“I could watch the paint dry, On these rented walls
Or I could run wild with the first wild thing who calls
~ Goin’ Downtown – Joe Jackson
On a mild (above freezing) Tuesday in January in the great state of Wisconsin, I had a business meeting in downtown Green Bay. I had researched local hikes for some post-meeting outdoorsiness and the “first wild thing” that called was a hike that (surprisingly) was practically in the city but that (in pictures) looked completely rural. I popped the GPS coordinates into my phone and headed to my meeting.
Meeting finished, I headed for the trailhead. I pulled into a small lot off of Baird Creek Road fifteen minutes later. I slung on my pack and looked for the trailhead. I found it in the northwest corner of the lot and peered down the trail. There was some patchy snow but mostly dry leaves and peat. I looked down at my Katoola Microspikes laying in the wayback of my Subaru Crosstrek. I didn’t have a bag to put them in and didn’t want to risk ruining my expensive Marmot jacket by stuffing the spikes on top it. Also, I had I didn’t really want them dangling (and jangling) off my back for the next few hours. I left them in the car. As usual, this was a mixed blessing.
Why do I so frequently leave the spikes behind? I have a curious relationship with my traction gear. First, they are fantastic and work wonderfully. I have reviewed them (here) and used them to great advantage at Emerald Lake in Rocky Mountain NP (read here) and elsewhere. There, they were essential and that was obvious at the trailhead. If you read this blog, you know I am a big proponent of having the right gear for the situation. If I feel certain I will need them at some point, I always take them. So, what’s the flip side of the Microspike coin? If I have them, I frequently feel compelled to use them – almost like a crutch. Here’s the thing, though: the spikes are unpleasant to wear on rock and even reduce your traction. On a trail like this, I would have ended up putting them on and taking them off repeatedly and that would have reduced my enjoyment of the hike. I’m not sure that’s necessarily rational, but there you are. In the end, there was only one stretch of trail where I really needed them, and I managed just fine. Also, zero other hikers were wearing traction gear that day, so ….
I set off down the trail. Which trail, you ask? Well, there was some conflicting information regarding what trail I was actually on. Based on my research, my goal was to hike the Baird Creek Trail, but according to my Gaia GPS, I spent most of my time on the Baird Creek Multi-Use Trail. Same trail, different name? Gaia does list a trail that is just called Baird Creek, but I was almost never on that. Both follow generally the same path, so don’t sweat the names. Also, blazes and trail markings are somewhat infrequent, even though the trail is well worn and easy to follow.
The trail, whatever its name, wound through the winter Wisconsin woods, and patches of snow crunched beneath my boots. Before long the trail sidled up to Baird Creek, which ran clear and cold through the north midwestern countryside. Slower running sections were rimmed with a frosty border, and stream pools were etched with a paper-thin crystalline veneer, but mostly the creek was un-choked by ice. By the time I had gone a half-mile, my route had tracked north away from the creek. The trail twisted and turned among leafless hardwoods for more than a mile before rejoining the stream. Occasionally, the path crossed a small streamlet or traversed a swampy area by means of wooden boardwalk. At one point I skirted the edge of a large open field. The trail eventually joined a paved walkway where I passed several cyclists. Despite the proximity to the city center and nearby residential neighborhoods, I saw few signs of urban life.
After a mile and a half, the trail was running parallel to the creek again, and soon after that I came to Danz Avenue. Some maps show the trail continuing across Danz; one even showed it connecting with the East River Trail, a 9.2-mile point to point trail that runs up and down the East River. I couldn’t see any trail on the other side of the road; regardless, this was the point where my planned route crossed the creek and headed back east. I crossed and headed upstream, Danz Avenue now behind me.
On the other side was more of the same terrain with the trail sticking close to the creek for the next couple of miles. It was along this stretch of the Baird Creek Trail that I struggled a bit without the spikes. There were a hundred yards or so of trail that roller-coastered along the banks of the creek. Here, the snow had been packed down to ice by the boots of many hikers. The trail was narrow and there was no getting around the ice. I fell once. I’m not ashamed. But if I had had the spikes, this would have been the place to put them on.
Shortly after drawing level with the trailhead (I could see my car through the trees on the other side), the trail turned sharply south and crossed the tracks of the Green Bay and Western Railroad. The trail then tracked east, then north, then east again, passing under Wisconsin Route 43, the main artery between Green Bay and Milwaukee. This was the largest intrusion of the industrialized world on this hike. I passed under the highway via the same railroad tracks I had crossed earlier and continued east.
Beyond Route 43, the Baird Creek Trail stayed level and close to the creek. Baird Creek was wider here and I passed some faster moving water and one or two tint falls. One of the most interesting things I saw on this stretch was pancake ice. Pancake ice is formed when ice breaks up and is carried along by the current spinning downstream and bumping into other ice until it is ground into a circular shape.
After about a half-mile, and with my eye on the clock, I turned back. It was 3:30pm. There was about an hour of daylight left, and I wasn’t really sure how long it would take to get back to the trailhead. I retraced my steps back to the Route 43 overpass and, with some difficulty, found the continuation of the trail on the north side of the creek.
I crossed under the highway on the railroad tracks; the Baird Creek Multi-Use Trail actually follows Superior Road, a few yards to the north. The trail (that eluded me for a while) breaks away from the road and passes through a field very near to the three-way junction of Superior Road, Baird Creek Road, and Moon Valley Drive.
Fifteen minutes later, I was nearing the parking area. A short spur cut directly over to the lot, but the trail veered sharply to the right. I had less than six and a half miles under my boots. With over a half hour of daylight left, I veered right as well.
This is where I actually collected much of the elevation on this route. I climbed about ninety feet immediately before the trail leveled off and twisted through a tangle of sumac. The trail meandered through the woods for a short while, then began to descend. The sun was nearly at the horizon when I crossed Baird Creek Road into the Parking area.
In the dead of winter, with no foliage to mask the city, I had hiked over seven miles inside the Green Bay city limits, and had barely noticed the surrounding municipality. I can only imagine that in verdant midst of summer the evidences of the modern world would be even less. I can also imagine these trails being significantly more crowded. As I said, the day was mild for the area – a high of 36°F, and sunny – and there were quite a few people out. Most of them were walking on the paved part of the path, but as I was shrugging off my pack a gentleman was unloading a bike from a rack on his car – obviously preparing for a ride. We chatted for a moment, and he sang the praises of this trail system, but I never asked him how long a ride he had planned. I saw no headlight on his bike and the light was fading as he pedaled off into the woods.
There is plenty of green in and around Green Bay; it’s not a place of endless metropolitan sprawl, but Baird Creek is noteworthy for its rural-ness in an urban setting. So if you should find yourself in downtown Green Bay, Wisconsin with a few hours to kill, check out the Baird Creek Trail. Unless there’s a Packers game – then always go to the Packers game. ♦
Date: January 7, 2020
Location: Green Bay, WI
Trailhead: 44.504506, -87.940798
Distance: 7.2 miles
Elevation Gain: 256 feet