Introduction to Camping: Wilderness Camping

“In order to assure that an increasing population, accompanied by expanding settlement and growing mechanization, does not occupy and modify all areas within the United States and its possessions, leaving no lands designated for preservation and protection in their natural condition, it is hereby declared to be the policy of the Congress to secure for the American people of present and future generations the benefits of an enduring resource of wilderness.” -Excerpt from The Wilderness Act of 1964

Wilderness camping is what camping is meant to be all about. You’re powered by the work of your own body; your luxuries are limited to what you’re able to carry yourself; you’re away from the hustle and bustle of society and large crowds; you rely on your own resourcefulness to get past bumps in your journey. This type of camping takes a bit more prep work – planning a route, planning your meals, packing the right equipment, and making sure you have a plan in case something goes wrong. Often, wilderness camping takes you out of cell service range, which can be a curse and a blessing all at one time. That inability to connect with the world at the touch of a button can give you a true “unplugged” vacation, allowing you to reach a whole new level of relaxation. At the same time, you need to be aware that if something did go wrong, you may not easily be able to get help. So planning for this type of trip is key to your success. That being said, this is in no way a comprehensive guide. If you’re new to wilderness camping, do some serious research about any trip you plan on taking. Think of this as a jumping off point.

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Introduction To Camping: Car Camping

In my opinion, this is definitely the place to start. It can be done with relatively little investment (so you can decide if camping is for you before you go all in) and it can be done with relatively little risk (which can increase with wilderness camping). When I say car camping, I don’t mean sleeping in your car, although that is an option some people choose. I mean you drive your car and park it at your campsite, cabin, yurt, or other camp lodging option, allowing you to bring some luxuries along that wilderness camping does not.

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Not exactly packing “light”

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An Introduction to Camping: The Why & The Where

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We’re talking about camping all this month here at HDT. It’s a great time to squeeze in that last minute camping trip with the family before the school year starts, a trip with your best pals, or a solo trip all by yourself! Whoever is involved, it’s one last time to relax in your hammock, lounge at the beach, get your heart beating on a hike, or hang around the campfire while enjoying the summer weather. Time in nature has a multitude of mental, physical and emotional health benefits. You can read all about them in our previous blog. But to sum it up, time in nature helps us hit the reset. It’s a chance to relax, unplug from our screens, clear our minds, analyze life’s challenges with a different perspective, and to appreciate all the natural beauty in the world around us.

“Wilderness to the people of America is a spiritual necessity, an antidote to the high pressure of modern life, a means of regaining serenity and equilibrium.”

– Sigurd Olson

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For folks who are relatively new to the world of camping, it can be a little overwhelming as there are endless ways to camp! There are public campgrounds and private campgrounds; state parks, national parks, and regional parks; you could camp in a tent, RV, yurt, or cabin; you can get to your campsite by car, boat, bikes, horses, feet, and probably a few other ways I haven’t been creative enough to think of. Even once you decide what type of camping is for you, you have to decide where to go, what to bring, how to select your site, what safety precautions to consider, what you’re going to eat and how to keep yourself entertained once you’ve arrived. It’s all a lot to consider, but we’re going to try our best to walk you through it in this month’s blog posts! The first thing you have to decide is where you’re going to go. Continue reading

Take Time To Recharge (In The Great Outdoors!)

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During the first week of June, I left for a 10 day adventure in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA). This was the third annual trip I’ve taken with a friend of mine, Bry. Although traveling is one of my favorite pastimes and I am always careful to carve time out of my busy schedule for trips, the annual Boundary Waters Trip holds a special place in my heart. From the moment my paddle hits the water, I’m enchanted by the mesmerizing colors and reflections in the endless waters. The dark water against the bright blue sky, with the light green of the new leaves of the deciduous trees blending with the dark greens of the conifers, and the sunlight making it all sparkle just so – it captivates my attention, letting all my worries from the “real world” slip away.

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2018 T-Shirt Design Contest

During the summer, Happy Dancing Turtle offers four weeks of Eco Camp, week-long environmental day camps, for Pre-K through 6th grade students. The theme of Eco Camp changes each year, which offers continued excitement and learning to our long-returning campers. For the past few years, it has become a tradition that we spend part of the first day tie-dying our camp t-shirts, which depict the current year’s theme. A few years ago, we thought, “Hey, why not have the kids draw the t-shirts?!”

 

 

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This year marked the third annual Eco Camp T-shirt Design Contest.  We ask students from across the state in grades K-12 to participate by submitting a black and white design that fits the upcoming theme. The 2018 Eco Camp theme is Birds of a Feather. Each age group in this summer’s camps will be represented by an environmentally-focused bird: Recycling Robins (Pre-K & K), Nature Nuthatches (Grades 1 & 2), Sustainable Sparrows (Grades 3 & 4), and Conserving Chickadees (Grades 5 & 6).

 

Happy Dancing Turtle would like to give a huge shout out to everyone who submitted a design! We received 412 total designs, all from our K-5 students! We reformatted our age brackets to fit our contestants, enabling us to still give out all three prize packages. The new brackets were Grades K&1, Grades 2&3, and Grades 4&5. We were absolutely blown away by the artwork submitted by these students! It was insanely difficult to pick just three from each age bracket to go on to the finals, but after long deliberation, we selected the designs in the slideshow below to go on to be judged by Audubon Minnesota.

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2018 T-shirt Contest Results – Guest Judges from Audubon Minnesota

A huge thank you to our guest judges from the Audubon Minnesota – Katie, Kristin, & Ashley! They relayed how difficult it was to choose between these wonderful designs!

Winning Design of the K-1 Grade Bracket:

Addie K Madison
Addie – Kindergarten – Winona

Winning Design of the 2-3 Grade Bracket:

Marina 3 Madison
Marina – 3rd Grade – Winona

Winning Design of the 4-5 Grade Bracket:

Nina 4 Madison

Nina – 4th Grade – Winona

Each of these winners will receive an HDT prize item, a $20 Gift Certificate to a local movie theater, and a $20 Gift Certificate to the Minnesota State Parks.

Overall Grand Prize Winner:

Marina 3 Madison

Marina – 3rd Grade – Winona

In addition, this winner will receive an honorary Eco Camp T-shirt with their design printed on it!

Again, thank you to everyone who participated! 

Nature Notes: Birding Bonanza in the Driftless Region

20180508_173530Last Thursday, Michelle and Quinn traveled down to visit me in Trempealeau, Wisconsin, home of the new Happy Dancing Turtle – Driftless Region! They’ve heard me talking about the area for months and finally came down to check it out for themselves. Although, I must say I think I accidentally misled them. I’ve been talking about blue skies and 70s/80s temps for the last few weeks, but naturally, temps dropped to the 40s/50s and we received a lot of rain. Despite the rather unfortunate weather, there was still much to enjoy! When they arrived, I toured them through Perrot State Park on our way into Trempealeau. We enjoyed dinner at The Trempealeau Hotel, a quintessential restaurant of the Driftless Region located in a historic building from the 1880s. It is one of many restaurants featuring sustainably-sourced, locally grown ingredients on the menu. It also highlights the variety of live music events in the area, complete with an outdoor porch, beautiful gardens, and a bandstand overlooking the Mississippi and riverside bluffs.

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Screen Free Week

Are you up for a challenge? We are challenging you to join us for a week as we set aside our devices and refocus on relaxing, reading, daydreaming, creating, playing, exploring, and building our connections to family, friends, and places! From April 30th to May 6th, millions of people from around the world will unplug during non-work/school time to find joy in a wide variety of screen-free activities.

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Nature Notes: Territorial Tunes

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I spent the first “spring heat wave” of March exploring the backwaters of the Mississippi River in the Trempealeau Wildlife Refuge. Down here in bluff country, the Mississippi flows between the breathtaking bluffs of Minnesota and Wisconsin. The marshland and backwaters provide critical habitat for many animals, especially migrating birds. Temps soared to 53 degrees on Sunday, March 4th (before crashing back down and bringing 6 inches of snow on Monday). The river was a welcome rest stop for weary travelers.  Recently, I’ve been walking a lot on the wonderful trails through this park and I’ve found my own refuge in the silent, peaceful winter paths. I wasn’t long into my walk on Saturday before I realized it would be anything but silent… Continue reading

Back to Basics 2018 Seeking Exhibitors & Presenters

We are now accepting Vendor/Exhibitor proposals for our January 2018 event!  Vendor/exhibitors must have their proposal in by Saturday, November 4th to be included in our event promotion. Proposals will be accepted up until the event, as space allows. Note: we typically fill our vendor area well in advance of the event, so submit your proposal early!! For more details, feel free to check out our Vendor/Exhibitor Guidelines. Vendors will need to fill out an ST-19 form, which can be returned to us by email, mail, or at check-in the day of.

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We are very lucky to have quality presenters every year. Do you have what it takes?

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Nature Notes: Turtle Crossing!

As May comes to end, we’ve seen a dramatic transformation of our landscape. I was out of town from May 12th-20th and was shocked by the changes upon my return! It’s a jungle out there! Everything has leafed-out, the grass is green, and the flowers are blooming. The woods are filled with birdsongs and are wetlands are alive with the chorus of the frogs. It’s a busy time in the animal kingdom; animals are finding mates, laying eggs, giving birth, and/or raising young. Our turtle species are also occupied with this survival need at the moment.  Turtles lay their legs on land, so females must take on the dangerous journey of coming out of the safety of the water to dig a nest and deposit eggs into it. Males rarely travel far from the water, but a female may venture up to a mile away from water to find the perfect spot to lay her eggs. This journey usually requires her to face the hazards of cars on roads near our wetland habitats.

A study from a student at Clemson University found a frightening percentage of drivers actually swerve out of their way in order to run over turtles on the road, which is hard for me to even fathom! Why would anyone want to do this? The student, Nathan Weaver, put a very realistic rubber turtle in the road, hunkered down out of sight of the cars, and recorded their interactions. In one of his locations, one out of every 50 cars ran over the turtle and, shockingly, nearly 70% of the cars that hit the rubber turtle did so deliberately.

We’ll find turtles on the roads from now until about mid-summer, but mostly during the month of June. Up here in our neck of the woods, the two turtles that are seen mostly commonly are the beloved Painted Turtle and the more feared Common Snapping Turtle. Snapping Turtles are very large in size and can weigh up to 35 pounds. For some reason, (such as serious damage to your car), people seem to be able to avoid these behemoths, as I rarely see injured or dead Snapping Turtles on the road. Unfortunately, I do see a lot of injured/dead painted turtles on the road, so please be on the lookout for turtles while you are driving!

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Snapping Turtles are MN’s largest turtles. With powerful jaws and a long neck, they can quickly lunge out and strike at prey, or a threatening human hand!

Why don’t turtles just lay their eggs closer to the water to avoid crossing the road? As it turns out, a female’s decision about where to make her nest can have a huge impact on her offspring! The sex of young turtles is determined by the nest temperature during a particular phase of egg incubation. In Painted Turtles, temperatures above about 83 will typically produce females while temperatures lower than that will typically produce males. Therefore, if the turtle picks a place that has relatively thick vegetation cover providing shade, the soil temperature will be lower and more likely produce males. If she picks a spot that is relatively uncovered, the sun will raise the soil temperature, likely producing female offspring. Snapping Turtles apply the same principle, but backwards; lower nest temperatures typically hatch females, while warmer spots hatch males.

In May, it is not uncommon to find tiny Painted Turtles making their way towards the water. As these turtles do not start laying eggs until May and it takes between 50-80 days for the turtles to develop in their eggs, this is too early for these tiny turtles to be from this year’s clutch. Instead, they are turtles that hatched at the end of last summer or early last fall but did not emerge from the nest. Sometimes, the young hatchlings overwinter in the nest and emerge to travel back to the water early the next spring. Years with cold temperatures and little snow cover for insulation can be devastating to these overwintering hatchlings.

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This little guy was found in the first week of May, sure to be a hatchling from the previous summer’s nest!

Female Painted Turtles lay between 3 and 20 elliptical (oval) eggs in their underground nests. Female Snapping Turtles lay up to 100, but usually 25-50, spherical eggs in their nests. The difference in shape can be a useful identification clue if you find turtle eggs or eggshells. After laying the eggs, female turtles will not see or care for their young. Now, they are on their own. Unfortunately, most of the eggs will never hatch. Many of the nests will be dug up by a predator, such as a skunk, raccoon, or fox, within the first night or two. Of the eggs that do hatch, more turtles may be lost to freezing temperatures if they overwinter in the nest. When they make the journey back to water, even more will be lost to dehydration, predators, or cars on their pathway.

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What remains of a nest after being dug up by a predator.

So what can you do? If you see a Painted Turtle in the middle of the road,  “rushing” as quickly as it can to the other side, help a sister out! The best thing you can do for a turtle is to park in a safe spot on the roadside nearby, turn on your flashers, and alert oncoming traffic to the turtle in the road. Let her cross on her own. If you do move a turtle, make sure to put her on the side of the road in the direction she was heading, otherwise, she may try to cross the road again. Make sure to wash your hands if you handle a turtle. If you see a snapper in the road, it is better to leave her where she is, as they have a pretty fierce bite. Some people attempt to pick them up by their tails to steer clear of those snapping jaws, but please don’t do that! It can damage the turtle’s backbone and your well-intentioned rescue mission can end up causing more harm than good! Again, if there is a safe way to alert oncoming traffic to the turtle, it is best to let her cross on her own! If you find a turtle in or near your yard laying eggs, keep yourselves, children, and pets at least 20 feet away. Enjoy watching her from a distance in order to keep her stress level down! Lastly, the best way for you to help is to educate your family and friends about turtles, their awesomeness, and how to protect them, especially during nesting season!