Thursday, September 29, 2016

Why I Chase a Passion Instead of Chasing a Salary

A paycheck or a passion. Always choose the latter, please.

I made the mistake right upon graduating to chase a salary and stray away from my passions. That was a big, big mistake. A full-time job offer was handed to me two months before graduating from college. It was smooth sailing until the beginning of May. I walked across the stage, grabbed my diploma in a fancy engraved, leather envelope and that next chapter of my life started almost immediately. I didn't take really any time off between the end of college and the start of a career. Mistake number one. Big, mistake. Here I was, 22 years old, thinking I had everything set and under control. I'd commute four-hours round-trip (when you factor in driving, parking, walking, taking a train to a completely different state and more walking), to the loop in Chicago to sit in a gray maze of cubicles in a tall office building next to the Sears Tower. Before I'd clock in at 8:30am, I'd look at myself in the mirror and made sure I looked 'professional', followed by a stroll to the Keruig machine to fill my mug up with horrible coffee. Then, I'd sit in front of a computer, responding to emails, working in Microsoft Excel and bouncing from meeting to meeting. Meetings about 'product updates' and analytics stuff that seemed crucially important but in reality, it was a waste of time. Now, I can't pull a full sob story with this job, which was working for an automotive media website that shall remain anonymous. I did get to rarely travel, occasionally drive six-figure luxury and sports cars, off-road brand new Jeeps and test out the towing capacity on the industry's top-selling pickup trucks. I did have a pretty swanky benefits package and an impressive paycheck. But that was about it. 90% of the time I sat on my butt in front of a laptop, hunched over. The one day I did decided to improvise a stand-up desk, laughing criticism from a few co-workers followed.

About a year into the job, I realized it sucked. Royally. And it was making me unhappier and unhappier, every, single, day. It was affecting my health, weakening friendships, limiting time I'd spend with my family, destroying a long relationship with a fantastic girl I was dating, ruining my liking for the automobile hobby and distracting me from my passions. I started using up my sick and personal days, just to get outside and breathe. Allotting for some much-needed me time to think and figure out what to do. I was actually depressed, very depressed and it was bad. I was going through one of the lowest points in my life. And that had to stop.

It turned into a desperate course of action and I remember my parents telling me I need to get out. So I did. I started rapidly applying and interviewing for jobs. October of 2013, one year out of a college and half-way though my second year of that career office job, I spent a weekend in Northern Wisconsin up in the Peshtigo River State Forest. Crisp, fall colors were starting to burn over the trees, the temperature was cool and I even saw a few minutes of snow. What was special about this three-day trip? It was my very first, solo camping trip. It was time I could spend, without interruption or worry about the outside world, breathing in fresh air, re-evaluating my current situation and embracing some much-needed solitude. In my pack, I brought along a copy of John Krakauer's "Into the Wild," one of my favorite books and go-to source for whenever I'm in a low point seeking inspiration. Needless to say, I read the whole story while hiking and camping. And it helped. To this day, I credit that trip up in Northern Wisconsin, wandering through the thick woods of the Peshtigo River State Forest and Governor Thompson State Park for being the turning-point to where I am today. That turning point would be to take-on a career move that put me fully in the outdoor recreation and education field.

On weekends during the school years and post-undergrad, I worked up at a camp I spent 14 years growing up at. It was called Matawa. I arrived at age ten, joined staff at age 16 and stayed actively employed through the camp's closure in 2014 due to a foolish, greedy bankruptcy from its umbrella YMCA association . When you have business-minded VPs (make that a whole bunch of VPs) earning six-figures, making blind decisions without employee input and never showing their faces in any of the centers or camps; of course your 'non' profit is going to fail. It should always be for people, not profit...not vice-versa. Again, another reason why I'm not molded for the corporate way of life. But camp transformed me into the individual I am today. I would not be who I am if it weren't for Camp Matawa. Summer camp is such a powerful place. A place for youth and adults to break-out of their comfort zone, shed their skin and pasts, learn new skills, get outdoors and making life-long friendships. Working at Camp Matawa for eight years was the best job I have ever had. And I confidently doubt any other professional opportunity will trump that. I attribute my confidence, personality, passion for working with families and kids, nature and outdoor recreation and education to the many hundreds of days, nights, summers and weekends I lived and worked with up at camp. Many of my best friends today I met at camp. I got paid to teach kids how to rock climb, what it takes to survive in the outdoors, play capture the flag, lead canoeing trips up to Mauthe Lake, sing goofy songs while dressed in some absurdly hilarious costume, work with teenagers on how to grow into leaders and master the characteristics of one. We'd watch sunsets fall over the forest every night, lay under the stars and drink tea, consume pounds of s'mores and exchange life stories and hugs. I'd smell of sweat, gallons of bug spray, pond water, face paint or left-over spaghetti. We changed children's lives and changed our lives. There's not a day that goes by where I don't think of Camp Matawa.

Back to that job in Chicago. towards the end of my second year, I applied and interviewed for two, full-time seasonal jobs at YMCA camps. A great camp called Minikani for an "Outdoor Education Instructor" position and the other for an "Activities Director" role at the above mentioned Camp Matawa. I rocked the interviews and got the jobs. Boom. That was my exit strategy and I was so, so, so happy and relieved. It was like someone lifted a massive, depressing weight off my shoulders and I could finally be 'me' again. Not this fake, corporate lifestyle imposter I posed as for two years out of college. I was wasting my time, minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day. Then on a Friday I finally quit that job in Chicago, rode my last-ever commuter train back home and I was done. I could not stop smiling. On to the next chapter! It took me so long but now the end was here. One of my friends I rode the train with everyday for two years texted me a few weeks later, "The best move you ever made, was to get off that train." Dan Emmons was right. He also got off that train too.

For the next year I worked a batch of full-time seasonal jobs in outdoor recreation and outdoor education at multiple YMCAs. I dropped from a $39,000 salary to making just $240 a week without benefits. I traded my $590 a month studio apartment for free community housing and free food (oh the endless amounts of french toast sticks, salad bars, buffets and snickerdoodle cookies). My closet changed form shirts and ties with dress pants and dress shoes on hangars, to flannel, button-down plaid shirts, baseball caps, jeans and hiking boots and sandals- all packed away in a duffel bag I could throw in the back of my station wagon. I packed an old box full of my favorite books, the bible (I was on a drive to grow strong in my faith at the time) and photos of my family. My messenger bag I'd commute with everyday was replaced by a burly backpack I could fit a walkie-talkie into, my rock climbing gear, first aid kit, a Nalgene bottle, lesson plans for whatever environmental education class I'd be teaching a group of twenty kids and a clipboard with cabin rosters on it, staff schedules and pieces of daily inspiration from fellow camp counselors and EE instructors. I was living on the-go, a transient stage in life, bouncing from seasonal job to seasonal job to grow professionally but more importantly personally. But also developing my two strongest passions: working with people and the outdoors.

What was the best result of this life-move, was that I was free from that past routine that took me downhill. It got me outside again, into new hobbies, strengthened relationships with family and friends. It's continued to teach me so much about who I am and what I'm actually capable of.

It took me to the snowy Rocky Mountains of Colorado, where I completely broke out of my comfort zone and started a completely new chapter in my life. A new me. For six months, I worked at YMCA of the Rockies Snow Mountain Ranch at some 9,000ft of elevation, surrounded by mountains, junipers, aspens and lodgepole pines. We'd teach outdoor recreation and education to families and school groups during the days and drink Colorado's best craft beer at night in neighboring Winter Park at dive bars like The Crooked Creek Salon, The Ditch, The Library and The Basement. The pay was absolutely hilarious, laugh-out-loud bad, but no one really cared. We were having the time of our lives and free food and housing, combined with a dirtbag ski-bum lifestyle made up for it. On days off we'd go skiing, sometimes twice in a day at Copper Mountain, Steamboat, Winter Park and night skiing at Granby Ranch. Oh Mary Jane how you killed my knees. We'd go hiking, explore Colorado, trek over to Rocky Mountain National Park or set rock climbing routes on the rock climbing wall in our YMCA's recreational center a.k.a 'The Kiva'. What was so good about this seasonal job? Apart from everything mentioned in the prior lines, was the fact nearly everyone I became best friends with at the ranch nestled below Snow Mountain, was there for the same reason. To figure out who they really were and what they wanted to do in their lives. It was so uplifting to be able to relate to numerous people my age going through this same 'What the hell do I want to do with my life' stage. I made some of the best, loyal friendships with people there in the Fraser Valley of Colorado in those six months than I had back home in Wisconsin for 24 years. I even got to work on a dog sledding team, as a handler, logistics manager and trail groomer. Huskies! Huskies! This was the life I had been wanting for many, many, many years. It was like I was living in a dream. That seasonal job came to a close and I wanted to get back to Wisconsin to help out my family at home, especially my mother who had been just finishing up a nasty fight with breast cancer. I'll be back out in Colorado sometime soon. To be honest, there hasn't been a single day that's gone by, where I don't miss think about that special place I owe so much to. I lust to return. Again, I beg you, if you need to take a gap year or break from it all, go work a seasonal job.

Upon returning to Wisconsin, I found a filler job at a local YMCA center to pay the bills until I landed the next dream outdoor recreation job. In the months leading to that, I hiked almost daily, put miles on my kayak, backpacked Utah's five National Parks and camped throughout Wisconsin nearly every weekend. I was reading books about the outdoor recreation industry, polishing up my resume, networking, looking back at notes from the 2014 Wilderness Risk Management Conference I attended prior to leaving for Colorado (a week-long conference put on by NOLS, Outward Bound and the Student Conservation Association where other outdoor recreation professionals from around the U.S. met to discuss issues and trends in the industry and take classes ranging from everything like rock climbing first aid to diversity and inclusion in outdoor programming. I generously was awarded a scholarship to attend that conference and I'm very grateful for that professional opportunity.), and did a ride along with a Wisconsin DNR Conservation Warden to get a first-hand look at life in the Department of Natural Resources. I was hooked. And I was also feeling a tad discouraged as I didn't have any real parks & recreation experience or a degree in Outdoor Recreation Leadership Management, Biology, Environmental Science or Tourism Management. Chances seemed slim at scoring a gig with our state's DNR. But hat didn't stop me at all. I had such a strong, thriving passion for the outdoors, getting people into the outdoors, teaching the about it and helping protect it. When the next wave of seasonal jobs appeared on the DNR's careers website, I aggressively applied to a few dozen state parks and forests. Having talked with DNR staff whenever I went camping or hiking, the key was to get in to the DNR. Which isn't easy.

Well things played out and a few months later I sat down for an interview with a property manager and superintendent of the Kettle Moraine State Forest. I was wearing a suit and had multiple resumes printed out in a black Loyola University Chicago Alumni folder on their desk. I was crazy nervous as I know that there were other applicants, some with both state and national park experience and some with Wildlife Biology degrees of all sorts. I pitched to the two uniformed superiors in front of me just how important the outdoors is to me, my strong work ethic and desire to work with people. I boldly told them that you will not make a mistake hiring me, as I will be the very best I can be, every single day on the job. I expressed how I wanted a chance to break into this career field professionally and grow. Days later I got a job offer and was laughingly told that'd be the last time I'd need to wear a suit in the DNR. Yessssssssssssssssssssss!

Two-months later I was working at a state park property in a state forest doing visitor services and grounds upkeep. There were days I'd be in the headquarters, answering questions, guiding people where to go hiking, suggesting ideas on where to go camping once the spring hits, selling permits and passes. Other days I'd be out plowing snow in a big work truck, maintaining trails, cutting firewood, making snow (yes we do that) and grooming cross-country ski trails in a UTV with cat-tracks on it. I spent a week at a technical college up north taking classes and getting my Federal certification in Wildland Firefighting as a Firefighter Type II. In spring, we were all out there wearing Nomex fire-resistant gear firefighting in the park's 1,000 some acres doing big prescribed burns to remove invasive species and clear-way for new, fresh thriving prairies to bloom once summer hits. There were weekends I's spend Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays at trade shows, at a State Parks and Recreation exhibit excitedly telling people about our park system.  I repeatedly kept saying to myself, I can't believe I'm getting paid to do this. Go back to the spring of 2012 when I graduated from college and I would have never guessed I'd be working full-time in parks in recreation, outside nearly every single day of the year. I was beyond grateful for this opportunity and change of life. I've been the happiest kid in the world ever since.

In an effort to grow even more I applied for a second DNR job at another state park property in the Kettle Moraine State Forest as a 'Visitor Services Associate'. I landed that gig, and stared working weeks later. A month into that second job, I agreed to handle and manage all of the park's finances and remittances. Extra responsibilities? Oh yes very much so, as at other state park properties there's a person hired specifically to do just that. Experience in accounting? No, none apart from my own. Math skills? Hah, that's a joke. But I took this task on confidently, looking at it as an avenue to grow even stronger in this new career field. And with some help, practice and patience, the finances have been near-perfect so far. I even get to put some of my Public Relations skills and writing I learned from my degree in college to use at times. I've been working full-time at two state park properties in state forests for almost ten months now and there hasn't been a morning where I've woken up and not wanted to go to work. Sure, I'm not making tons of money like some of my best friends are or own a house, but I'm 150% content with where I'm at right now and it's always foolish to compare yourself to your loyal companions.

 I love this job. Love it, love it, love it. Every day is a great day, I'm surrounded by both co-workers and visitors who love the outdoors and aren't afraid to show it and I get to work in the some of the most beautiful places I've ever set eyes-upon.

Don't let anyone ever tell you you don't have a chance at landing a 'dream' job, because you can can and it is possible. It wasn't easy at all for me and it took way, way longer than expected and desired, But you just have to one day decide to commit to making a change to better yourself and go for it.

If you know what you're passionate about, make strides to figure out how to make a living off of those passions. Take big chances, aim high, make sacrifices and don't stop. If you drop, get back up and get going again. Once you have an idea of you want to do to make money through chasing your passions, it's a rewarding career move. I don't need to make $50,000 if that, $100,000 a year and have a overpriced brand-new car loan. I live humbly and happily, a lifestyle I'm proud of. Having worked a dead-end, boring job where your passions get sucked away by a cramped, grey cubicle, fluorescent lighting, a slow laptop, co-workers who can't surrender and look past a corporate big-business mentality; I can tell you that when you're in a paid position where you're given the opportunity to unleash and use your passions, it's the very best thing that will happen to you. And when people you interact with see that passion coming out, it makes your life both on the clock and off, incredibly better. So please, follow your passions. Do it. If you're not happy in the job you're in right now, get out ASAP. Do not take your time, suffer through and make excuses for leaving and finding something better. Even if you need to have to leave a 40-hour per week full-time job and  work  one or two, part-time jobs plus move back in with your 'rents to save money and open up time for figuring out that next step, do it. If your gut tells you that will make you happier, do it. Follow your passions and you will succeed.

I'll leave you with one of my favorite quotes...

"Ignoring your passion is slow suicide. Never ignore what your heart pumps for. Mold your career around your lifestyle and not your lifestyle around your career."- Kevin Claiborne.

Cheers,
Robby
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Monday, September 26, 2016

Cedarburg Bog State Natural Area, WI


I've lived in Ozaukee County for almost two-years now and I've never been to the Cedarburg Bog. Multiple friends and co-workers recommended I go check it out, so I did. But the first time I went, it was storming and the trails were impassable. Second time around, it was a great adventure!

Located north of the Cedarburg/Saukville border is this humongous, protected natural masterpiece called the Cedarburg Bog. It's designated both by the Wisconsin DNR as a State Natural Area and is a in 1952 and a National National Landmark by the National Park Service! Spanning some 2,817 acres, the Cedarburg Bog is also the largest, most-intact bog in Southeastern Wisconsin. There are six lakes in its perimeters, the biggest being Mud Lake at 245 acres, followed by Long Lake at 34.

Cedarburg Bog is a string or patterned bog. It's believed to be the southernmost string bog in North America, as they're predominantly found way up north of here. It's a uber-lush environment filled with plants and wildlife of all sorts. Home to animals like the Common Gartersnake, Red Bellied Snake, American Toad, Gray Tree Frog, Snapping Turtle, Painted Turtle; along with threatened species like the Blanding's Turtle and Butler's Gartersnake. Bio-diversity shines here and it's one of those quiet, untouched places you just have to visit. Here's a blip from the DNR's description of this unique place:

"Surrounding the lakes are areas of emergent aquatic vegetation while just outside this zone is a successional shrub-carr area. Most unusual is a string or "patterned" bog, unique here because it lies far south of its usual range in North America. It is composed of ridges of stunted cedar and tamarack that lie in an open flat sedge mat. The meadow vegetation consists of narrow-leaved sedges, pitcher plant, bogbean, water horsetail, arrow-grass, orchids, and the insectivorous sundew and bladderwort. A conifer-swamp hardwood forest is adjacent to the bog. There is a very diverse flora and fauna; many that are more common in northern boreal forests and that are at their southern range limit here."

Access to the bog is reachable via two main entry points. To reach Mud Lake, on the southern end of the Cedarburg Bog, you'll have to park at the gravel lot off of Cedar Sauk Road. There,  you'll hike in and come to a fork. I found going left to not be the best option, as the trail was mostly underwater. If you go right, you'll leave the treeline and hike about 10-minutes out to a launch area on Mud Lake. The problem, well reality, is that because it's a bog, the ground is going to be damp, sinking in places and not firm solid. So you'll have to don your best waterproof boots and be prepared to get muddy and wet. There's sort of a trail you'll follow, hopping along form whatever piece of scrap wood buried in the bog's surface you can place your feet on, hanging on to tall grass for support. When you get closer to the lake, you'll realize with every step you take all the ground around you moves and floats up and down. Scary? Yeah kind of, especially because the Cedarburg Bog is a spring-fed. Meaning stability of the ground you're walking on is near-zero. There were places my foot sunk down completely below the surface. And as you may know with all bogs, the water below is cold, and deep. Very, very, deep. There are bogs where their depths are unknown. Next time I come out here, I've got to drag my kayak with me and explore Mud Lake's 245 acres of cool water. Fear not, there's a great friends group who are working to raise funds to build a stable, reliable boardwalk out to Mud Lake. Check them out.

The best place to access the blog was from the north end, off of State Highway 33 in Newburg. Park there, and hike out  15-minutes through a gorgeous cedar-tamarack swamp forest to a boardwalk that leads you out to a pier over smaller Watt's Lake. When I arrived at the shoreline of this lake, my jaw dropped. It was so quiet, serene and just peaceful. This calm, clear, glass-still lake surrounded by a powerful line of trees. I had to sit down, journal and soak it all in. Pure wilderness. So, so, so beautiful. Head back towards the parking area and wander left down another boardwalk trail that takes you through a wet swamp full of ferns and dense vegetation. The trail continues on through a prairie opening. 

Yep, that was an epic hike. Can't wait to get back and explore this place in the fall and winter.

Cheers,
Robby
Cedarburg Bog State Natural Area
Address= 2623-2675 State Highway 33 Trunk Saukville, WI 53080
Distance from Downtown Milwaukee= 33 min
Admission Fees= Free! One of the few DNR properties you don't need a vehicle sticker.
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Cedarburg Bog State Natural Area, WI


I've lived in Ozaukee County for almost two-years now and I've never been to the Cedarburg Bog. Multiple friends and co-workers recommended I go check it out, so I did. But the first time I went, it was storming and the trails were impassable. Second time around, it was a great adventure!

Located north of the Cedarburg/Saukville border is this humongous, protected natural masterpiece called the Cedarburg Bog. It's designated both by the Wisconsin DNR as a State Natural Area and is a in 1952 and a National National Landmark by the National Park Service! Spanning some 2,817 acres, the Cedarburg Bog is also the largest, most-intact bog in Southeastern Wisconsin. There are six lakes in its perimeters, the biggest being Mud Lake at 245 acres, followed by Long Lake at 34.

Cedarburg Bog is a string or patterned bog. It's believed to be the southernmost string bog in North America, as they're predominantly found way up north of here. It's a uber-lush environment filled with plants and wildlife of all sorts. Home to animals like the Common Gartersnake, Red Bellied Snake, American Toad, Gray Tree Frog, Snapping Turtle, Painted Turtle; along with threatened species like the Blanding's Turtle and Butler's Gartersnake. Bio-diversity shines here and it's one of those quiet, untouched places you just have to visit. Here's a blip from the DNR's description of this unique place:

"Surrounding the lakes are areas of emergent aquatic vegetation while just outside this zone is a successional shrub-carr area. Most unusual is a string or "patterned" bog, unique here because it lies far south of its usual range in North America. It is composed of ridges of stunted cedar and tamarack that lie in an open flat sedge mat. The meadow vegetation consists of narrow-leaved sedges, pitcher plant, bogbean, water horsetail, arrow-grass, orchids, and the insectivorous sundew and bladderwort. A conifer-swamp hardwood forest is adjacent to the bog. There is a very diverse flora and fauna; many that are more common in northern boreal forests and that are at their southern range limit here."

Access to the bog is reachable via two main entry points. To reach Mud Lake, on the southern end of the Cedarburg Bog, you'll have to park at the gravel lot off of Cedar Sauk Road. There,  you'll hike in and come to a fork. I found going left to not be the best option, as the trail was mostly underwater. If you go right, you'll leave the treeline and hike about 10-minutes out to a launch area on Mud Lake. The problem, well reality, is that because it's a bog, the ground is going to be damp, sinking in places and not firm solid. So you'll have to don your best waterproof boots and be prepared to get muddy and wet. There's sort of a trail you'll follow, hopping along form whatever piece of scrap wood buried in the bog's surface you can place your feet on, hanging on to tall grass for support. When you get closer to the lake, you'll realize with every step you take all the ground around you moves and floats up and down. Scary? Yeah kind of, especially because the Cedarburg Bog is a spring-fed. Meaning stability of the ground you're walking on is near-zero. There were places my foot sunk down completely below the surface. And as you may know with all bogs, the water below is cold, and deep. Very, very, deep. There are bogs where their depths are unknown. Next time I come out here, I've got to drag my kayak with me and explore Mud Lake's 245 acres of cool water. Fear not, there's a great friends group who are working to raise funds to build a stable, reliable boardwalk out to Mud Lake. Check them out.

The best place to access the blog was from the north end, off of State Highway 33 in Newburg. Park there, and hike out  15-minutes through a gorgeous cedar-tamarack swamp forest to a boardwalk that leads you out to a pier over smaller Watt's Lake. When I arrived at the shoreline of this lake, my jaw dropped. It was so quiet, serene and just peaceful. This calm, clear, glass-still lake surrounded by a powerful line of trees. I had to sit down, journal and soak it all in. Pure wilderness. So, so, so beautiful. Head back towards the parking area and wander left down another boardwalk trail that takes you through a wet swamp full of ferns and dense vegetation. The trail continues on through a prairie opening. 

Yep, that was an epic hike. Can't wait to get back and explore this place in the fall and winter.

Cheers,
Robby
Cedarburg Bog State Natural Area
Address= 2623-2675 State Highway 33 Trunk Saukville, WI 53080
Distance from Downtown Milwaukee= 33 min
Admission Fees= Free! One of the few DNR properties you don't need a vehicle sticker.
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Friday, September 23, 2016

Explore Wisconsin State Parks Through ColdCaching!

How cool is that backpack?! I want it!

Next time you're at a Wisconsin State Park or State Forest Unit, stop in their visitor center to see if they have ColdCache Packs available for check-out. Then, hit the trails and go ColdCaching! What's ColdCaching? This brilliant way to get out and explore comes from the super passionate folks who volunteer with the Ice Age Trail Alliance. ColdCaching is similar to GeoCaching, where you use a hand-held GPS to reach a waypoint via latitude and longitude coordinates (for example 43.386946, -88.006202), but the 'cache' in ColdCaching is a unique geological feature along the Ice Age Trail. Features like an esker, moraine, extinct glacial lake, pothole, rift, sand dunes or a deep kettle. How cool is that? Right now there are 40 ColdCache sites in Wisconsin located within eight state park or forest properties. Each sky-blue backpack contains a hand-held Garmin GPS unit, compass, binoculars, tape measure, instruction guide and a journal.

The guide directs you to multiple waypoints in the park on or near the Ice Age National Scenic Trail. Double-check those coordinates are plugged in correctly to the GPS unit and start hiking. Each guide placard tells the story of how each 'cache' was created and why it's unique to Wisconsin and the Ice Age Trail. There are also accompanying interpretive questions and activities at each geological 'cache' you reach. You may be asked to messure the depth of a natural spring, continue hiking until you reach an additional set of coordinates or even guess why there's a difference in a particular creek and nearby channel's potential meltwater flow. You can even earn nifty patches as awards for visiting enough ColdCache sites.

The following properties currently participate in ColdCaching and have packs available to check-out:
Potawatomi State Park
Interstate State Park
Chippewa Moraine State Recreation Area
Devil's Lake State Park
Kettle Moraine State Forest, Southern Unit
Kettle Moraine State Forest, Lapham Peak Unit
Kettle Moraine State Forest, Northern Unit
Point Beach State Forest
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Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Minuteman Missile National Historic Site, SD

Here's a National Park Service site you may have never heard of, but it's one you should absolutely check out. Especially due to its close proximity to to the entrances Badlands National Park. Minuteman Missile National Historic Site is home to two Cold War-era military relics, the Delta-09 missile silo and the Launch Control Facility at Delta-01. While I came into existence towards the far end of the Cold War, being a 1990-born baby, I've always been fascinated by the history of this almost-50 year tension between the United States, the former Soviet Union and the worried rest of the world. Stories of espionage and spies, the arms race- it makes me wish I were a few years older so I could've been present during that time.

One of the top reasons I admire the National Park Service, is that they not only make a strong conscious effort to preserve some of this country's most spectacular natural landscapes like Zion and Rocky Mountain National Parks, but they also strive to protect, restore and educate curious minds about important sites that shaped America's history. That brings me to this NHS (National Historic Site).  

Minuteman Missile National Historic Site consists of the two military facilities above, as well as a great, new visitor center and museum off of Exit 131, the same exit you take to enter Badlands National Park. See, no excuse! Go check it out. When I was leaving Badlands to head back home east towards Wisconsin, I made it a priority to stop and cross this NHS off my adventure bucket-list. I started by checking out the Delta-09 missile silo which is off of Exit 116 if you'e leaving from the Sage Creek Campground area at Badlands. Drive down a dirt road to a fenced off block with security cameras and warning signs visible. Park and walk into the silo area towards the capped enclosure to peak down below. Boom, you're staring 80ft straight down at a decommissioned 1.2 megaton warhead. "Whoaaaa holy cow," I said to myself, shaking my head in disbelief. The Delta-09 (decommissioned) missile you're looking at face-to-face, was one of 1,000 Minuteman II Missiles spread out across plains of America from 1960s to the end of the Cold War. There were over 150 of them alone in South Dakota. Built in 1963, the 12ft wide silo is layered in thick strong concrete and reinforced with a steel-plate liner. For safety and I'm sure a few national security reasons, you can't go underground and explore the silo. I stood there peeking down through the welded silo door's glass just trying to picture this being ready to launch in a few minutes notice of a potential all-out nuclear war. Scary stuff. Surrounding the silo area many supporting structures, antennas and motion sensors. When I arrived in the morning, a park ranger my age was cleaning the glass on the silo and we joked about how I was envious of his probably the best window cleaning job on the planet. "Yeah it's pretty cool getting to do this every day," he smiled and replied.

Down the road a few minutes from the missile silo is the visitor center, open everyday from 8am-4pm. Apart from a gift shop, there's a fantastic museum where you'll get a full-on history lesson on all that was the Cold War and Nuclear Arms Race (both from yesteryear and present). You'll see videos, photos, super-cool Cold War-era propaganda form both the USSR and US, along with restored items like a chair from a Minuteman Missile launch control facility that Air Force staff would sit strapped in, ready to turn the two launch keys simultaneously to launch a nuke, if we came under attack. One of my favorite items was the silo blast door painted by missileer crews "Worldwide Delivery in 30 Minutes Or less," coined from a Dominos Pizza advertisement but in relevant reference to guaranteeing a nuclear missile impact to strike the USSR in under half-an-hour. Crazy.  There's a corner dedicated to when 'Duck and Cover' drills were an everyday thing back in the 1950s. I highly recommend watching this video with Bert The Turtle from 1951 from the Civil Defense Administration. America had to be ready in the event of a fallout from an atomic bomb. I learned a TON from all the exhibits here, and I have to extend a big thanks to the National Park Service for providing all this historical content in such an intuitive, interactive format. Way better than just reading paragraphs in a hard-cover textbook. To view a complete list of the exhibits at Minuteman Missile NHS click here

Next time I'm heading down I-90 westward, I need to stop and do a guided tour of the Launch Control Facility Delta-01. A half-hour, ranger-led tour takes you down 31ft elevator into the underground lair where US Air Force Missileer crews worked an lived, on-alert and ready to launch a Minuteman II Missile. Reservations are required and made at the visitor center or by calling 605-422-5552. Tour costs $6 if you're 17 & over, $4 if you're 16 & under.

I also suggest 'liking' and following them on Facebook, where the NPS posts daily historic photos.

Cheers ,
Robby

(Oh, and sorry if the following pictures aren't the highest-quality. My camera died and I had to take stills on my video camera)



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Minuteman Missile National Historic Site, SD

Here's a National Park Service site you may have never heard of, but it's one you should absolutely check out. Especially due to its close proximity to to the entrances Badlands National Park. Minuteman Missile National Historic Site is home to two Cold War-era military relics, the Delta-09 missile silo and the Launch Control Facility at Delta-01. While I came into existence towards the far end of the Cold War, being a 1990-born baby, I've always been fascinated by the history of this almost-50 year tension between the United States, the former Soviet Union and the worried rest of the world. Stories of espionage and spies, the arms race- it makes me wish I were a few years older so I could've been present during that time.

One of the top reasons I admire the National Park Service, is that they not only make a strong conscious effort to preserve some of this country's most spectacular natural landscapes like Zion and Rocky Mountain National Parks, but they also strive to protect, restore and educate curious minds about important sites that shaped America's history. That brings me to this NHS (National Historic Site).  

Minuteman Missile National Historic Site consists of the two military facilities above, as well as a great, new visitor center and museum off of Exit 131, the same exit you take to enter Badlands National Park. See, no excuse! Go check it out. When I was leaving Badlands to head back home east towards Wisconsin, I made it a priority to stop and cross this NHS off my adventure bucket-list. I started by checking out the Delta-09 missile silo which is off of Exit 116 if you'e leaving from the Sage Creek Campground area at Badlands. Drive down a dirt road to a fenced off block with security cameras and warning signs visible. Park and walk into the silo area towards the capped enclosure to peak down below. Boom, you're staring 80ft straight down at a decommissioned 1.2 megaton warhead. "Whoaaaa holy cow," I said to myself, shaking my head in disbelief. The Delta-09 (decommissioned) missile you're looking at face-to-face, was one of 1,000 Minuteman II Missiles spread out across plains of America from 1960s to the end of the Cold War. There were over 150 of them alone in South Dakota. Built in 1963, the 12ft wide silo is layered in thick strong concrete and reinforced with a steel-plate liner. For safety and I'm sure a few national security reasons, you can't go underground and explore the silo. I stood there peeking down through the welded silo door's glass just trying to picture this being ready to launch in a few minutes notice of a potential all-out nuclear war. Scary stuff. Surrounding the silo area many supporting structures, antennas and motion sensors. When I arrived in the morning, a park ranger my age was cleaning the glass on the silo and we joked about how I was envious of his probably the best window cleaning job on the planet. "Yeah it's pretty cool getting to do this every day," he smiled and replied.

Down the road a few minutes from the missile silo is the visitor center, open everyday from 8am-4pm. Apart from a gift shop, there's a fantastic museum where you'll get a full-on history lesson on all that was the Cold War and Nuclear Arms Race (both from yesteryear and present). You'll see videos, photos, super-cool Cold War-era propaganda form both the USSR and US, along with restored items like a chair from a Minuteman Missile launch control facility that Air Force staff would sit strapped in, ready to turn the two launch keys simultaneously to launch a nuke, if we came under attack. One of my favorite items was the silo blast door painted by missileer crews "Worldwide Delivery in 30 Minutes Or less," coined from a Dominos Pizza advertisement but in relevant reference to guaranteeing a nuclear missile impact to strike the USSR in under half-an-hour. Crazy.  There's a corner dedicated to when 'Duck and Cover' drills were an everyday thing back in the 1950s. I highly recommend watching this video with Bert The Turtle from 1951 from the Civil Defense Administration. America had to be ready in the event of a fallout from an atomic bomb. I learned a TON from all the exhibits here, and I have to extend a big thanks to the National Park Service for providing all this historical content in such an intuitive, interactive format. Way better than just reading paragraphs in a hard-cover textbook. To view a complete list of the exhibits at Minuteman Missile NHS click here

Next time I'm heading down I-90 westward, I need to stop and do a guided tour of the Launch Control Facility Delta-01. A half-hour, ranger-led tour takes you down 31ft elevator into the underground lair where US Air Force Missileer crews worked an lived, on-alert and ready to launch a Minuteman II Missile. Reservations are required and made at the visitor center or by calling 605-422-5552. Tour costs $6 if you're 17 & over, $4 if you're 16 & under.

I also suggest 'liking' and following them on Facebook, where the NPS posts daily historic photos.

Cheers ,
Robby

(Oh, and sorry if the following pictures aren't the highest-quality. My camera died and I had to take stills on my video camera)



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