I know the official 20 Prospect Great Staycation of 2009 is officially over, but this past weekend we took the dog exploring with us in Wisconsin, and found a remarkable little park that we had never visited, Willow River State Park. I have no idea how I have lived in the Twin Cities for 16 years and never stumbled across this lovely park. I take it as a sign that there is still much about this area that I don’t know, and many more things left to discover.
The Willow River is one of several small rivers that drain the farmlands and wetlands of Western Wisconsin into the St. Croix River. As noted in previous postings, the St. Croix Valley is one of the most beautiful places in the State, and a place that makes me dream of returning to “the land.” (The fact that I didn’t come from “the land” is not something I let get in the way of my day dreams.) It is a lovely little river, as are the Apple River to the North, and the Kinnikinnick to the South. Calling them Rivers is being generous, as they are really just creeks, and trout streams. In my stylized day dreams of returning to the land, I fly fish them regularly, as that is what all great localist renassaince men do. (Again, I don’t let the fact that I do not know how to fly fish get in the way of my daydreams.) Willow River State Park is located around Willow Falls, where the river cuts through the escarpment of the Central Plain, and drops down into the Western Uplands. Don’t believe me? See for yourself.
The center point of the park is Willow Falls, which is about a 2 mile hike in from the main body of the park. Of course, there’s a shorter route in from the County Highway, but we went for the walk after all. It gave us a chance to get some much needed exercise, and the kids another opportunity to fill their pockets with acorns. Squirrels, and 10 year old’s, can never have enough acorns. What I found the most surprising about the place is that “they” let you climb right out into the water. In these days of litigation I am amazed that “The Man” allows such reckless behavior. In fact, Wisconsin is not alone in putting such blind trust in its citizens. Minnesota State Parks like Gooseberry Falls also allow the masses to clamber around on slippery, sharp pointy rocks. Cool.
Having grown up in the Empire State of New York, I just can’t get over this fact. The great “Nanny State” of N.Y. would never allow such rampant, willful, dangerous behavior on the part of its citizens. Why they’d position State Troopers with sniper rifles around the perimeter to keep us from hurting ourselves, if they had to. But they don’t have to. The docile populace of NYS has been trained through years of servitude to expect “keep off the grass” signs in our parks. No, the only dangerous waterfalls I ever climbed in NYS required me to trespass over private property. In a way, I almost prefer it like that. The extra effort of petty law breaking is good for the soul, and adds another element of adventure to the risk of splitting your head open on slippery, moss covered rocks.
But I still say hats off to Wisconsin. Willow Falls is just one of the few water falls in a State Park. There are many more falls out in the back country of the North Woods that are less accessible, and crowded, and still offer you the chance to donate your gray matter to nature, should you so choose. I’m looking forward to getting out and finding some of them in the years to come. The kids love it, and Moxie seemed to enjoy it too.