Family trip report – Whitewater State Park

30 06 2009

We had an absolutely fantastic time on our camping trip this past weekend to Whitewater State Park, near Rochester, Minnesota.  Our friends Matt & Jamie, along with their little ones Isabella and Grant, and Adam & Julie along with their son Kyle joined us for the getaway.

Had a little hiccup to start since the park had our reservations for Thursday and Friday night instead of Fri/Sat – Jason swears that it was the online reservation site’s fault.  Since the campground was full for the weekend we asked Matt & Jamie if we could pitch our tent on their site since their site could fit about 5 tents.  Here’s a pic of our tent along with Matt & Jason:

whitesite

Of the 3 groups camping, we had the smallest tent (Kelty Mantra 5 person).  The other 2 had gigantic circus tents complete with closets, screened porches, and dirty laundry stashes.  Kallen asked me why we don’t have a big tent and I said that we like to be all nice and cozy & be close together.  I don’t see a need for a bigger tent – we just use it for sleeping anyway & I’m the type of person that is happy just making do with what we got.

The first day we scouted out the grounds and let the boys play down by the Whitewater river.  Right now dump trucks, diggers, backhoes, etc, are Noah’s favorite thing to do.  He plays with them in the sand, rocks, water, and dirt for hours.

Grant, Noah (in green) and Kyle playing dump trucks in the water and rocks.

Grant, Noah (in green) and Kyle playing dump trucks in the water and rocks.

That night we got about 1/2 inch of rain and it thundered like nothing I’ve heard before.  The park is situated deep in a valley and the thunder rumbles through it for what seems like an eternity.  I didn’t sleep much but the boys didn’t even flinch.  What’s really cool about being deep in the valley with constant running water is that there are no mosquitos.  The park ranger told us that he has been around here for over 20 years and hasn’t put on bug spray once.  And you know what – we didn’t see or feel a darn one the entire weekend.

The second day started with some yummy lucky charms:

campbreakfast

After breakfast we hiked the Trout Run trail and Jason tried his luck fly fishing along the way. I loved everything about the trails except there were tons of itchweed everywhere.  I stayed out of it, but not Noah. It seemed he was always running into the stuff.

Jason, Kallen and Maggie ahead of me on the trail.

Jason, Kallen and Maggie ahead of me on the trail.

We climed up some pretty steep steps to get up to “Inspiration Point” (how cheesy is that?) and veered off the path for some impromptu rock climbing.  Maggie (dog) couldn’t follow us up and was frantically panting and whining until we came back down.  Here we are at the top overlooking the bluff valley:

boysinspt

inspirpt

After the hike, we went back to camp for lunch and to pack swim stuff for the beach.  The park has a swim beach across the road from the campground which is some backwater from the river.  Park staff hauls in sand from sandstone to make the beach just like the ones in California (okay make not just like Cali).  The water is super cold because it is fed by the constantly running Whitewater river.  In order to swim in warmer water, the kids made their own “Hillbilly Hot Tub”.  Since the temps were in the high 80’s it didn’t take long for the water to warm up.

Isabella, Kallen and Noah soaking in the hot tub

Isabella, Kallen and Noah soaking in the hot tub

The next morning Jason got up before the rest of us and had quite a bit of luck fishing.  Of course when I was going to try fishing the same spot later on, there were already 2 guys who beat me there.

Jason's brown trout

Jason's brown trout

While Jason was fishing I took Bella and the boys up to the visitor/nature center.  It’s a really cool spot with visual exhibits, educational movies, and all kinds of real (some living, some not) animals and birds.  After that I packed up some lunch and we hit the trail again, this time heading up Chimney point:

chimneyboys

After this hike, we went to the visitor center to rent a GPS unit to try our luck at Geocaching.  This is something we’ve wanted to try and since this state park is one of 25 demo parks (has classes and free GPS unit rentals), we thought now would be a great time to get started.  In addition to finding the “cache”, all 72 of the Minnesota State parks have Wildlife Safari cards that kids can collect at each cache location:  http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/state_parks/geocaching/safari/index.html

I haven’t visited any other state parks outside of Minnesota, but I think that we have some darn awesome parks because they have lots of educational and fun programs for families.  We enjoyed going on our first geocache hunt so much, we intend to continue doing it on a regular basis.  We plan to get a journal for Kallen to keep information such as:  date, location, what we found, and what we left behind.  The Whitewater park one has 2 paper clues for you to find before you reach your cache destination.  Ironically we had to climb back up chimney point for our cache:

We found it!

We found it!

This cache was a metal box chained around a rock.  We opened it up and there were all sorts of trinkets and a log book.  You write your name and date in the log book and you can take a trinket if you wish – as long as you leave something else in it’s place.  We left a can cooler because who doesn’t need one of those?  I believe it said “Let’s play Hammerschlagen”.

Kallen took a glitter key chain from the cache along with his MN state park critter card.  The one for Whitewater is a timber rattlesnake.

Kallen took a glitter key chain from the cache along with his MN state park critter card. The one for Whitewater is a timber rattlesnake.

After we were done geocaching, I finally got my chance to try fly fishing.  There is this one spot that you could see a school of about 20 brown trout but they just didn’t want my bait.  The water is so amazingly clear here.  The trout sit in a pool about 6 feet deep and since I can see them, that means they can see me and that’s no good.  I didn’t catch anything, but I was just happy getting to try out the sport.  For me it was a success because I didn’t break Jason’s rod, the line or even lose a fly.

My first time fly fishing.  View from the shore of Trout Run Creek.

My first time fly fishing. View from the shore of Trout Run Creek.

I highly recommend this park for family camping because it has so much to do:  both flat and challenging hiking trails, sandy swim beach, trout fishing, visitor center with weekend educational programs AND NO MOSQUITOS!  We already booked our reservations for next year………





Mississippi Bamboo Summit

16 06 2009

Last week I had the fantastic opportunity to attend the Delta Bamboo Supply Chain Summit in Greenville, Mississippi.

Welcoming sign at the Greenville Airport.  Who knew Uncle Ben's called this place home?

Welcoming sign at the Greenville Airport. Who knew Uncle Ben's called this place home?

The event was hosted by Ed Johnson, CEO of the Delta Economic Development Center in partnership with Jackie Heinricher, CEO of BooShoot Gardens.  I met Jackie last summer at the Outdoor Retailer show in Salt Lake City where she was displaying her ground breaking discovery to grow and plant bamboo on a large scale.  Jackie got my name to Ed and next thing you know I’m in Mississippi doing a presentation on the market of bamboo textiles.

“Booshoot is a biotechnology company located in Mount Vernon, Washington. Through years of research and development, Booshoot has produced breakthrough tissue-culture science that enables rapid propagation of bamboo plants on an unprecedented scale. Booshoot’s accomplishment represents eight years of research and development, establishing them as world leaders in the development of bamboo tissue culture. Their technology enables markets worldwide to meet the growing demand of bamboo for use in wood products, pulp for paper and textiles, soil stabilization, and reforestation combined with bamboo’s untapped potential for carbon sequestration.”

For the record I think Jackie is a genius and I am grateful to work with her on this domestic bamboo project.

The purpose of the summit was to gather bamboo experts from across the country to meet with Mississippi landowners and discuss the viability of growing and harvesting moso bamboo as a domestic crop.  Other companies and organizations represented were, Rose Carbon LLC, Cali Bamboo, Limerick Energy, Teragren, Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, US Department of Commerce, Evolution Resources, Delta Research and Extension Center, Memphis Bioworks, Mississippi State University, and the USDA.  This two day meeting was a huge accomplishment since it has been over 40 years since the Delta region has thought about commercialization of a new crop.

Oh look, we are being welcomed by bamboo found right in the Delta!

Oh look, we are being welcomed by bamboo found right in the Delta!

The first day of the summit consisted of presentations on the bamboo market, benefits, yield per acre (about 25-30 dry tons per acre as compared to 6 dry tons of woody biomass per acre for poplar pine), financial opportunity for farmers, planting and harvesting considerations, and economic benefits to the community by establishing a vertical supply chain in the Delta region.  The main markets for bamboo are:

1.  Hard goods – flooring, cabinetry, fencing

2.  Pulp and paper

3.  Textiles – clothing, bedding, towels

4.  Bio-mass – bamboo could make an excellent candidate for fuels due to it’s low moisture content, and low ash/chlorine contents

5.  Carbon credit opportunities – moso bamboo is the largest carbon sequestering plant in the world

6.  Eco-tourism – how cool would it be to tour groves of 75 feet tall grasses?

The information presented convinced me even more that bamboo is our future and we are headed in the right direction. I learned some interesting facts such as:  Teragren reported that for every pound of bamboo product they make, they are taking 1.7 pounds of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.  They are a CARBON NEGATIVE company.  Harvesting bamboo does not release the trapped carbon back into the air, it stays locked into the product for it’s lifetime.  Rose Carbon LLC is a carbon off-set company that works with bamboo plantings as a source of carbon mitigation.  CEO Ted Rose presented Delta farmers the scenario of switching 5000 acres of cotton to bamboo.  Farmers could expect a revenue of $89 – $179, 000 per year over a 10-20 year period.  Teragren, a US leader in bamboo flooring, had made a commitment to build a manufacturing facility in the Delta region if at least 1000 acres of bamboo is planted and harvested and Evolution Resources plans to plant 1000 acres of moso bamboo in the Delta region in April 2010 to use as cellulostic ethanol.

The second day of the summit featured a wrap up session with next steps and tours of available farm land to use for bamboo plantings.  I had the pleasure to tour with landowner Jim Newsome.  He was a wealth of information regarding the history, culture and economic conditions of Mississippi.  Catfish and cotton used to be the largest industries in this region until our nation decided that we could import these items for much less than we could produce them here.  Jim showed us his shed which had 3 cotton pickers valued at over $350,000 a piece that haven’t been used in over 3 years.  He says the Mississippi cotton industry is “dead”.  Currently in the Delta region it is mainly corn and soybeans grown with a minimal amount of rice and cotton.

On our farm tour Jim showed us where the alligators hang out.  He said he tries to “run over one every day”.  The marshy areas actually had some type of bamboo growing as well (don’t know the kind though) and Jim was surprised to see he already had bamboo growing on his land.  Here’s a pic of a gator I spotted outside my truck window (his head is in the center bottom – I know he’s hard to see):

I'm happy to see mostly cows on Minnesota farms instead of gators.

I'm happy to see mostly cows on Minnesota farms instead of gators.

Jim took us to his farm and trucking office to meet his staff and family.  His grandson had made us a batch of chocolate chip cookies and Jim’s wife loaded us up with souveniers to take home.  That’s the one thing I noticed about Mississippi – you just can’t beat the hospitality provided by the locals.

Establishing a domestic supply of moso bamboo would benefit so many people, it just makes me giddy thinking about it.  Naturally Bamboo will in some way, shape or form be harvesting their own bamboo supply from right here in the good ol’ USA.  I’ve always said there are only 2 pieces of the puzzle left to make bamboo fiber the ultimate in sustainable clothing:  a domestic supply of raw moso bamboo and a cleaner, greener processing method to break down the fiber.  The first step is well underway and the second I have a pretty good lead on, but will need some time to develop and crap ton of money.

Being as I was down in Mississippi where the Mississippi river flows into the Gulf of Mexico, I thought I would bring back some old photos of a family trip to the beginnings of the Mighty Mississippi right here in Minnesota.  I believe the last time we were at Itasca State Park  was August of 2006, a few months after Noah was born.

itasca3

Kallen (then 3) wading across the mouth of the river.  Water is extremely clear and about 1-2 feet deep all the way across.

Kallen (then 3) wading across the mouth of the river. Water is extremely clear and about 1-2 feet deep all the way across.

Me and Noah (then 4 months old) enjoying our day at Itasca State Park.  Wow, he was a much lighter load hiking around with then!

Me and Noah (then 4 months old) enjoying our day at Itasca State Park. Wow, he was a much lighter load hiking around with then!