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Rueckert: Bad camping experiences aside, enjoy county’s outdoors
Noreen Rueckert

You can blame former Dodge County 4-H Agent Arthur Brehm for my complete lack of interest in camping.

Way back in elementary school, I met a girl on the school bus who owned a horse. Roxanne convinced me to join her 4-H club and I remember thinking that if I did, maybe she’d invite me over to ride the horse. His name was Prince. When he tired of carting us around, he would purposely sidle up next to fences or low-hanging tree branches. One time he also stepped on my foot. I think that part was an accident; only he would know for sure. But I digress.

When the 4-H newsletter arrived with information on summer camp, I was intrigued. Camp Upham Woods sounded interesting. The location — Wisconsin Dells, on the Wisconsin River — had me thinking Tommy Bartlett Water Show, mini golf and duck rides. I’m sure my mother knew better, but she signed me up anyway — knowing that otherwise I’d spend the entire summer indoors reading books.

Art Brehm was an agriculturist and horticulturist by trade, and I suspect the 4-H gig was more of a side job. I hope he was better at counting trees than he was at counting kids, because the year I signed up for 4-H camp, he overbooked. So while most campers were laid out on musty mattresses in rustic cabins, a handful of us ended up in sleeping bags in pup tents. I sent a postcard home to complain, demanding that my parents pick me up immediately. 

They did not.

I came home from Upham Woods smelling of campfire smoke, covered in bug bites, toting a damp sleeping bag and a duffle full of sandy clothing. The closest thing to a water show had been when my tent-mate Patty fell in the river while struggling to navigate a row boat back to the dock. Needless to say, my outdoor immersion experience was memorably disappointing.

These days, you still won’t talk me into anything even close to camping — tent, cabin or otherwise. But if you tell me to take a hike, I’d be happy to go, particularly if there’s also a good spot along the way to have a seat and take in the scenery. Let’s call it “bench with a view.” Here are a few prime spots in Green County. 

Stewart Tunnel on the Badger Trail, near Belleville

Moss-covered limestone. Ferns anchored into the vertical landscape. And a shroud of cool damp air as you approach the dark entrance. Once upon a time, I happened upon a choir harmonizing just inside. Truly magical. Another time, bats making a speedy exit. Near the south entrance is a picnic table sheltered in a small kiosk. A list of fast facts posted inside makes note that the tunnel, completed in 1887, is 14 feet wide and a quarter-mile long. No singers today, just toddlers on tag-along bikes and adults blinking as they emerge from the darkness and ride out into the bright sunlight.

Lake Montesian, Monticello

There’s something fun about being on an island, even if it isn’t tropical. Kids are here with buckets, poles and snacks. A cluster of crabapple trees bloom on the island, branches laden with hot pink flowers. Two girls play near the small waterfall by the retro-style sign that spells out Monticello, vertically, in big letters. They wade in, tentatively, and then run back to where their dad is set up fishing from the shore.

Mill Race and Pearl Island Recreational Corridor, Brodhead

I like to park by the old water tower where the white noise of water rushing over the dam cancels out all other sounds. A guy decked out in camouflage says, “Smallmouth,” when I ask if he’s catching anything. A dog named Dodger runs over to greet me. I know this, because his owners call him back to their fishing spot just past the foot of the dam. I meet bikers, joggers and dog walkers. Upstream, I sit and watch as a solitary duck glides with the slow current.

Next month I’ll be back either with ideas on exploring local history, or highlights on some of my favorite restaurants picks. Later this summer — a peek behind the scenes with the Green County Cheese Days festival. 

— Noreen Rueckert is the director for Green County Tourism, director for Green County Cheese Days and committee co-chair for Concerts on the Square with Main Street Monroe. She refuses to name her favorite cheese, but it is rumored to be feta. She has the best office in the county — overlooking Monroe’s downtown Square from the tower of the historic Green County Courthouse. She dabbles in photography and graphic design, adores cats and coffee and secretly loves the Cheese Days Song.