Many of the public parks and forests in Wisconsin started off as farms with fields and woods. This week, I hiked two of those farms in northwest Dane County, Wisconsin.
Morton Forest was a 120 acre wooded farm/retreat owned by University of Wisconsin Professor Walter Morton and his wife, Rosalie. In 1982, the professor died and left the property to his son Stephen. In 1999, Steve donated the property to the Dane County park system to preserve the land for hiking and bird-watching for the public. In 2016, Morton Forest officially opened to the public.
I took Hwy 14 to Mazomanie and then turned left on Reeve Road. From there, it’s 3.3 miles to the property, which is well-marked with a sign on the right and a parking area on the left. A small nature center is located at the beginning of the property but was closed on the day of my hike.
There are two short hikes on the property. The first hike climbs up a wide farm road. The trail is easy to follow with several signs along the way to show “where you are” on the property. The upper trail was a peaceful, saunter through deep woods, marked by cold, gray November skies with more leaves on the ground than in the trees. At the top, there are several short loops. One leads to a lookout below with bench for thinking and such.
I was thinking about my kids and the young adults that they are becoming. A Henry Miller quote was bouncing around my brain:
“You observe your children or your children’s children, making the same absurd mistakes, heart-rending mistakes, often, which you made at their age. And there is nothing you can say or do to prevent it. It’s by observing the young, indeed, that you eventually understand the sort of idiot you yourself were once upon a time — and perhaps still are.”
The lower trail is closer to the road and narrowly loops some wetlands.
Walking Iron County Park is a couple of miles northwest of Mazomanie and offers many miles of hiking/horseback trails. Europeans did not settle in this area until after the Black Hawk Indian War in 1832. This particular property started as a farm in 1846 and was named after Chief Mazomani (Iron Walker) who lived in the area for a time.
Still feeling fresh after my short morning hike at Morton’s Forest, I wandered the green horse trail and the interior hiking trails for over two hours without seeing everything. The wide paths made this park look like an excellent place to snowshoe on a return visit.
When I returned home, my thoughts kept returning to Chief Mazamani, a/ka Iron Walker, so I began doing some internet research. Eventually, I found a photo of the historical marker where he is buried.