Park Vista Watching

by Jim Eagleman

You wouldn’t think a view could have so many changes. From early morning, through the high sun at noon, then to dwindling twilight, Brown County State Park’s scenic trademark vistas can amaze. I say this, having looked out from them for many years, all times of the year, and several times through the day. I’m not alone. How can you drive through beautiful Brown County State Park, scan over its nearly sixteen thousand acres, and not look?
On my short commute now each summer morning, the scenic overlooks can appear both bright and back-lit at the same time. A view to the east into Strahl Valley and the rolling terrain accentuates the depth of green. Then towards evening when I leave, they’re almost smoky black with low angles of light peering around curves of the road. I know they are the same views, but something is different.

In the park, they’re located on higher ridge roads that gently slope off in all directions. You see one up ahead and slow down to get a better look. Soon, you’re out of the car—you can’t help it. At least one of them is located along a trail, the Friends Trail near the Park Office. As a welcome surprise you’ll come upon a clearing with a break-taking view and a wooden deck with benches. People linger long and leave a bit more inspired.
One winter day years ago, with cross-country ski trails leading here and there, a fellow came in the Nature Center with camera equipment and snowy clothes. He had been out nearly all day, kept warm with a good hat and gloves and seemed exhilarated.
”Welp, I think I saw it!” he exclaimed, smiley and wide-eyed.
“What did you see?” I asked.
“On the vistas…there by the large playing field…all 283 shades of gray!” he chuckled.
I knew what he meant. The white snow, days old and crusty, the absolute black of wet tree trunks and all the subtle shades of gray in between had challenged him and his light meter. The vista to the west now was draped in pure white to dirty white; the winter scene appeared like a movie set: the props situated at just the right angle.
“There’s color out there, I just never noticed it”, he said, packing up his gear.
It made me pay more attention to vistas. I’ve always enjoyed looking off to the horizon, views from some reaching 12 miles or more. The autumn crowds of motor coach tours and tourists pull off park roads for quick group pictures with the vistas. The backdrops serve as an ever-present backdrop to our nature talks. This is what people come to see; this is what we’re known for. They are Brown County’s “claim to fame,” says a travel brochure.
We start hikes in front of them, make references to them as we watch turkey vultures soar, and use them as an introduction to forest themes.
They work nicely to refer to the layers or strata in typical woodland settings. A view of the forest’s roof from an overlook allows an undulating sea of green. Trees move and sway in gentle winds or whip wildly before storms. A vista is the first thing that greets us before venturing into the wooded interior to see what makes it work. And vistas can make us feel good! Like the winter hiker, we’re elated.
Park buildings, trails and facilities, and the vistas require maintenance. They are periodically burned each spring to keep back woody and invasive vegetation. This allows mowing and keeps them free of interference. New gravel is topped up for better parking and picnic tables invite longer stays. Need a restful, scenic view that’s local, enlightening, and therapeutic? Visit a vista and take it all in.