Throughout this series, I have really appreciated spending the summer in the Fox Cities when I don’t have classes and homework and can take the time to really explore what the area has to offer. With about a month until the school year comes back around, I have been trying to take advantage of the free time I have to make the most of summertime.
Last weekend, my friends Maddie and Chris (who are also in Appleton for the summer) and I decided to check out the Gordon Bubolz Nature Preserve in Appleton. We met freshman year and have been pals ever since. Both biology majors, they are spending the summer doing research with a Lawrence professor sampling local lakes to determine if invasive species are present. We brought along Gunner, a nine-month-old labrador retriever Maddie has been helping to train as a service dog over the past few weeks (sidenote: the preserve does not typically permit dogs, but Gunner was the exception because it is illegal for people to deny service dogs entry into areas that are open to the public).
Bubolz’s Nature Center is under construction as of May and still raising funds through the Bubolz Capital Campaign, but the 8.5 miles of trails on the preserve are open to the public year round during daylight hours. Since Bubolz is the largest preserve I have visited so far, I had to defer to Maddie and Chris, who had visited before, for advice on where to start. Before deciding which trails to take, we took a look at Turtle Pond, located right by the entrances to Four Seasons and Poplar Pass trails.
The pond was definitely appropriately named–I counted at least 12 painted turtles swimming among the lily pads, but there were definitely more. We also saw a large snapping turtle swimming around pretty close to the dock. According to a sign we saw, you can actually buy turtle food from the preserve and feed them as well, which would be really cool for next time when the office is open (it was closed when we visited).
We got a bit unlucky with the weather at first when it started raining pretty hard. We found a bench under some trees to wait it out for about twenty minutes (although we later saw a small shelter down the trail which would have been a lot better for staying dry).
Once things started to brighten up a bit and the rain had calmed down, we started along the Four Seasons trail to check out the meadow. There was a lot of milkweed and bee balm for the bees and butterflies. The wide open space of the meadow was refreshing–living in town by so many buildings and people can feel claustrophobic at times. It was nice to be in a more isolated, quiet area again and just enjoy the sights.
We wandered around a bit in the meadow and made our way back to the woods after getting a little disoriented. The trails do have numbers marking them and the occasional arrow sign, but it was still easy to get confused in such a large area. I definitely recommend bringing along a trail map, which can be found at the entrance to the trails or online. Once we found our way back to the woods, we decided to take Deer Run trail, the bulk of which runs along Bear Creek.One of the cool things about Bubolz is the diversity of habitats on the preserve, including prairie, wetland and forest with creeks and ponds throughout. Walking through the woods, we saw lots of different kinds of trees, plants and fungi, including raspberries and lots of ferns. We also saw several trees that had fallen over, likely in the recent storms. These were actually very cool because we could see the roots that were showing and new plants growing where the trees had once stood.
We saw plenty of deer tracks, so although we saw mostly birds and insects on the trail, there were clearly others taking advantage of the lush habitat as well. I would definitely be sure to bring bug spray for these parts of the trails–we encountered lots of mosquitoes, which were probably worse considering the recent rainfall. Make sure to wear the right shoes (unlike me) in case the trails are wet, as they can be mucky in certain areas.
Before heading back toward the parking lot, we took a look at a huge swath of prairie from an observation tower (I am directionally challenged, so to be honest, I don’t actually know where this was). We saw a lot of monarch butterflies and a few red admirals flying around. Maddie even spotted two monarchs who had just starting mating, which was pretty interesting to see happening in the wild.
Once we had gotten back to the entrance of the trails, we checked out Turtle Pond again. It was a lot sunnier than when we had first arrived just before the rain, so it was even more beautiful. Since Bubolz is such a big place, I would definitely come again to see more of the preserve. It’s the perfect place to go to more than once because there are so many areas to explore and so much ecological diversity, and once the Nature Center has been built, it will be even better.