Thursday, July 18, 2013

Day 67 - Governor Nelson State Park

I have never been to Governor Nelson State Park. Given this natural location is the closest state park to Madison, I was actually surprised to learn I had never taken the time to venture out into the location. As someone that generally enjoys nature, I have spent a lot of time in state parks in and around Wisconsin, and I’ve traveled quite some distance to experience many of them. However, a trip to Governor Nelson State Park has not occurred up to this point in my life. Realizing how ridiculous this was, I knew I needed to make a trip to the park at part of my “I have never...” journey. After all, doing so would provide me the motivation to finally experience Governor Nelson State Park and would help me get to know the city I call home a little better. In turn, I carved out time to visit the park tonight. The experience proved to be a perfect way to spend a beautiful, albeit hot, summer evening.

The entrance
Following my workday I headed home to meet Rachael and gauge her interest in going to the park. As usual, she was more than open to the idea despite a taxing day at her job. As a result, the two of us prepared a few things and started the brief trip to the north end of Lake Mendota just outside of Madison. Although I had driven the route many times before, I was caught off guard by how brief the drive was to the state park. As we approached, the sudden, massive expanse of pristine grassland stood out among the scenery. A blend of suburban landscape and Wisconsin farmland flanked all sides of the park, making it appear as though it was an oasis among a desert of human development. Acknowledging we had found the park, I broke the silence with a brief statement. “There it is!” I said as I slowly pulled the car past the large Governor Nelson State Park sign tucked between waving grass and the asphalt road. Continuing, I drove the car down a small, one-lane road the led deeper in the grassland around us. Eventually, the road led us to a nearly empty parking lot near the lake, which prompted me to park the car in preparation for exploring the park.

The skyline from the park

Moments later, Rachael and I took to the park by foot along an asphalt path that wound through a wooded area. The path quickly opened up to a manicured area surrounding a pavilion that bordered the lake. Rachael and I looked over the area as a group of children chased on another through the open area while their parents yelled directions from underneath the pavilion roof. Doing our best to avoid impeding on the group, we continued down the path and followed the lake, taking in the sights of the Madison skyline lit brilliantly by the fading sunlight. Eventually, we walked past the manicured area and down another wooded path, which led to a dog park bordering another portion of the lake. We explored the space briefly before finding a mowed path leading away from the lake and into the grassland covering most of the park property. Unaware of where the path might lead, I paused as we approached it and asked Rachael if she was interested in taking a trek into the unfamiliar space. In response, Rachael looked down the path to gauge its location and direction. “Sure. Why not?” she said a few seconds later. In response, the two us of picked up our feet and began a walk down the grass path.

The path...
Only a few steps onto the path I took notice of the rapidly changing scenery around us. With the forest waning, we were quickly surrounded by shoulder high grasses and flowers bathing in golden sunlight. Sounds of birds filled the air, accompanied only by the sound of the breeze flowing through the tall brown talks of grass at our side. Taking in the sights and sounds, I suddenly found myself absorbed by the space. I looked over the seemingly endless fields and fixed my eyes on the life that sprang from every square inch of the park. Still walking down the path, Rachael and I began pointing out the plant life and animals we encountered with each bend through the field around us. Animals and flowers of every color littered the space around us, providing an endless number of sights to take in. I remember distinctly feeling surprised by the park as we walked past a group of trees nestled in the grasses. The beauty of Governor Nelson State Park was undeniable, and each new discovery made me happier I made the choice to visit the park for the first time.

A lone tree in the grass
Ultimately, the path we walked worked its way back to the entrance of the park. There, the path divided into four more paths that cut across road and continued as far as the eye could see. After some brief discussion, Rachael and I decided to follow a path that mirrored the road in an effort to get back to our car before dusk spurred the mosquitoes to life. Our decision proved wise given the increasing volume of insects emerging in response to the cooling temperatures. As we made our way back to the car Rachael took time to point out a few edible wild plants, which gave me the opportunity to experience another new thing for the day, wild clover nectar. Rachael pointed out this purple flower to me and immediately started plucking the tubular pedals to suck the nectar from inside. A bit hesitant, I tried the process at Rachael’s insistence, which yielded an unexpected semi-sweet flavor. Intrigued by the experience, I asked Rachael more about the plant as we continued on our path. We chatted about her experience with wild clover and other plants as a child until we eventually found our way back to our car. With the sun rushing to meet the horizon, we loaded into the car and began our trip back home.

The sunset across the street from the park
Pulling away from Governor Nelson State Park, I took time to look over the grass fields of the park once more. As I rewound my first experience with the park I thought about how much of the park I had not yet seen and about how unique it was to have such a natural area so close to the city. I realized then I had been foolish to take the space for granted and that I had taken far too long to spend some time in the park. Going forward, I’m sure Governor Nelson State Park will become a much more frequented location for Rachael and I. The space offers a great way to spend a free afternoon and there is such more for us to explore. Additionally, our dogs will love the place like no other. That alone is reason enough to go back again soon.

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