Today the girls and I took a field trip to Portage, the city built around the 1.4 mile land-hike between the Fox River and the Wisconsin River.
We began our day with a stop at the Mackenzie Center, a nature education center adminstered by the DNR. What a gem! I had never been here, but the girls and I loved it!
As we walked in, Daisy , looking up through the forested area asked, "How do you know if a maple tree is a Sugar Maple?"
Ever quick on my feet, I answered, "Why, you just look at its nametag, of course!"
The girls were very intrigued by the rocks from which the welcome center was built. They all came from local fields and were the diverse rocks I grew up with--granite, basalt, sandstone, schist. Around here, all they know is the yellow flint-type rock we have. How did all these rocks come to the local fields, you ask? Why, the glaciers thoughtfully brought them!
Next up was the wildlife exhibits. And unexpected perk of this field trip (we hadn't planned on stopping here, really) was to see all the wildlife that once roamed an unsettled Wisconsin.
There were bison and deer.
Coyotes (not pictured) and cougars.
Yay! A turkey vulture!
Owls, hawks and an eagle. See the eagle's nest? It's huge!
The most social badger we've ever seen.
There was also a bobcat, fisher, porcupine, raccoon, gray and red foxes, a skunk, a possum. At each display was a little plaque with an imprint of the animal's footprint. The girls were delighted by these and checked out each one.
All of the animals were either injured or captive-born and are unable to survive in the wild. While it looks like conditions are not optimal (small cage settings with cement floors), the cages were clean and all the animals looked healthy.
One of the wardens actually showed up to do some cleaning while we were there and answered a bunch of questions for us. I was curious to know how long the animals lived there and surprisingly, many of them had outlived their in-the-wild lifespan at this center already. Overall, the place was well-done.
In another area of the center, there was a real 120 year old log cabin being used to house a logging display. There was a display of the maple syrup process and a huge ancient log (almost 300 years old from the time it was a seedling!)
The girls found this rebar wigwam. It was messy, so immediately they set out to sweep it clean with branches they found.
Our next stop was in Portage at the Surgeon's Quarters, the only remaining building of Fort Winnebago. It's located at the exit point of the Fox River at the portage. Marquette and Joliet were here.
It's a nice little tour, filled with amazingly old and wonderful things. My favorite was a beautiful sampler in PRISTINE condition made by a 12 yo girl in 1802!
We also visited the Indian Agent house where we had a nice, private tour by a nice homeschooling mom (she was the docent of the day). My favorite thing about this place (we were here with Rose Bud when she studied WI history) is the 200 year old elm tree in front of the house. When we arrived, the tree doctor was just delivering the estimate for the tree's triennial (is that the word? Every three years) IV treatment to prevent Dutch Elm disease. The tree's 2 siblings have already died from it, but this one remains spectacular and healthy! Here is a nice pdf telling the story of the Kinzies, the Indian Agent house (scroll down) and the Elms.
A nice bit of Wisconsin history can be found in the book Wau-bun, written by Juliette Kinzie in 1832 of her life at Fort Winnebago and as the wife of the Indian agent at Portage. It is considered the earliest written history of this part of Wisconsin.