the medical complex, I heard and felt the sickening impact of autobodies as the driver behind me skidded on the same ice patch and smacked me. My hat flew off and coffee erupted from my cup. Damn construction! I called Dr. Campbell, the surgeon who removed the cancerous tumor from my neck back in June 2011, and informed his assistant that I’d be a few minutes late for my annual checkup.

The morning frost was long gone by the time I made it out to the Kettle Moraine Oak Opening on Bluff Road to finish piling the brush we cut last weekend.



The blue sky silhouetting the might oaks on the hillside was immaculate and I was under Rudyard Kipling’s spell listening to Kim, “friend of all the world”, on audio book. What a tale filled with metaphors: the Great Game, the River of the Arrow, the Wheel of Life… and told in the context of the rich and incomparable Indian culture of the late 1890’s. I blissfully piled brush as Kim simultaneously “ripened” into a secret agent for the British empire and faithful chela to the Teshoo Lama.

Dr. Campbell said everything looked good and that I had “made the right choice” by refusing the radiation and chemotherapy they had strongly recommended after the surgery. I don’t know if I’m “acquiring merit” by volunteering in the forest, and it doesn’t matter, I felt the reward in the present moment and thankful tears welled up.

I finished stacking what we laid down last Saturday and tried to consolidate the piles so they would be easier to light when we get snow cover.




Then I headed over to the high ground at Bald Bluff to watch the sun down and thank the Creator for giving me another splendid day.









See you at The Springs!



: area of knowledge : theory : science related to the genus Quercus.

Wisconsin DNR Conservation Biologist Jared Urban is one of the preeminent Oakologists in the state. Restoring and preserving oak savannahs and woodlands is an important goal of the DNR’s Endangered Resources Bureau, which has been newly christened as the Natural Heritage Conservation Bureau, and Jared has been focusing on this as he helps manage the State Natural Areas in Southeastern Wisconsin. Organizing volunteers is an important part of this effort and I had the pleasure of participating yesterday, along with the UW Whitewater Ecology Club, in a work day at the Oak Opening SNA in the southern unit of the Kettle Moraine State Forest.

The skies were threatening rain as Jared, and fellow Oakologists Ginny Coburn, Zach Kastern and Diane filled ingeniously engineered stump poison delivery dauber devices. Note the use of a sawdust filled tray to catch any spills (thanks Zach!)


By the way, if you are receiving this post via email, you should be able to double click the video frame above to watch it on the internet. Much to my chagrin, being a 25 year I.T. veteran, none of the links to embedded Youtube videos delivered via email posts have worked since July 1 of this year. Oh well… if you want to see any of the cool videos I have linked to since then, you’ll have to visit this site. Hopefully the video links in the emails are working now.

Jared explains what we are trying to do and how we will do it.

The UW Whitewater Ecology club made an excellent contribution!


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The rain arrived just after noon and I took shelter in Jared’s truck as we shared lunch and conversation. I wanted to finish cutting a swath of brush between two of the brush piles we started, and around 2:00pm the rain quit and I was able to get after it. Here is what it looked like at the end of the day.



The sun made a brief appearance and I saw blue skies behind the gray clouds that were rushing by so I headed over to Bald Bluff hoping to see a cool sunset.

Sundown at Bald Bluff.



Instead, the rain returned and chased me back to my truck. Nevertheless, it was a thoroughly enjoyable day.

See you at The Springs!

Bluff Creek West

If you want to explore some hidden treasures in Wisconsin consider participating in the State Natural Areas Volunteer Program. Ginny Coburn is organizing volunteers on a regular basis to work with DNR Conservation Biologist and Wildlife Technician, Jared Urban, at uniquely beautiful locations in the South Kettle Moraine Forest just north and east of Whitewater. Back in May we girdled aspen at the Lone Tree Bluff Scenic Overlook and I visited the springs that originate Bluff Creek.

Jared is a careful phenologist, optimizing every volunteer hour to the max. Last Saturday, July 20, our mission, dictated by dynamic biological phenomena, took us to the Bluff Creek “west” (of Hwy P that is) State Natural Area to a secluded prairie where we cut white sweet-clover and wild parsnip. I knew this was going to be good as I rode on the back of the 4-wheeler Jared was driving, holding down brush cutters and other gear, as we left the paved road behind us. I think the black line coming north off of Hi-Lo Road approximates where we entered the prairie and the black dots show where we cut weeds.


The view from on top the ATV.

Jared explained how the DNR has been cutting brush and burning in this prairie for years and the results of their tender loving care were evident in the diversity of plants in this high quality prairie. Zach, Ginny, Jared, Diane and I had a wonderful morning doing what we love!




I’m becoming a bit of a phenologist myself, or maybe its just hard not to notice the spotted knapweed and buckthorn resprouts/seedlings that are growing at phenomenal rates at The Springs. I had a few hours to spare before the Waukesha/Milwaukee chapter of the Ice Age Trail Alliance was to have their summer gathering, and I headed over to Scuppernong Springs Nature Trail. There were two trees down across the cut-off trail, and another down across the river just upstream from the gaging station. Sometimes trees grow faster than they can handle, and that appeared to be the case here. After cutting them out of the way, I started spraying weeds and brush seedlings on the cut-off trail. In many places both sides of the trail are literally carpets of new buckthorn and prickly ash seedlings. This is a perfect time to spray these plants as they are still small and there will be minimal collateral damage.

This week I’m planning to cut spotted knapweed on the Sand Prairie and continue spraying buckthorn along the cut-off trail.

See you at The Springs!

More Trout Stream Therapy

“Rain drops keep fallin’ on my head…” I’ve been feeling a bit like “the guy whose feet are too big for his bed”. Per B.J. Thomas’ example, “… I just did me some talkin’ to the sun” yesterday, pulling weeds all day on the sand prairie, site of the Potawatomi, Ho-Chunk and Sauk Native American campgrounds, and that snapped me out of it. I got that “peaceful, easy feeling” that comes when you know you’re in the right place, at the right time, doing the right thing.

I’m investigating whether or not I might have gotten infected with borrelia burgdorferi (lymes) and taking doxycycline, as a precaution, while I figure out what to do next. I feel pretty good now and I’ve been working at the Hartland Marsh the last two weeks, mowing, brush cutting and meeting with the village administrator, Dave Cox, to help initiate a prescribed burn program. It’s been a few years now since I was focused on the marsh and, with all the rain we’ve been having, the buckthorn and other invasive plants are quickly turning it back into a jungle. Fire inspires hope that my efforts at the marsh will not go to waste. If you haven’t visited the Hartland Marsh yet, put it on your list; it’s uniquely beautiful.

Yesterday, I spent a rejuvenating day at The Springs and I’m going to jump ahead to the highlight of day when I walked down to the old barn site and saw that the DNR Trout Stream Therapists, like elves from middle-earth, had worked some magic to continue healing the river. Well, maybe it was just a lot of planning, deep river knowledge and hard work that produced the excellent results you can see below. This area corresponds to site #3 on the map in the post linked above and it looks like they are queued up to complete site #2 in the near future. Thanks to Ben, “Gos” and their crew for their continued efforts to nurse the river back to health!

I started the day at the Scuppernong Spring getting some water.



The sand prairie is lush with spiderwort and other native flowers, as well as lots of weeds.

Common Milkweed



The Scuppernong Prairie


John Hrobar alerted me that hoary alyssum was spreading like crazy and I decided to spend most of the day pulling this weed, since it was in peak flower, rather than continue piling brush in the woods, as I had planned. So, after spraying Transline on the short, black locust trees that have sprouted on the hillside just west of the scuppernong spring in the morning, I spent the rest of the day pulling hoary alyssum and spotted knapweed. All the rain we’ve been having made the weeds easy to pull and they came up roots-and-all, which was quite edifying. White Campion is another weed that is establishing itself on the sand prairie and I’m trying to figure out what to do with it; maybe nothing this year.

Hoary Alyssum

I returned to the Scuppernong Springs in the late afternoon to reminisce about the wonderful visit I just had there with my Mom, Dad and brother Joe.

Then I wandered down the left bank of the river visiting the hillside and hidden springs.


I’m not sure what this flower is… looks a bit like Indian Hemp.


Sunset at the marl pit.








See you at The Springs!

Bald Bluff

Thanks again for tuning into the Scuppernong Springs Nature Trail blog! Yesterday I had the pleasure of working with Gary Klatt, Zach Kastern and Jared Urban girdling aspen on a hillside prairie on the southwestern slope of Bald Bluff. This area is part of the Kettle Moraine Oak Opening, one of the few remaining examples of what was the predominant plant community in pre-settlement days. The best part of the day was that they let me rant on and on, suffering my righteous indignation at the way the world is working, with patient, good humor, or, maybe they were just laughing at me.

Jared, Zach and Gary.


Zach has been doing a lot of volunteer work in this area in the past year, flowering into a bonafide naturalist. He has adopted the place as his own and gained intimate knowledge of the flora and fauna. We couldn’t hope for a better steward to step forward and take care of this land!

Gary Klatt is a retired Math Professor at the University of Wisconsin Whitewater. He is a former director of the Ice Age Trail Alliance, and his contributions have even been recognized by The President. Here is Gary working on one of the many bridges he has helped design and build along the IAT.


He was awarded the “Spirit Stick” in 2010.


Gary says, “I’ve come up with a philosophy: Be kind always, and be useful when you can,”. Check out this homage to Gary in the Winter 2010 issue of Mammoth Tales on page 5.

It was drizzling when we began working and the brush was very wet, but our cheery banter soon banished the clouds and we all began peeling off layers.

The top of Bald Bluff has grown over with oaks since the days that Black Hawk and the Sauk tribes made it their home.

Afterwards, Jared invited us to Paint Brush Prairie, a rare, first-rate, remnant prairie and it was amazing to listen to Zach and Jared calling out one plant after another. We parked along Lowland Drive and crossed a farmer’s field on a DNR easement to arrive at the prairie, which is just west of the Rushing Waters Trout Farm complex on the google map below.

Listen to Jared describe the prairie.

I remembered a few names of the many plants they identified, but not this one.





Yellow Stargrass



Paint Brush


Death ‘something’?


I appreciated the opportunity to spend time and learn with Jared, Zach and Gary and look forward to the next Kettle Moraine Oak Opening workday.

See you at The Springs!

Oaken Word

Siddhartha taught me to listen to the river. Time is an illusion; the “present” moment is an embraceable gift to us. Instead, we often treat time as a commodity to be spent, or saved, or wasted. The past haunts us, we fear for the future, all the while missing the gift of the present moment.


I was lucky to spend some time with the oaks this past weekend; paying attention, listening and feeling the gentle vibration of their subtle speech. The last few weeks I’ve been distracted with the burn, inmates and doctor visits but I found calm again in the present moment amongst the oaks.

On Saturday, May 11th, I joined Ginny Coburn and DNR Conservation Biologist Jared Urban for a workday at the Lone Tree Bluff Scenic Overlook to girdle some aspen trees. Jared leads the Endangered Resources (ER) team in southeastern Wisconsin. His crew varies in size from 3-5 people and they are responsible for approximately 20,000 acres.

Jared hobbled to the top of Lone Tree Bluff on crutches due to an ankle sprained while lighting a 90 acre prescribed burn at Lulu Lake on May 6th. This was after the ER team spent the bulk of the day helping to burn the Scuppernong. The expression “Still waters run deep”, was coined with Jared in mind; I calm down just being around him. But, you should have seen his face when he described the fires he lit at the Scuppernong; the tone vanished as his jaw dropped and I could see the 40′ flames reflected in his widened eyes. Below, Jared gives us a natural history lesson and explains the science behind girdling aspen trees.

When you contrast the billions and billions of dollars the government spends on the military, security industrial complex, versus what it spends to nurture the land, it recalls to mind TreeBeard’s lament in The Lord of the Rings that, ‘no one cares about the trees anymore’. The war mongers misleading us, our Saruman’s if you will, have propagandized us using the old divide and conquer strategy, demonizing Muslims, and distracting us from what our real priorities should be here in the homeLAND.

Whew, I’m ranting again. I’ll try to be more calmly passionate (sounds like something Joseph Conrad might have written, not to suggest I could have even sharpened his pencil). We had a lot of fun working together and I thoroughly enjoyed it.




In the back row Diane, Carol, SwordMan, Princess and Ginny and in the front row, Carol, Thayer and Jared.


I’m new to this area so I stayed to explore a little. Here are a few shots of the bluff.



The Bluff Creek Springs emerge from the north side of the moraine and feed Bluff Creek. I had to check them out.




I found another set of springs on the east side of the moraine.

I wanted to hear what the oak were saying up at Lapham Peak, where Mike Fort and the Lapham Peak Friends have been restoring the prairies, oak woodlands and oak savannas for over 20 years. They have perfected techniques for cutting, stacking and burning buckthorn that are models of efficiency. This past week they did a 75 acre prescribed burn in the area marked in white on the map below and they burned approximately 177 acres total in the park this spring burn season.


This huge swath of the north flank of the peak extends from “the big slide” cross country ski trail east to the tower hill road. I was in awe taking in the scope of the effort as I well remember this hillside was thick with buckthorn.





The oaks were swaying and singing gratefully with the blustery north wind, giving thanks for the tender loving care of the Lapham Peak Friends.

Approaching the tower.

A bird’s eye view from the tower (I need a wind screen for the camera mic).

If you haven’t visited Lapham Peak lately, or ever, consider paying attention to what the friends have accomplished and spend some present moments there.

On Sunday, May 12th, I was back at The Springs. Wow, I wonder how long it will take for the forest floor to become green again. I wonder if the native flowers and grasses will have enough strength in their roots to push up fresh growth this year; or next. I began the day spraying garlic mustard, which appeared in isolated patches that escaped the fires.


I was pleasantly surprised, and heart warmed, to see Lindsay, his wife, Connie and her granddaughter Sophia, arrive to pick up a load of wood.


When I talked to Don Dane after the burn he mentioned that this would be a great time to attack the spotted knapweed on the Indian Campground. Loaded with the recipe I got from Lindsay, I started that application. Spraying herbicide is my least favorite thing to do in the woods and I limit how much I do in a day. There is plenty more garlic mustard and spotted knapweed proliferating out there and I’ll be spraying for the next two months.



Some scenes from the Indian Campground.




Looking down into the river valley from the Indian Campground.



Next on the agenda was girdling aspen. I intended to continue working at the old hotel site, but I thought better of it as I was walking down the river valley, and I attacked a few isolated clonal colonies that were spreading into the valley.

A quick stop at the Scuppernong Spring.






Finally, I started piling buckthorn just north of the old barn site. I have been a cutting fool for the last couple months thinking that I would get a crew of inmates from the Sturtevant Transitional Facility to help me pile, but I don’t think that is going to work out, so I’ll be piling for the next few weeks to catch up. I made around 10 piles and it was very relaxing work with a great view down the river to the west.



DNR Visitor Services Associate extraordinaire Amanda Prange is leading an effort to install a new set of signposts to match the trail brochure.


The Hatching House Spring is looking great.


I followed the channel of the Indian Spring’s towards it’s junction with the Scuppernong River and caught this panorama video. The marl pit factory ruins are just to the right of the sun.


Speaking of which!




See you at The Springs!

Kettle Moraine Oak Opening

I really love everything about Oak trees. Their stately grandeur, sweeping curves, deep shade, fissured bark, colorful leaves and nutty fruits give them a marvelous character. At the recent Oak Opening Workshop I was inspired to join in the efforts of the Oak Savanna Alliance and, when I got Jared Urban’s email invitation to a workday at the Kettle Moraine Oak Opening, that was all I needed to take action.

This past Saturday I joined Jared Urban and Amanda Prange, from the DNR and Herb Sharpless, Virginia Coburn and Zach Kastern, from the Kettle Moraine Land Trust cutting brush off a hillside prairie at the south end of the Kettle Moraine Oak Opening on Bluff Road, just east of Co. Hwy. H.



Listen to Jared describe the project.

We split into two teams and continued to expand the already cleared areas to the west and east.



All the while I could not wait to walk to the top of the hill and get a good look around.

I had a commitment in the afternoon at the Scuppernong Springs so was not able to explore the area, but I’ll definitely be back to stroll amongst the majestic oaks along the rolling moraines. What a cool place! I’m sorry I missed Ginny in this picture (Amanda, Zach, Herb and Jared). I really enjoyed the morning and look forward to working with them again.


I had a date in the afternoon with Troop 131, from Fort Atkinson, to pile some brush at the Scuppernong Springs Nature Trail and I got to the cut-off trail in time to start some piles.

Thanks to DNR Assistant Superindent, Anne Korman for connecting me with troop leader Peter Jacobs. Check out this righteous group of dudes!

The conditions were pretty rough and they had been hiking all day, but they gave it their best shot and we made 20 piles.

I hope we can do it again some time!


A couple of parting shots from the Indian Campground.



See you at the Springs!