Slippery Elm Trail FAQ

bbbslipperyelm

My husband, Byron, and I have a personal goal of walking the Slippery Elm Trail from start to finish at least once each year.  Last Saturday, we looked at the calendar and noticed it was turned to mid-September already so we jumped in the car and headed to the trail head in Bowling Green to start our walk. 

When we started our walk, it was 41 degrees but the skies were that magical clear blue that we only see in northwest Ohio in early fall.  By the time we completed our walk three and a half hours later in North Baltimore, the temperature had risen to 63 degrees.  In summary, we picked possibly the nicest walking day of the year for our adventure.

Upon finishing the walk, my dad, Larry Slaughterbeck, drove us back to our car in Bowling Green.  Byron and I celebrated our accomplishment with a stop at Myles’ Pizza before heading home to Findlay.  Unfortunately, we probably ate more calories than we burned on our walk.

At the end of the trail, I posted a celebratory picture on Facebook and was bombarded with questions about the trail.  Since so many folks have questions about the Slippery Elm Trail, I thought I would answer a few frequently asked questions here.

How long is the trail from end to end?  If you walk from the Montessori School in BG to East Broadway in North Baltimore, it is 13.5 miles long.  Oddly, the trail is marked with mileage markers that measure the distance from the city limits of NB to BG that total 12 miles.  The first time Byron and I walked to BG, we thought that the zero mileage marker would be the end of the trail only to learn that we had nearly another mile to walk.  That might have been our longest, saddest mile ever.

Are there restrooms on the trail?  Besides the nice restrooms at North Baltimore, there are port-a-pots at the trailhead in Bowling Green, near Portage, and in Rudolph.

Is there any altitude change on the trail?  No, this is an incredibly flat trail.

What is the best part of the trail?  My favorite parts are the two miles north of Rudolph.  Surprisingly, much of this walk is through a mature stand of trees and the trail is shaded by the tree canopy.  If you can’t walk the entire trail, consider parking in Rudolph and walking north a couple miles and returning to your car.  It won’t seem like you’re in the open prairies and fields of Wood County.

Are there traffic rules on the trail? Yes, walk or ride on the right side of the trail.  If you are passing someone, announce your intentions by saying “Passing on the left.”  Also, always follow the main imperative on the trail: smile and greet folks you encounter.  We’re from Ohio; it’s our job to be friendly.  And no matter how tired you are, it doesn’t take any effort to smile.

We hope to see you on the Slippery Elm Trail soon!

Mackinac Bridge Walk 2013

30,000 walkers on a cold day

30,000 walkers on a cold day

The Mackinac Bridge holds many happy memories for me.  There have been the bridge crossings to the Upper Peninsula for adventures to Isle Royale, Tahquamenon Falls, Pictured Rocks and the Soo Locks.  There have been nights spent on Mackinac Island looking out at the beautifully illuminated bridge.  Mostly, there have been many crisp clear days spent in Mackinaw City beside the bridge:  chasing seagulls along the shores of the Straits, visiting historic Fort Michilimackinac, and of course, eating too much fudge.

 

One thing that I had always hoped to do was walk across the bridge as part of the annual Labor Day Bridge Walk.  Unfortunately, the Bridge Walk always conflicted with our children’s school schedules so it never happened.  This year, Byron and I were planning an end of summer visit to northern Michigan so we decided to schedule it over the Labor Day weekend so we could walk across the bridge. 

 

We arrived in Mackinaw City at 6 a.m. on Labor Day.   After parking in the Star Line Ferry parking lot, we followed the crowd to the nearby marina.  The marina parking lot was full of hundreds of yellow school buses representing school districts from central Michigan to the Upper Peninsula.  We were soon on a bus heading north across the Mackinac Bridge to the starting point in St. Ignace.

 

The sun was just beginning to rise as we jumped off the bus anxious to start the 7 a.m. walk.  Unfortunately, the weather was less than ideal.   The temperature hovered around 50 degrees with a gusty north wind.  As the morning dawned, the clouds over the Straits of Mackinac looked much more like November than September.  No one can question the hardiness of Michiganders though, as many of them were sporting shorts.

 

Tradition dictates that the governor of Michigan is the first to cross the bridge.  As soon as his party was off, we were able to start our 5 mile walk.  The walk was very crowded.   Over 30,000 walkers participated this year.  The Mackinac Bridge Walk is not the venue for a fast pace.

 

The slow pace does allow for more time for people watching though.  The wide variety of folks on the bridge was amazing.  There were infants in strollers and a 101 year-old completed the walk.  It was obvious that many multi-generational families cross the bridge together each year.  The seasoned bridge walkers were sporting numerous arrowhead-shaped patches on their jackets, each patch representing the year of a successful bridge crossing.

 

The bridge approaches account for more than half of the total distance of the walk.  In this area, all of the lanes of the bridge are paved.  Once we stepped onto the bridge mainspan, one lane was paved and the other had an open grate allowing the walkers to see the water below.  It quickly became apparent which walkers were afraid of heights, myself included, as we congregated in the paved lane and which walkers were unaffected by the heights, including Byron, as they bravely walked on the see-through grates.

 

While we were on the bridge, a freighter passed directly beneath the bridge and loudly blew its ship’s horn.  Also, the cars and buses driving in the two lanes of the bridge still open for traffic were waving and honking at the walkers.  On the bridge main span, it was easy to feel the swaying motion of the bridge and those 15-25 mph wind gusts occasionally caused the walkers to stagger  like drunken sailors.

 

Soon, our walk ended on the Mackinaw City side of the bridge.  Byron and I added more distance to our walk as we hurried to the west side of town to our favorite restaurant, Darrow’s.   Per Urbanspoon, Darrow’s  is the highest rated restaurant in town and is known for its affordable home cooking.  If you stop at Darrow’s, “Save your fork because there’s sure to be pie.”

 

By 11 a.m., we had walked across the bridge, eaten a hearty breakfast, purchased our first successful bridge walk commemorative patch, and even picked up a box of fudge for the road.   We were headed south happy to have one more check on our bucket list and planning how we can get back to the Mackinac Bridge for next Labor Day.  Maybe you can join us.

 

Almost Fall

There is a short season in northwest Ohio that doesn’t have a name; it is the in-between place that separates the official start of fall and the unofficial end of summer.   Let’s call it “almost fall.” When I was a child growing up in North Baltimore, it began right after Labor Day and aligned with the annual return to school.

 

One day, we would be at the Quarry watching our friends perform in the water ballet extravaganza.  The next day, “almost fall” would arrive and we would find ourselves overdressed in our new school clothes and new leather shoes.   In the cool mornings, the new school clothes seemed appropriate but by the end of the school day, we were sweltering hot and couldn’t wait to get home to change into our summer shorts and tennis shoes again.  I honestly don’t remember feeling hotter in my childhood than those “almost fall” walks home from school. 

 

Even though “almost fall” is a very short season, it is clearly delineated in my mind.  Brain science shows that our most vivid memories are attached to the sense of smell.  To this day, one of my favorite scents is a new box of Crayola crayons.  Whenever I catch a whiff of that aroma, my mind instantly returns to the “almost fall” days of North Baltimore in the 1960s as I enjoyed a new box of sharpened crayons that came with the start of each school year.

 

“Almost fall” also had a special accessory.  We each returned to school carrying the year’s new lunchbox sporting a popular television or cartoon character.  For a day or two, the Thermos inside our new lunchbox was still intact and we could carry a cold beverage to school with us.  I can’t remember the Thermos lasting more than a week though.  One accidental drop or bump and the glass mirror on the inside shattered and we needed to buy milk at school the rest of the school year.  I’m almost positive that none of my Thermos’ ever survived the “almost fall” season.

 

The “almost fall” season has flora and fauna that signal its arrival.  Walks to school during this period always involved catching caterpillars, or wooly worms as we called them, and grasshoppers.  I’m pretty sure that the brown liquid that grasshoppers left in our hand was not tobacco juice as we believed in our childhood. 

 

“Almost fall” also brought us the joy of milkweed pods that we loved to open and blow the parachute seeds into the wind.   Other botanical highlights of “almost fall” included buckeyes and acorns.  For the Beecher Street gang, the best treat was black walnuts, often used as ammunition in across the street throwing battles.  Unfortunately, the black walnuts left indelible stains upon contact.

 

For such a short non-season, “almost fall” has created powerful memories for me, memories that are as hard to erase as a black walnut stain.

 

 

Up, Up and Away

balloon ride

Normally, I like to follow the mantra of Peace Pilgrim who once said, “Keep your feet on the ground and your thoughts at lofty heights.” Yet today, I find myself, scared of heights, and floating over Findlay in a hot air balloon. There are no lofty thoughts coming from the primal side of my brain that is sending messages of fear like “If you drop your phone, don’t dive for it” or “I wish the basket was higher so I felt safer leaning on it.”

Luckily, the analytical part of my brain is sending a stronger message that allows me to fully enjoy this experience. My pilot is Phil Clinger, a Findlay native and current Battle Creek, Michigan resident, and his hot air balloon company, Aerial Endeavors (http://altitudeendeavors.com/index.html), provides aerial advertising. Throughout the summer, Phil competes in various balloon fests across the Midwest proudly displaying a banner that says VisitFindlay.com to encourage folks to visit Findlay. This balloon is sponsored by the Hancock County Convention Visitors Bureau.

Today, through a serendipitous turn of events, I have the chance to join Phil as he competes in the morning launch of the Findlay BalloonFest. Just last evening, I had been walking with my husband near sunset and received a text that said there was a cancellation if I wanted to fly at 6:30 a.m. I was so excited last night that I barely slept. It’s exciting to think about checking one more thing off the bucket list.

Also along for the ride is Betsy Decillis, social media content manager for visitfindlay.com, who began the flight by saying, “I looked it up and very few people actually die in a balloon accident.” Both sides of my brain are happy to hear Phil say that no one is dying in a balloon accident today.

Soon Phil is busy maneuvering the balloon over four targets that are scattered throughout the town. Points are awarded based on the proximity of a beanbag thrown by the pilot to the target. Prior to today, I had no idea that the balloons were competing at BalloonFest. I thought they were just on a joy ride.

Betsy and I find ourselves in an extremely rare state: speechless. It is so calm and peaceful in the balloon. We can clearly hear the passengers of other balloons chatting. Below us, I see my husband Byron driving. I can even see my dog, Ike, looking out the truck window. Many familiar landmarks pass below me. At one point, I can see my house. As we approach the landing spot, we get closer to the ground and are even able to talk with people below us.

After two hours of total tranquility, we touch down near the Country Inn and Suites in Findlay. Once we are reunited with Mother Earth, we are anointed with a bottle of bubbly. I can now call myself a veteran balloon rider and my bucket list has one more check on it. Les Brown once said, “Life has no limits, except the ones you make.” I’m still afraid of heights, but today I overcame that to make a dream come true.

Dreams Really Do Come True

cindybregel

 

Do you remember the great wintertime fun we had skating on creeks and ponds when we were kids?  Cindy Monasmith Bregel (NB ’77) was blessed to grow up on Bairdstown Road where the banks to the ditch were deep thus creating a great wind block that allowed for long expanses of smooth outdoor ice.  As a teenager, her parents added a pond in the backyard that allowed for more ice skating fun.  Skating is one of her favorite childhood memories.

 

Fast forward to 1998. Cindy and her young daughter, Taryn, are in their Findlay home watching the winter Olympics and cheering on 16 year-old Tara Lipinski to a gold medal in figure skating.   Cindy’s mind is recalling her own childhood delight in watching another American, Peggy Fleming, win a gold medal a long time ago when Taryn looks at her mom and says, “I want to do that.” 

 

Cindy’s heart sinks because Taryn is diagnosed as developmentally delayed with impaired motor skills so there are no local opportunities for her to learn to skate.   Unfortunately, local programs such as Silver Blades and Learn-to-Skate programs do not cater to Taryn’s needs.

 

Neither Cindy nor Taryn give up on the skating dream though.  Finally, two years later, Cindy receives a call from Helen Stahl, a Special Olympics coach, asking if Taryn would be part of an exhibition ice skating program for individuals with disabilities that will be piloted in Findlay.  Soon, Cindy is sitting in the UF Ice Arena bleachers watching Taryn on the ice, fitted with skates, helmet, a small walker, and assisted by a college volunteer.  In disbelief, Cindy watches Taryn moving her feet correctly while being supported by the walker.  As Taryn glides across the ice, Cindy knows that Taryn’s dream to ice skate is still alive!

 

Cindy and Dr. Jean Folkerth, from the University of Findlay, were so impressed with the pilot program that they committed to do whatever it took to get Elizabeth O’Donnell from Buffalo, NY, the leader of the national model of this program, to start a similar program in Findlay.  Cindy soon found herself on the advisory committee focused on raising $25,000 to start the program.  And what donor could say no to a passionate mother who wants to see her special needs daughter’s dreams come true? 

 

Like a snowball rolling down a hill, the program quickly gained momentum.  By 2002, the first Findlay ice show highlighted the talents of 27 stars, including Taryn who was accompanied by two volunteers, both the daughters of another NBHS alum, Mike Bucher.  By 2005, the ice show had outgrown the UF Ice Arena and moved to the CUBE.  Taryn was skating with only volunteer by that time who was her best friend since first grade, Brooke Larsen. 

 

The following year, 2006, was tough for both the program and for the Bregel family.  Cindy’s dad, John Monasmith, was terminally ill and Cindy was busy with hospital visits.  Only a couple days before John passed away he said to Cindy, “You know that the best thing you have ever done is working with that skating program.” 

Only three weeks after losing her father, the Gliding Stars advisory committee decided that due to the loss of skating instructors, the program would need to take a year’s hiatus.    Still focused on Taryn’s dream, Cindy volunteered to find instructors to save the program, which she did. And as always, no good deed goes unpunished, so her reward was a role as co-coordinator of the ice show.

 

The following year, 2007, was especially poignant as Taryn was chosen to skate a solo in memory of her Grandpa John Monasmith.  By this time, Taryn had begun to skate independently.  Her dream inspired by Tara Lapinski was now a reality!

 

The Gliding Stars momentum has continued through annual shows with titles such as Pirate Island, High School Revue, Skating the 70s, Time Traveling, and Findlay’s Bicentennial.  The club has grown significantly as the last show featured 57 Stars and 120 on ice volunteers, including 40 UF students. Taryn continues to skate as a star; she skates independently and also helps create costume ideas.  Cindy has taken many active roles within the club including show coordinator. 

 

For the most inspirational event of the year, mark your calendar for next year’s Gliding Stars spectacular called “Let’s Go to the Movies” on March 16th at 2:30 pm at the CUBE in Findlay. 

 

In the near term, I would like to invite you to join us for a free Gliding Stars premiere of a short documentary on September 16 at 7 p.m. at Winebrenner, 950 N. Main Street, Findlay.  To view a trailer of the documentary, called “Go Jackson Doll!” visit http://vimeo.com/71460834.  Also follow Gliding Stars on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/GlidingStarsofFindlay.

 

But most importantly, help me celebrate a NBHS grad who had the vision and tenacity to make the dreams of hundreds of local children come true:  Cindy Bregel, and also to honor her daughter, Taryn Bregel, who dreamed such a big dream that it changed a whole community.