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The Green Circle Trail is a state and federally recognized 26-mile scenic hiking/biking trail that loops around the Stevens Point area and is also a designated Birding Trail. The loop is conveniently broken down into "segments" very similar to the Ice Age Trail, so I didn't feel overwhelmed trying to hike the entire length; I just chose the most scenic segment - the River Pines Trail - along the Wisconsin River.

Skipping the historic section of trail beginning in downtown Stevens Point, we opted to enter the trail near the Bliss Ave. entrance. There isn't a designated parking area there, but a few cars were parked along the dead end road so we joined them. Finding the Green Circle Trail is not difficult, there are signs all over town pointing the way or you can just follow the steady stream of bicycles! There are also sign posts near most of the entrances to the trail with a map and rules - basically walk on the right, let people know when you're passing and pick up after your leashed dog. Interactive maps on the website, which I printed off to take with me, were really helpful in visualizing the segments and providing trail information. Only one section is off limits to dogs - the University Trail through the Schmeekle Reserve - so this trail gets my enthusiastic dog-friendly seal of approval!

While dogs are to be kept on a maximum 8' leash, there were several spots where we could access the river off the trail to let Charlie take a break and go swimming. Typically parks/trails that allow leashed dogs are pretty cool with allowing them to be unleashed as long as they are in the water. Just use your judgment to make sure you're not bothering other trail users.

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We only passed two other "hikers" on the trail, otherwise it was mostly bike-use. This trail is VERY popular with bike riders for obvious reasons: a well-groomed gravel path, beautiful scenery, lots of places to take a break and best of all - quiet! Bikes passing by us were very polite as they called out, "on your left!" Some of them even announced how many were in their group so we wouldn't get run over. Each time a bike passed, I stopped and had Charlie "sit" while they went by in order to reciprocate the politeness.

At one point, this section of trail went under a County Highway, and Charlie was not impressed. As with her earlier experience on the Chaffee Creek Segment of the IAT, the sounds of the cars passing above spooked her.

The scenery alternated between marsh/swamp, which were dry this time of year, to woods full of all types of trees. One minute there would be soft pine needles underfoot and then rock outcroppings along the riverbank. We saw several flocks of ducks on the river that didn't even move when canoes drifted past them and I'm positive I even saw a pair of pileated woodpeckers. I'd like to make a trip back here during the fall migratory season to take full advantage of this Birding Trail!

We walked as far as the old stone foundation at the place formerly known as Echo Dells. According to the website, www.GreenCircleTrail.org, these stones are all that remains of Wisconsin Supreme Court justice, George Nelson's fireplace. I love a trail with history!

It was a warm day and Charlie had behaved very well on our leashed walk, so we took a leisurely break on the way back for her to swim and play with sticks on a tiny stone island just off the shore near a park bench. There was a sturdy log providing a "bridge" between the shore and the island, but I knew I'd fall in if I attempted it and unfortunately the brown, cloudy water was not inviting. I stayed ashore while Charlie kept bringing me sticks to throw for her, which were always just out of reach; she had a nice pile collected by the time we headed back up onto the trail.

Overall, I think we trekked about 3 miles total for the afternoon; a day well-spent exploring a new trail in a nearby city while enjoying nature and learning a bit of history. If you're a bike enthusiast or just a hiker (with or without a dog), this trail offers something for everyone.

Heather Burt documents the ongoing journey with her dog as they play, hike and road-trip around Wisconsin in her blog www.HikingWithHeather.blogspot.com. Burt hopes to bring awareness to our state's bountiful natural beauty while encouraging people to enjoy nature.

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