Colin Steinke is a blogger based in Madison, WI who, along with his wife, has vowed to visit all 51 of Wisconsin’s state parks. Here we read about Colin’s adventure at Perrot State Park. See more of Colin at his website www.colinsteinke.com and on Instagram (@colinsteinke).
No Longer Visitors
There is an area in the midwest untouched by the glacial drift. Driftless. It is a mix of red, green and brown. Bluffs line the Mississippi River reaching heights of 600 feet. Away from the river, the land rolls and is littered with dairy farms. About 85% of this sixteen thousand acre area fills the southwestern part of Wisconsin and is speckled with state parks.
Just inside the entrance to the trail, my wife and I pause. A post before us holds a map. We breathe in the thick, July air and turn right. We find ourselves on a steep grade of sand and clay. Even under the tree canopy it is hot—we are almost immediately covered in sweat. The arrows on the map make sense.
In 1900, land was set aside adjacent to Minnesota’s Interstate State Park, creating Wisconsin’s first state park and the nation’s first interstate parkland collaboration. Sharing the same name, it sits upon land near the St. Croix and Dalles rivers. From there, Wisconsin’s state park system would slowly begin to grow. By 1920, Wisconsin would have six state parks. In 2010, the number soared to fifty one.
We scramble along. The trees open. We think we are close. We are not. It is still hot. I pause to consider how I make life decisions. We must climb a few hundred feet more of elevation before the trail crests the top of a 507 foot bluff overlooking the Mississippi River and Perrot State Park. My feet sink into sand with each step.
Perrot became Wisconsin’s fifth state park in 1918. It features 500 foot bluffs bordered by the Mississippi River and Trempeleau Bay. Nicholas Perrot was one of the first French explorers in the area, using the lands in the 1860’s. Its history extends thousands of years before that, having been used by Native American groups as early as 7,000 years ago.
Reaching the top, the expanse in front of us a mix of water, ground and wild. We sit. I try to soak in this place so I can remember. We have already forgotten the difficult climb, imagining now the history of this place adjacent to a bustling river town long quieted. This moment reminds us that we are small–a tiny piece in the story of place.
So far, we have visited eleven of Wisconsin’s state parks. Early in our relationship, we promised to visit each of them together. At first, it was just something to do together—a series of trips we could tell our kids about. We did not expect to be thrust into a history that long predates us and will long outlast us.
We’re not just checking things off a list. We’re entering these parks, seeking to find the reason they exist, helping to carry the history forward. Each park is telling a story. We just need to slow down long enough to listen. No longer just visitors, we are now a part of the story.