On the trail with dogs—Pecatonica Wetlands, the Wild, Wild West

Into the Wild

In recognition of the United Nations designation of 2010 as the Year of Biodiversity, the Four Rivers Environmental Coalition and The Rock River Times present this bi-weekly series to help readers discover the amazing array of plants and animals in the rivers, prairies and woodlands “in our own back yard.” FREC is an alliance of 35 member organizations “dedicated to educating and advocating for the plants, animals, natural resources and ecosystems of the Four Rivers Region.” Please visit fourriver.org.

By Katie Townsend and Jessica Roush

A barely audible half-tame howl rises above the noise of sirens, tough-talking teens and the scraping sound of a trash can as it is dragged off the curb. Addie Rose’s tail wags uncontrollably and haunches twitch in anticipation. The passed message is clear as she hears from country cousin, Clementine, the Labrador. The dog girlfriends are planning a rendezvous.

The excited yips and yaps mean only one thing: time to venture to wild western Winnebago County and the Pecatonica Wetlands Forest Preserve. At this moment, dogs and owners agree; nothing gentrified will do. So, good-bye to shopping malls and dog parks as recreational options. Hello to the open trails.

Leaving Rockford, travel your favorite northwest passage to the outpost known as the village of Pecatonica. Then, go north over the bridge looking for the entrance to the forest preserve on the left. NOTE: These trails tend to be soggy in the spring. Another option is to continue north a mile or so to Best Road. The road gives an excellent view of the floodplain. Recommended parking is at the hilltop shelter house to hike the trails, which are high and mostly dry.

The car ride in the country with her person is an added bonus for Addie Rose. A field dog knows the journey is all part of the experience. She presses her nose against each window in the back seat to get a good view, marking her interest with smudges on the glass.

Clementine and Jessica are already out of the car and examining the Indian grass along the edge of the parking lot. Addie is doing a puppy wiggle as she is clipped into her new purple leash. People and dogs exchange greetings, then are off.

The first point of interest is a posse of bur oaks that majestically guard the high ground. The path tumbles downward to a forest tangle of locust, hackberry, box elder and raspberry brambles. Linger mid-hill for the sheer joy of perspective. Below is the first glimpse of a blond sea of grass and sedge—ah, the wetlands—a 1,048-acre restoration success story for the Winnebago County Forest Preserve. The memory of the forest is a blur, and the focus is on the lowlands. Meandering the edge has the advantage of unobstructed view, which is perfect to watch the undulating motion of a doe bounding through the expanse. Oh, home on the range!

If the canines could be interviewed, how would they rate the Pecatonica Wetlands? We can anthropomorphize…

Clementine: “I know it is spring when I feel the mud squish between my toenails. “

Addie: “Nothing like a soft trail with a few stinky things on it. … Hey, is that fox poopie or coyote scat?”

Clementine: “Who cares. The question is, do we eat it or just roll in it?”

Addie replies, “Let us do both.”

Clementine: “Wait. Yes. I can smell a small creek before it is in my crosshairs.”

Addie Rose, showing her pedigree: “It is barely 40 degrees—I am not getting my paws wet. Besides, it is muddy. I am not a black Lab. My white leggings show the dirt.”

Clementine: “Ha-ha! Your mom just called you a chicken butt.”

Addie daintily dips in her front paws and calls it good enough. Clemmie plunges in chest deep, bounces out, then shakes the water from her coat, spraying the women. Funny.

Addie Rose redeems herself by being the first one to a freshly-dug hole. “Groundhog, you think?”

Both dogs take turns sticking their heads into the den.

Clementine comments this is like an upside-down dog periscope.

In the end, the girls with tails give the experience a great score of 4 1/2 sniffs.

Now, for a word from our people… Clemmie’s mom, Jessica Roush of Canine Comfort Too Pet Sitting, has this to add:

Dog-walking etiquette is mostly common-sense practices. Here are a few pre-trip reminders and field applications to ensure the safety and enjoyment of dogs, people and wildlife. Forest Preserve ordinances require dogs to be leashed at all times.

Invest in a dog first aid kit or put together one of your own.

You never know what your pup may get into in the field (split pads on sharp plants), woods (thorns), park (glass) or river (fishhooks) to name a few that I have experienced! The basics include gauze dressings of all sizes, tweezers, scissors, antiseptic pads and hydrocortisone ointment. Remember the exam gloves, too.

(Total Resources International makes a compact Pet First Aid Kit that is user friendly.)

Water bottle and collapsible bowl.

Waste bags and leash.

In the field:

— Keep pets under control at all times.

— Dogs running free can be unwelcome, frightening people or wildlife. Remember not everyone is a dog lover!

Clean up after your pet. Simple as that.

For more ideas, visit http://www.lnt.org/programs/principles

Even without a canine companion, all can enjoy Pecatonica Wetlands. Remember to take only pictures and leave only footprints, whether they be soled or clawed!

Addie Rose—English shepherd puppy

Her person is Katie Townsend, president of the Four Rivers Environmental Coalition and urban farm educator with the Urban Initiative: Roots and Wings, coordinated by Angelic Organics Learning Center. Katie@learngrowconnect.org or kathleen-townsend@sbcglobal.net.

Clementine—Labrador retriever

She howls about her mom’s savvy ways and is proud of Jessica Roush: Canine Comfort Too Pet Sitting and friend of the Four Rivers Environmental Coalition.

From the April 13-19, 2011 issue

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