I never tire of the view at our headquarters in Madison, Wis. The surrounding landscape features wildflowers, stone walls, seating areas and a pond. These gradually change over to oak woodlots and large grassland areas.
When our facility was built, the intent of the grasslands was to transition to outlying natural areas and keep expenses down by reducing the costs associated with large well-groomed lawns. It turns out these tall grasses are an ideal habitat for nesting grassland birds. An employee discovered this 20 years ago when he spotted a Dicksissel living in the grasses.
Knowing this, American Family decided to strike a balance between economic development and land resource protection. We realized we have an opportunity to protect and restore diverse plant and animal species on our lands.
As an example, we found that simply by delaying the annual mowing of our meadow until mid-August, the Dicksissel – whose population has been steeply declining – could successfully raise their young.
Our land use plan has three goals:
- Research existing habitat and wildlife.
- Implement land-management practices to support habitat-enhancement strategies.
- Promote employee and community involvement.
Since then, some of our land-use achievements include:
- Installation of a native prairie butterfly garden.
- Restoration of oak woodlots to oak savannas.
- Conversion of several acres of non-native plants to native species.
- Pond management for habitat diversity.
- Installation of a 34 bluebird nest boxes.
It’s been a gratifying experience. Some of the most rewarding compliments on our land use come from customers. One guest said that after discovering American Family’s dedication to responsible land management, he would definitely remain our customer. He was an administrator at a local college and was so impressed with our land use plans that he asked if his facilities team could contact me for more details!
I also received a similar compliment from a customer who is an employee with the Wisconsin DNR. She said, “I am so thrilled and impressed to discover I have been doing business with a company that truly cares about the environment.”
At American Family, it’s rewarding to know our good stewardship isn’t just a financial way of life, it extends to our land resources as well.
Editor's note: Learn more about the environmental sustainability efforts at American Family Insurance on our website.
My experience as a child growing up in the Chicago suburbs on Lake Michigan provided casual family bike rides on paved trails, go-at-your-own-pace and feel the wind in your hair – before helmets were necessary.
However, my husband likes riding across the state of Iowa in RAGBRAI or the length of Wisconsin in the GRABAAWR (each about 500 miles in 5-6 days). So, you might guess our family bike rides are more than around the block.
Our daughter has been zipping along more than 15 miles on average per trip, at speeds of 12+ mph over the rolling hills of Wisconsin before she even graduated from training wheels. We’ve ridden the Sugar River Trail in New Glarus, Wis., the Ice Age Trail loop at Devils Lake State Park, and Glacial Drumlin from Cottage Grove, Wis., to Deerfield, Wis. (for the ice cream…) and back.
She enjoyed it more when she could be dad’s riding buddy traveling in a trailer bike attached to his road bike.
Through the years, one landmark trip was the 24-mile round-trip adventure to Crystal Lake in northern Wisconsin. We were dripping with sweat and tired when we arrived – so the crisp, cold water of this crystal-clear lake near Minocqua brought a welcome refresh.
Weaving through country roads from our cabin in Boulder Junction, we biked with anticipation with our snorkeling gear in tow. We explored the lake and swam across. While not the same as our Caribbean adventures, this trip “up North” provided our only clearly visible lake bottom view.
We set a new milestone in family biking adventures with our now 18-year-old daughter on a recent vacation to California. The 12+ miles up and down hills in San Francisco to cross the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito, Calif., blew us up against the rails of the bridge with blustering winds around the towers, and provided grand views worthy of post-card status.
The spiral downhill ride into Sausalito led to a final ferry ride back to the city. The sore muscles and numb fingers gave way to new bragging rights for literally crossing a new bridge in our family’s bike riding resume.
Where’s your favorite biking destination?
The best experiences are the ones that aren’t planned. They simply happen.
Like dropping everything to follow a hot air balloon. Or having a front-yard conversation evolve into a backyard campfire with friends.
My favorite family memories involve spur-of-the-moment decisions to get away – to simply pick a spot on the map, plug in the GPS coordinates and hit the highway in search of adventure.
No agenda. No timeline. No constraints. Just some salty snacks and a thirst for adventure.
Through this ad-hoc approach to travel, my family has discovered unfamiliar aspects of familiar locations. We’ve found new attractions by accident (especially after a wrong turn or two). And in almost every case, we’ve unearthed hole-in-the-wall restaurants whose cuisine and character far exceeded their outwardly appearance.
Yup, I love the road trip – and I bet you do, too.
That’s why I’m excited about American Family’s first e-book, Dreaming of the Road, to be released this fall. This digital publication will feature lots of practical tips for planning your next highway or back road adventure, and feature lots of personal road trip tales.
Here’s the best part: American Family wants your stories for possible inclusion in the book!
To share a tale, simply complete our online form. Just for contributing, you’ll be on the list of those to receive the e-book first.
I bet you have lots of great ideas. I look forward to reading them.
See you on the road!
My life is a series of different-sized screens. From a 3.5-inch smartphone, to a 55-inch flat screen TV – and all dimensions and devices in-between – I spend much of my day focused on a digital reality.
When I need to flee the screen’s electronic grip, I head outdoors. Often times, the simplest escapes involve a quick trip to the backyard of my suburban home in Wisconsin. It could also be a bike ride or a visit to my state’s plethora of parks.
But I’m most happy anywhere I can find the familiar tan and forest green logo of the National Park Service. Officially created by President Woodrow Wilson in 1916, national parks – and their idea – have been around much longer. President Ulysses Grant established Yellowstone National Park in 1872 – the nation’s first national park.
National Parks are part of our country’s fabric – and were established by visionaries who believed in the power of nature and the importance of preserving it – forever.
Indeed, they’re our best idea.
However, growing up my friends had different summer dreams – of baseball stadiums, big cities and beaches – not national parks. My family’s compass almost always pointed to the West, where interstate highways led us to less glamorous places with names like Badlands, Little Bighorn or Bryce Canyon.
I was a child of the National Park Service, and I haven’t forgotten the lessons I learned in some of its 51.9 million acres.
Last summer, I gave my kids (10 and 12) a similar education, going on what they dubbed “The Great American Road Trip.” OK, that’s a bit cliché, but we did have a fantastic, 3,800-mile journey through South Dakota and Wyoming.
Everywhere we went, so was the National Park Service. We saw (and smelled) mud pots, bison and geysers. We tent-camped in national forests and parks, paying a penance to sleep under billions of stars in lieu of cushy queen beds and free WiFi.
We ate and slept among nature – not protected from it in some stuffy, air-conditioned hotel room. Our dinners were on wooden picnic tables that thousands of other campers like us used before. We disconnected from reality for two weeks, and it was hard to come home – back to our screens. Back to reality.
But we returned recharged. And my kids learned the lessons of my youth - the ones only nature can teach: appreciation of life’s simpler gifts.
John Muir – a pioneer of national parks – said it best more than 100 years ago:
“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity; and that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life. Awakening from the stupefying effects of the vice of over-industry and the deadly apathy of luxury, they are trying as best they can to mix and enrich their own little ongoings with those of Nature, and to get rid of rust and disease.”
― John Muir, Our National Parks
Editor's note: We want to hear your favorite summer escape. Leave a comment or visit the American Family Insurance Facebook page throughout the summer. Join the conversation by checking out the #30DaysOfSummer hashtags on Twitter and Facebook.
Can I tell you a secret? I’d take a staycation over a vacation any day.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not one to pooh-pooh a luxurious, tropical getaway or a dazzling, big-city adventure. I’m just saying by choosing to stay home and savor more local delights, you might find the escape you’ve been dreaming of all summer.
Not only are staycations typically more affordable than traditional vacations, they also offer the gift of time and a fresh perspective on things. A cheesy thought? Perhaps. But there’s something truly powerful about slowing down to appreciate your life just as it is – no bells and whistles.
A few weeks ago I took my first staycation.
Instead of waiting in long lines at the airport as I normally would, I took time for me – a day at the beach, a morning run through the park, indulgent, sun-lit naps in the hammock.
Instead of splurging on a pricey hotel, I took time for family and friends – catching up with loved ones, sending a handwritten note to an old pal, joking with my neighbors across the fence.
And instead of having my nose in a map, navigating a new place, I kept my head up to explore MY city, trying local restaurant specialties, visiting nearby nature sights, and getting to know the friendly faces at the farmer’s market.
If you’re considering a staycation, remember, there is no one right way to go about it. Keep it casual. Skip the rigorous itinerary, and instead, get everyone in the family involved in brainstorming a list of fun things to do. Here are a few ideas to get started:
- Pop a tent in the backyard and have a family campout. Don’t forget a deck of cards!
- Plan a themed movie night. Dine on snacks inspired by the film.
- Embark on an ice cream hop and lick your way through the neighborhood’s sweet shops.
- Dust off your photo albums and giggle at old snapshots.
- Pack a picnic. Stay for the whole day.
- Teach your dog a new trick – or just give him extra belly rubs.
- Call up someone far away.
- Sit on the front porch and eat a popsicle while reading the funnies.
- Take a family bike ride to the neighborhood diner.
What do you dream of doing on YOUR staycation?
Editor's note: Throughout summer, American Family is sharing family-friendly ideas. We’ll also offer opportunities for you to share your own summer experiences with us. Visit the American Family Insurance Facebook page today and throughout the summer to join the 30 Days of Summer celebration with your own comments, stories and pictures. Or check out the #30DaysOfSummer hashtag on Twitter and Facebook.