Archive for April, 2011
If you’re a regular reader of the “Get Out” blog on The Local Q, you already know that there’s nothing I like more than being in the great outdoors.
I’m all about finding that next adventure, then coming home to tell you all about it. As I’ve collected adventures, I’ve also collected some funny stories and observations about the outdoors, and those observations have finally come together as my new comic strip, “Wide World of Sorts.” I don’t fancy myself a professional comic strip artist, but I hope WWS makes you laugh anyway.
Let’s talk bats.
These much maligned winged mammals have long been typecast in horror flicks and nighttime terrors, but the truth is, bats are an integral part of the world’s ecosystem, and indeed, are important in our own backyards. According to the Department of Natural Resources websites, there are around 12 species of bat in Illinois and Missouri; including three species on the endangered species list.
Each individual bat in the state can eat up to 3,000 bugs in a single night. Thanks to just the gray bats in Missouri and Illinois, there are 1,080 TONS of flying insects that are not bugging you all summer long. All of the bats in the area are insectivorous, and this massive bug buffet is our best defense against dangerous mosquito populations and diseases they carry, like West Nile Virus. Bats are also important pollinators, and with decline in honeybee populations, they become more important in that respect each year.
But something is killing our bats. White Nosed Bat Syndrome was first documented in 2006 in Albany, New York. There, cavers began to notice bats acting strangely, some dead or dying, and many with a strange white fungus around their muzzles. Since the fungus has been discovered, there has been an unprecedented spread of the disease. The cold-loving fungus appears to grow on the bats in the winter and disrupts normal hibernation. The bats awaken too early or too often and exhaust their fat stores and essentially starve to death. In some hibernating populations, the mortality rate is more than 90 percent. The bulk of the cases of WNBS have been in New York and Tennessee, however, the epidemic appears to be spreading and has been seen in nearly all of the Eastern Seaboard and into the Midwest, including Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Indiana and Ohio.
It is believed that the primary spread of the disease is among the bats themselves, however, people who go caving (also called spelunking) may unknowingly spread the fungus between populations on their boots or equipment. Though the fungus itself does not pose a threat to humans, bats are so crucial to our ecosystem that the Department of Natural Resources, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and state authorities closed most caves on public land in all of the affected states in 2009, and the closures are still in effect this year. The closures do not affect privately owned caves, however, the DNR urges landowners to be aware of the problem and report any dead bats found on their properties.
So, as outdoor enthusiasts, what can we do to help? Besides abiding by the closures recommended by the DNR, outdoorsmen (and women) should always be aware of the possible contaminates found on their clothes, equipment and boots. The White Nosed Bat Syndrome, along with fish and game related diseases and invasive and the spread of non-native plant and insect species can largely be avoided if we take some basic precautions. These include: Wash all boots and equipment when traveling between different ecosystems, states, bodies of water, etc. This can be as simple as wiping the bottom of your boots with a bleach and water solution. A bleach solution also works well to clean waders and fishing equipment. Also, don’t move wood or plant products. Bugs and disease can easily hitch a ride on firewood or plants and a new ecosystem may not have the ability to fight off a foreign invader. And never, never, never move plants or animals from one place to another. Ever. The best advice is to use common sense. The cleaner you are when you’re in the great outdoors, the better. As the saying goes, “Take only memories (or photographs), leave only footprints.”
For more: www.fws.gov/whitenosesyndrome
My husband and I love to travel. We’ve been to a lot of amazing places to experience the outdoors — our 10/10/10 climb of Mount St. Helen’s stands out as one of our best adventures of the last year. It’s not tough to find adventure in a place like the Cascade Mountains. Going across the country to climb an active volcano was big, exciting, and new. It takes much more creativity to find adventure in more common places, and that’s why I submit to you, for your adventure seeking consideration: Palmyra, Mo.
What?!? You mean that little town you pass by on Highway 61 when you’re heading to Hannibal or St. Louis?
Yeah, that one.
The game that originally drew me off of the highway and into Palmyra was Geocaching. (You might remember my February blog about Geocaching: The adventure GPS scavenger hunt game where a cache is hidden, marked with GPS coordinates, and then waits to be found by anyone with a GPS enabled device.) I was surprised and delighted to find at least 3 Geocaches are hidden in the Palmyra area. 2 of these were hidden back in Dr. JW Well Nature Park.
The JW Well Nature Park sits behind the fairgrounds and Flower City Park in Palmyra. The two parks combine to offer several trails. Some are paved or have gravel, and others are normal forest trails. There is a map of the trails on a sign next to the tennis courts, so you can pick the one that sounds the best to you.
The Nature Trail begins at the entrance to JW Well Park, and is a 1-mile loop through a small part of the 200+ acre park. This was the gateway to our adventure. We hiked the loop then left the trail to search for owls. (It is my summer goal to photograph a Great Horned Owl. You’ll be the first readers to know when I’ve done it…)
We followed the whoooo whooooing of owls up a dry creek bed. There we explored our balance on fallen trees, checked out the formations the water had carved out of the stone in the creek bed, and basically poked around for all the fun we could find. My husband climbed up forest litter like scaffolding while I examined some sun-bleached animal remains for clues to their origin, and our friend Mary took pictures of some beautiful wildflowers. We moved on and found two of the biggest trees I’ve ever seen in our area. They both turned out to be dead and hollow, and I stuck my head inside a hole in one to get a glimpse of the cave-like interior. We emerged from the woods several hours later (having failed to locate the owl that had been making so much noise) next to a lovely pond replete with ducks and geese.
So there you have it: a day in the forest, close to home, with adventure ready and waiting. While you’re in Flower City Park, be sure to check out the tennis courts, swimming pool, fair grounds, shelter houses with grills, and Frisbee golf course. Adventure is everywhere, you’ve just got to Get Out and find it!
For directions and more information: http://www.showmepalmyra.com/parksrec.html
Everything about Cuivre (pronounced “quiver”) River State Park in Troy, Mo., is wild. There are wild flowers, wild animals and wildly-fun trails, lakes and campgrounds. All in all, the park makes for a great adventure.
Cuivre River is only an hour and a half from Quincy, and is one of the loveliest state parks in Missouri. I suggest starting your visit with a stop in the park’s Visitor’s Center. The park staff is very friendly and will give you great tips on finding just the right activities for your group. They know the local wildlife and trails inside and out, so ask them how to get the most out of your visit.
Even though the park is close to home, the variety of trails, habitats, and terrains make the park seem like a real vacation. The 11 trails at the park are well-marked and easy to follow, and they vary in length and difficulty. Some trail highlights include: Lakeside Trail (3.5 miles) This trail leads right along the perimeter of Lincoln Lake. My husband and I hiked this trail just last weekend, and saw frogs, snakes, butterflies, beavers, lizards and more. Big Sugar Creek Trail (3.75 miles) I hiked this trail with friends in January, and it was simply breathtaking. The creek and bluffs were heavy with icicles in the winter, and in the warmer months, the bubbling stream and chirping birds are a symphony. Lone Spring Trail (4.75 miles) The Lone Spring Trail has both a north and a south loop, which gives you the option of only doing 2.3 miles if you prefer a shorter walk. In addition to its namesake natural spring, this trail traverses an open woodland area. This area is currently being restored via controlled burns, and it’s amazing to watch the processes of the forest right before your eyes. Prairie Trail (.3 mile) and Turkey Hollow Trail (.8 mile) are great short options if you’ve got kids along. They each are short, well-marked trails that give you views of prairies and woodlands, respectively.
There are far too many activities at this park to list, but I’d suggest checking out the Ranger Talks on Saturday nights or Sunday mornings between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Topics are seasonal and have featured subjects like owls, bats, wildflowers, birds-of-prey, prairies, conservation, wetlands and much more. Call the park office at 800-334-6946 or visit their website http://mostateparks.com/park/cuivre-river-state-park
Also, don’t miss the lake, the beach, the campgrounds, the fishing, the swimming, just don’t miss this park.
*Note: There is also a cave at Cuivre River State Park. It is closed at this time, as are most Missouri, Illinois, and Iowa caves, to control the spread of White Nosed Bat Disease. I will be talking about the cave closures in an upcoming blog, however, the closures may be lifted later this summer. Check the Department of Natural Resources for the most up-to-date information.
It’s ostensibly quite easy to mushroom hunt. You grab a sack, go for a walk in the woods, find mushrooms and pick them. Really though, there is so much more to consider. If you remember my blog from last month about Siloam Springs State Park you might recall I promised to tell you about Morel Mushroom hunting.
So here goes: 90% of what I know. 10% I’m not telling.
The first thing you need to know is when to start looking. People have been finding noshable vegetation in the forest forever, and everyone has a different “sign” to let them know that it’s time for Morels. I have an uncle who used to call mushrooms his “other tax day refund,” therefore he believed April 15 was the day to go. My grandpa’s formula was two weeks after the dogwoods start to bloomm, but it has to rain and be at least 50 degrees at night. Me? My sign is a plant called a May Apple. This little umbrella shaped plant is ubiquitous in the forest, and when its little white blossoms appear, I say it’s go-time for mushroom hunting.
What to bring?
Being prepared to go mushroom hunting is very important. You are out in a bunch of trees that have just awakened from winter, and if you ask me, they seem a little cranky about it. Wear long pants (for thorns), good shoes (for walking), a hat (to keep ticks out of your hair) and a jacket (because it’s colder under the trees). Also, bring a few bags to put your prizes in. Make sure they’re not easy to rip, lest a thorn bush snag your bag and redistribute your findings into the forest. Also, bring something to drink, because you’ll be hiking all day. It’s usually just wishful thinking, but I also like to bring along a big garbage bag, just in case I hit the mother-lode.
Where are they?
Mushrooms don’t grow in all of the woods around here. I can’t explain to you why. For instance, I’ve always had good luck at Siloam Springs, but have never found a mushroom in the woods near my grandma’s house. Before you go, find out if mushrooms have ever been found in the area, and always get permission before going on private land.
No, seriously, WHERE are they?
My dad always says that mushrooms are wherever you least want to be. It seems to be true. See that stand of thorn bushes at the bottom of that drainage gully? They’re probably under there. Other people will tell you to look for fallen maple trees or in creek beds. Some say they have to be where some sunlight filters to the ground, but not in direct sun. Some say they’re by the base of oak trees but only on the west side. I have no idea what to tell you here. I’ve seen them everywhere. As a matter of fact, two years ago, my husband found four growing in our backyard on 14th street in Quincy. I like to imagine that the mushrooms have little feet like in Mario Brothers games, and at night they run around the forest and hide.
I Found Mushrooms! Now What?
Good for you. When you get home, take your bags straight to the kitchen sink. Cut each mushroom in half length-wise and put them all in a sink full of cold water. Let them soak for at least an hour. This step gets all of the dirt and little ants out of the mushrooms. Then lay them out on a paper towel to dry. They can be kept in the refrigerator for up to a few days. My family generally cooks a mess of mushrooms by dipping them in one beaten egg, giving a light coat of seasoned flour and pan-frying them in batches. I’ve been more adventurous in the last few years, and some of my favorite applications are making Wild Mushroom Risotto (add black truffle oil on the top and this is just heaven), Homemade Pizza with Wild Mushrooms (make this Italian Style, using garlic olive oil instead of tomato sauce and goat cheese instead of Mozzarella), or Wild Mushroom Soup (I like to make mine with lots of fresh thyme and plenty of roasted garlic).
Happy hunting and good luck. I’ll be looking in my top-secret-never-fail-mushroom-location. I’ll give you a clue to find it: it’s near some trees by some grass in the neighborhood of a creek somewhere in the county.
Mwaa ha ha ha!
*A special thanks to Clinton Begley for the Morel photographs.
The first question I got from coworkers when I rode my bike to work a few weeks ago was, “Oh no! Is your car broken?” I explained that the Camry was fine; I just was going to start biking to work. And biking to work is exactly what I intend to do (weather-permitting) until next winter.
Like many of you in Quincy, I live close to where I work: 1.6 miles to be exact. And there are lots of good reasons to bike instead of drive.
1. Driving to work generally takes me 5 minutes door-to-door, and biking only takes about 10, so we’re not talking about a lot of extra time.
2. My office has no windows, and I often lament missing out on beautiful days. Biking is perfect for a breath of fresh air.
3. Biking to and from work twice a day is 40 minutes of cardio workout! It’s going to be good for me come swimsuit season.
4. Gas. It’s probably not a lot of gas to get to work, but at $4 a gallon, I’ll take all the savings I can get. Besides, I like helping to save the planet when I can.
5. It’s helping me on my quest to feel more like Superwoman! I bike into work in my “super hero” workout clothes, hop in the bathroom, and come out as my mild-mannered Marketing Executive alter-ego!
6. My favorite reason to bike to work is that it seems to slow my hectic life down just a little bit. I’ve noticed architectural details on buildings I’ve never looked at before. I can watch the season change each day. I like to hear a bird song and breathe in crisp morning. It lifts my mood and helps me face the day with energy.
So get out there, Quincy! Dust off your bike and hit the road for your morning commute. It’s good for your soul!
The first time I attended a Zumba class with my friend Katie was over a year ago, and the advice I was given from the instructor at the door was, “There’s no wrong way to Zumba. If you’re having fun, you’re doing it right!”
I’ve got to admit I was skeptical about the workout craze of the moment. Zumba purports to be a dance party work out, and the first image that popped in my head when I read that description was Richard Simmons in a ridiculous outfit, hawking “Sweatin to the Oldies” VHS tapes on a late night infomercial. And to some extent, the Zumba craze is at least a little similar to aerobics fads of the past- but with a noticeable difference: It really is a tough, fun workout.
The first thing I noticed at Zumba is the music selection. Zumba is known for its Latin-inspired beats and dance moves, but in the Quincy classes, they mix in other genres as well. Besides the Latin tunes, classes have featured songs by Prince, Gretchen Wilson, Micheal Buble, Lady Gaga, Whitney Houston, and many more. The mix of the music keeps the music fresh each class and offers something for everyone’s individual tastes.
Next, I was surprised at how polished the class structure was. The well-trained and high-energy staff makes the hour-long class seem like the perfect hybrid of a night dancing at the club and a quality aerobic workout. The songs are picked in an order that maximizes their impact: first a warm up, then working to high intensity, coming back down for a song, another high intensity workout, and finally a cool down tune. The structure helps to make sure you’re getting your heart rate up into that max calorie zapping zone for as long as possible without burning yourself out. And since you’re using your own body weight as the resistance, the workout is automatically tailored to your individual needs.
Maybe the most startling thing you’ll notice in a Zumba class is the broad appeal. The class I attended at the YMCA on Tuesday night had around 70 participants, whose age, experience and fitness level varied widely. Somehow, all of these very different people managed to have a good time working out together, and no one feels overwhelmed or bored. The energy in a Zumba class is simply magical, and it’s not uncommon for everyone to start “woo hooing” and clapping along with the music. It’s unscripted and totally addictive!
Let’s not forget the reason we’re really at a Zumba class though: to get in shape and lose weight! An average person doing an hour of Zumba can expect to burn between 500-1000 calories. A Zumba class is a terrific aerobic exercise and a great step to help prevent heart disease. (Did you know? Heart disease is the leading killer of American women; 6 times deadlier than breast cancer.)
There are dozens of Zumba classes offered in the Quincy/Keokuk/Hannibal area. The best way to see the complete listing is to go to www.zumba.com and click on “locate a class,” and enter your zip code. As with all activities listed on the Get Out Blog, make sure you check with a doctor before starting any exercise program!