Ice Age Trail gets facelift
Volunteers spend time on Waushara County trail segment
By Greg Seubert
Stretching for more than 1,000 miles across Wisconsin, the Ice Age National Scenic Trail winds through some of the state’s most scenic areas.
Some of them, like Devil’s Lake State Park and the Kettle Moraine State Forest, are popular tourist attractions.
Others, like the Bohn Lake State Natural Area in Waushara County, only see a handful of visitors a year.
Building a boardwalk
That wasn’t the case in mid-September, however, as more than 100 volunteers showed up for one of the Ice Age Trail Alliance’s Mobile Skills Crew projects.
“It’s a volunteer-based project that involves some sort of trail building,” said Alaina Dedo, field operations coordinator for the alliance, which is based in Cross Plains, near Madison.
“We are building a 160-foot-long boardwalk,” she said. “The level of the water in Bohn Lake – this year, especially – has risen so high that there used to be this little pond next to Bohn Lake and they’ve merged. The trail used to be in the dry spot between the pond and the lake and it’s now completely underwater. There are trees underwater and people can’t cross the lake. We’re building that boardwalk so hikers and local people out here walking their dogs can get across there.”
Workers and alliance staff showed up Sept. 18 and wrapped the project Sept. 22.
Besides constructing the boardwalk, the project also included building almost a mile of new trail; creating two new parking areas for improved trail access; installing stone retaining walls; installing and updating signs; and removing invasive plants.
Jenny Addis coordinates Waushara County’s Ice Age Trail chapter.
“The trail offers so much to so many people,” she said. “We’re creating a more beautiful place for everyone to come out and enjoy.”
Waushara County has 23 miles of the Ice Age Trail that includes six segments.
“Each segment is unique in its own way,” Addis said. “We plan hikes and events throughout the year. We really encourage these healthy activities that the whole family can enjoy.”
The chapter hosted its annual Fall Color Hike Oct. 12 at the Bohn Lake Segment.
“We haven’t done a project like this in about 10 years,” Addis said. “We feel very special to be able to have this here again. People from all over the Midwest come out to volunteer.”
The volunteers included Wayne Tess of Plainfield, who helped build the boardwalk.
“I’ve enjoyed walking on some of the trails and I wanted to give back,” said Tess, who has helped maintain other stretches of the trail in Waushara County.
Trail construction and maintenance wouldn’t happen without volunteers, according to Tess.
“Some of these guys are from La Crosse, the Kettle Moraine area, Eau Claire,” he said. “These guys are from all over. This is my first time, so I’m a rookie. It’s very rewarding. I’m glad I did it.”
“We have 143 people signed up for this project and that’s a pretty high number for our Mobile Skills Crew,” Dedo said. “Some people stay the entire time and some people choose to come for just one day so it fits their schedule. That’s the beauty of volunteering. You get to choose what time you want to give and we’re really lucky that a lot of our volunteers want to give a lot of their time to devote to the trail.
“We get quite a few veteran volunteers that will come out to almost every single project unless something crazy happens in their life and they absolutely can’t make it,” she said. “We have a good, strong base of those veteran volunteers. We also have a lot of new people showing up at this project, which is really cool.”
Tess, Dedo and the other workers stayed in tents and campers about five miles from Bohn Lake at Hancock Park, near Hancock.
“This wouldn’t even happen without the volunteers,” Dedo said. “One thing people don’t realize is we have all these volunteers that help create, support and protect the trail throughout the state. The work is not easy. They’re getting dirty.”
Addis said the project gives local residents a chance to learn about the trail.
“We’ve had people stop by because they want to know what’s going on,” she said. “This is pretty exciting for Hancock.”
Waushara County’s chapter includes more than 80 members that help with trail maintenance, Addis said.
“A good chunk of them are active volunteers that are at just about every event we’re doing: every function, every hike,” she said. “It’s all volunteer-based, so everyone is going out on their free time. We have a really good group in Waushara County that work together well. We have a couple of new chain saw operators and we definitely need that because that’s the only way people can get on the trail. If you get out there and there’s a tree down, what are you going to do? It’s blocking your way.
“That’s incredibly important in my case, with my wheelchair,” she added. “If I’m out there by myself, I certainly am not going to be able to get around a tree.”
Projects around the state
Chapters throughout Wisconsin also raise funds for trail maintenance and improvements.
“I think it’s more than just hiking,” Addis said. “It’s a serene, quiet place to go. I like to write, so going out on the trail to do that is a good time for me to be with myself. You can definitely go any day, any time, whenever you like.”
The alliance’s other Mobile Skills Crew projects this year included work at the Holy Hill Segment in Washington County in February; work at the Ice Age Interpretive Site in Dane County in March and June; and visits in April and August to the Ringle Segment in Marathon County.
Dedo said anyone interested in joining the crew can visit the alliance’s website, iceagetrail.org.
“We have ways to get involved on there,” she said. “We have a calendar of our Mobile Skills Crew events and you can sign up online. It’s really easy to get involved.”
Dedo admitted the work is hard, but also rewarding.
“It’s amazing when you walk out on the trail and pretty soon, you feel like you’re transformed into another world,” she said. “There are so many hidden gems in Wisconsin that people have yet to discover. I haven’t hiked the entire trail, so anytime I’m able to go to a new section of trail, it’s always amazing what I can see and experience.”
Ice Age Trail facts
• The trail is managed by a partnership that includes the National Park Service, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and Ice Age Trail Alliance.
• The Ice Age Trail is open for hiking, backpacking and snowshoeing. Many segments support cross-country skiing, too.
• The trail is not yet complete. More than 600 miles are yellow-blazed Ice Age Trail segments and more than 500 miles of unmarked connecting routes link the blazed segments. The entire route is about 1,200 miles long.
• The trail’s western terminus is in Polk County’s Interstate State Park in Polk County. The eastern terminus is in Door County’s Potawatomi State Park.
• The Ice Age Trail is built and maintained largely by volunteers.
• Most of the trail segments fit hikers’ ideas of a traditional, off-road hiking experience. Some segments, however, lead hikers right down the main streets of Wisconsin communities. This is by design, as the Ice Age Trail is meant to connect people and communities.
• The trail occasionally coincides with state bike trails and biking is allowed on these sections only. Horseback riding is not permitted. Motorized vehicles are not permitted with the exception of a few segments that share state multi-use trails).
• The Ice Age Trail began in the 1950s as the dream of Milwaukeean Ray Zillmer, who had a vision of a long, linear park winding through Wisconsin along the glacier’s terminal moraine.
• The trail crosses over many ownership types, including private land, city parks, state parks, county forests and national forest.
• The trail travels through 31 counties, including Waupaca, Waushara and Portage.
Source: Ice Age Trail Alliance (www.iceagetrail.org).