Saturday, September 29, 2012

Trail Users And Their Many Trail Uses

By Drew Hanson

Here we go again.

A group of people want to add a more dominant use to a segment of the Ice Age Trail. It’s a story that replays every so often. This time it’s some good folks who want to bring along their ATVs on the Gandy Dancer Segment of the Ice Age Trail. The problem isn’t the extra people wanting to use part of the Ice Age Trail, it’s that they want to bring along a use (in this case their ATVs) that will adversely impact others.

What follows is an updated version of a letter I wrote in 2004 to support establishing the Ice Age Trail as a footpath primarily for pedestrian use—the most common denominator of all trail uses.

The Ice Age Trail is a popular conservation, recreation, education, economic and public health facility. To maintain these qualities, the Ice Age Trail needs to remain primarily a foot trail. A Gaylord Nelson statement comes to mind, "Hiking trails provide the entire American family with perhaps the most economical, most varied form of outdoor recreation."

Thousands of volunteers commit tens of thousands of hours of their time to its care and development every year. An editorial in the Manitowoc Herald Times Reporter on January 26, 2004 stated “When completed, the Ice Age Trail will inject millions of dollars annually into Wisconsin’s tourism trade.” Public support for the Ice Age Trail and public interest and awareness of the health benefits of walking and hiking have never been greater.

According to a number of studies, including the Wisconsin Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan and 2003 Town of Middleton Trail Use Survey, most people enjoy walking and almost as many enjoy hiking. In comparison, much smaller numbers of people ride horses, ATVs or mountain bikes off-road. The Ice Age Trail has always been intended for the largest common denominator: pedestrian use. It is open to all users.

Every few years, a loud minority of people want to bring with them any number of intrusive labor saving devices onto the Ice Age Trail that degrade the quality of the Trail and effectively diminish the experience of the majority for whom the Ice Age Trail is intended. The Ice Age Trail will fail as a trail for all users if it is opened to more uses. If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.

There are sensible reasons why deer hunting with a bow and arrow occurs separately from deer hunting with a gun. There are sensible reasons why interstate highways are not open to bicycles and pedestrians. There are sensible reasons why horses and all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) are not allowed inside the State Capitol or Miller Park. All such rules are in place to benefit the public by discriminating against uses, not users.
ATV abuse of the Ice Age Trail near Firth Lake in 2002.

A more assertive use, such as an ATV, will unfairly dictate management decisions over other users of a shared trail. We have seen this occur in the Southern Kettle Moraine State Forest. Mountain bikers were initially allowed on the Ice Age Trail but in the early 1990s as conflicts and trail degradation became obvious, it became policy to create separate foot and bike trails with the longer-standing Ice Age Trail volunteers forced to construct a new parallel trail. The minority of users who want to impose their private uses on the majority of foot travelers misuse the concept of “multiple use” or “shared use”, ignoring that their dominant use overpowers the majority pedestrian user.

Multiple use can be an effective management goal for large blocks of land, but less so for individual facilities such as freeways and trails. The Ice Age Trail is already shared by walkers, hikers, anglers, backpackers, bird watchers, snowshoers, in some instances snowmobiles, and more. It works as long as the resource-impactful uses of a minority are separated from the shared use by the majority. Doing so keeps Wisconsin’s trails safe and civil. 

In order to continue as a popular conservation, recreation, education, economic and public health facility the tread of the Ice Age Trail should remain primarily a foot trail.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

More on the National Scientific Reserve

By Drew Hanson

(Note: A previous article on this topic at generated enough interest to warrant this follow-up article.)

In 1961 National Park Service (NPS) geologist Robert Rose completed a report on the proposed Ice Age National Park in Wisconsin. Inherent in his report, Preliminary Geological Report on 1961 Field Study of Proposed Ice Age Area in Wisconsin, is the idea that the eventual park should be a continuous corridor—not scattered units. The report outlines segments which, when linked together as Ice Age Trail founder Ray Zillmer planned, would form connected parts of an Ice Age National Park or what we today call the Ice Age National Scenic Trail. It lists the four “essential” segments.

Here is an excerpt from Robert Rose’s 1961 report:
“This report is based on a field study conducted during the last half of April, 1961.  Its purpose is to identify and describe more specifically the more important segments [emphasis added] considered in a proposed area of the National Park System which would feature the story of continental glaciation … Among the localities or segments evaluated there are four which are regarded as basically essential in the adequate presentation and interpretation of the story.  These so-called key areas are: Kettle Moraine [Northern], the moraine-driftless area near Cross Plains, the Devils Lake-Baraboo Range segment, and Interstate Park.”
1961 map of proposed Ice Age National Park

But this concept of segments along a route that would connect together to eventually form Zillmer’s proposed Ice Age National Park was disregarded as the National Scientific Reserve took shape in the two decades that followed. In combing through the several boxes of Ray Zillmer’s papers at the archives of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin, the DNR Bureau of Parks and Recreation archives and files at the UW-Milwaukee archives, I discovered hundreds of long-forgotten letters by Ray Zillmer. Some were sent to the late Henry Reuss in which he made it clear that moving forward on certain key areas was acceptable as long as they were all segments of the proposed thousand-mile national park. I quoted from one of these letters to Henry Reuss in Coulda,Woulda, Shoulda: the National Scientific Reserve. But Zillmer's advice was ignored or forgotten. In his 1990 book, On the Trail of the Ice Age, Henry Reuss wrote that “a thousand-mile-long national park” “would be almost impossible to administer”—ignoring the success of the 2,100-mile Appalachian Trail and 2,600-mile Pacific Crest Trail. Reuss even referred to the National Scientific Reserve as “a monument to Ray Zillmer” but I suspect Ray Zillmer would be more than a little disappointed in the National Scientific Reserve.

Among those who understood these shortcomings was the late John Zillmer, son of Ray Zillmer and past president of the non-profit Ice Age Trail Alliance. When interviewed by Joe Jopek in 2003 about the history of the Ice Age Trail, the younger Zillmer stated:
“The original idea, more or less, was to create a great green swath across the state.  That was later turned around, and I think it was a mistake, and became the Ice Age National Scientific Reserve, which the Trail was to tie in with.” Due to the dispersion of the Reserve units and lack of adherence to Ray Zillmer’s plan, the Ice Age Trail will never connect some of the Reserve units.

None of this is to imply that individual units of the National Scientific Reserve are not worthy of public attention. On the contrary.

Individual units, like Chippewa Moraine and Interstate Park, are outstanding in their own right and unquestionably of national significance. The Reserve units, as individual areas, are geologic showpieces.

The indisputable success of the National Scientific Reserve is at Chippewa Moraine. Prior to the Reserve legislation, there were blocks of county-owned land in the area but nothing recognizing the national significance of the area. Since passage of the Reserve legislation in 1964, the DNR has acquired 3,500 acres at Chippewa Moraine and it arguably has the most outstanding natural resources visitor center in Wisconsin.

As Richard Smith noted in a comment to my earlier National Scientific Reserve article, “existing [Reserve] units that are on the IAT have become focal points for public access to the trail, interpretation of the glacial story, model sections of the trail, and magnets for further public land acquisition.” I agree.

But the Reserve as a system of nine scattered units—sort of an NPS thing and sort of a DNR thing—is too esoteric for either agency and the public. Its overall effect is diffusing and confusing. It harmed the growth of the Ice Age Trail for twenty+ years.

With only 55% of the Reserve units located on the Ice Age Trail, some have suggested that the route of the Trail should be warped to connect to all the Reserve units. That would be a mistake. The Trail should not be bent by the shortcomings of the Reserve. The Trail--including the parks, public forests and five Reserve units it connects--embodies Ray Zillmer's visionary plan.

Viva la Ice Age Trail!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

A Daily Walk

For fifteen years, I walked, biked or bused to and from work every day. For ten of those years it was a two mile commute. On weekends and vacations, I usually hiked. I was fit.

For the past two years, I have been driving my daughter across the city to a great Waldorf school--a commute that takes 20-30 minutes (longer if we have fresh snow). I want the best for my daughter and I love her school, but the commute is taking a toll on me. My days include too much sitting and breathing the exhaust of the car(s) in front of me. I am not fit and I long for more outdoor exercise that is part of each day.

There was a great story on NPR yesterday that really struck a chord. I especially liked the parts, "We've engineered walking out of our existence and everyday life" and "I've walked myself into my best thoughts". Read or listen to the article here.

A related realm the NPR article did not explore is how Americans also spend too much of their free time being sedentary. Ray Zillmer foresaw this problem more than fifty years ago. On March 2, 1956 Zillmer wrote, "The free time, which people have and which is increasing, should be used in a constructive way, ... so that they will use their body instead of watching other people use theirs." A few years later he left these prophetic words in his will: "I believe that there is a great danger that the physical condition of our people will gradually deteriorate because of the increased use of ingenious labor saving devices."

My daughter will be of kindergarten age this autumn. As I evaluate various school options for her and try to create a plan for our next decade-plus, I hope to design a life for us that includes daily walking and other physical activities in the outdoors. I think we will be happier and healthier. Someday I'll write about it to tell you how it's going.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda: the National Scientific Reserve

By Drew Hanson

The Ice Age Trail has the power to inspire. Volunteers give over 60,000 hours of their free time each year to the care and furtherment of the Trail and there are increasing numbers of people hiking it.

In spite of the Trail’s impressive legion of supporters, people often confuse it with something else. Designated by Congress in 1964, the Ice Age National Scientific Reserve was a compromise that failed to inspire. In his 1971 book Wisconsin Survival Handbook, Doug LaFollette called the National Scientific Reserve, “a haphazard classification with un-clear status.” It is not a people’s park. It is dull and not pedestrian. It is out of step with the vision and guidance of Ice Age Trail founding father Ray Zillmer.

What? How is that possible? Let’s take a peek at the history and geography of the Trail and Reserve. Click on a map for an enlarged view.

Ray Zillmer’s middle name was Theodore but it might as well have been Theodore Roosevelt. Born in Milwaukee, he earned advanced degrees from both Harvard and the University of Wisconsin. He led numerous treks in the Canadian Cariboo Range, was the first to summit some of its peaks, had several papers published on his adventures and had a mountain, a glacier and a creek there named after him. He held various leadership positions in the Izaak Walton League of Wisconsin. For decades he did weekly hikes along a belt of ridges in southeast Wisconsin called the Kettle Moraine. For thirty years he tirelessly advocated for a 100 mile long by 1-3 mile wide Kettle Moraine State Park. Then in the last few years of his life, he expanded the dream into a national park many hundreds of miles in length. Both his state and national park proposals featured a hiking trail at their heart.
Mount Zillmer and Zillmer Glacier

Zillmer was not the first to envision a public park along the Kettle Moraine. Calls for public acquisition of land in the Kettle Moraine began in the 1920s. The State of Wisconsin began acquiring land for conservation and recreation purposes in the Kettle Moraine in the 1930s. But land acquisition by the State moved slowly and it occurred in two separate units at opposite ends of the Kettle Moraine, instead of along the entire glacial belt.

In 1942 the Milwaukee Chapter of the Izaak Walton League adopted the report, The Wisconsin Glacial Moraines, which made a series of recommendations related to the protection of the Kettle Moraine. These included the need for the State to make the Kettle Moraine a land acquisition priority, acquire land along a continuous corridor instead of separate units, and create an end-to-end hiking trail through the park. The chairman of the committee that prepared the report was none other than Ray Zillmer. But instead of following these recommendations, and those of other advocates and surveys, the State continued to put most of its effort into acquiring cheaper land in far northern Wisconsin and at other scattered sites in a shotgun approach to conservation and outdoor recreation.

For another sixteen years, Zillmer continued to advocate for increased State attention for the 100-mile Kettle Moraine. But he slowly accepted that the State of Wisconsin would never embrace the Kettle Moraine project as a continuous corridor and he gradually realized that an even more visionary project was possible that would warrant national attention. (See my article about another Ice Age pioneer and this national attention.)

The first published map of Ray Zillmer’s national park idea was part of his 1958 national park proposal. It appeared in the Milwaukee Public Museum’s Lore magazine.
Zillmer's 1958 map

Zillmer’s proposal captured the attention of other conservation leaders, National Park Service officials and members of Congress. Wisconsin Congressman Henry Reuss even introduced federal legislation that would have designated an Ice Age National Park in Wisconsin according to Zillmer’s proposal. But there were skeptics. In 1958 there were no national parks like the one Zillmer was proposing. Prior to the passage of the National Trails System Act of 1968 there was no precedent for a national park comprised of a narrow corridor hundreds of miles in length. But due to Wisconsin’s world-class glacial geology, there were aspects of the proposal that clearly satisfied National Park requirements of that era. The Northern Kettle Moraine State Forest, for instance, which is home to the original segment of the Ice Age Trail, was recommended by the National Park Service for inclusion in the National Park System as a National Monument—a move opposed by some conservationists in Wisconsin’s hunting lobby.

In his August 13, 1958 letter to Congressman Henry Reuss, Ray Zillmer wrote, “I note that the release from Washington by Leo J. Diederich, [National Park Service], suggests that ‘one or several sections’ of the 500 miles might be included, but not the entire piece. I realize that ‘present action’ by park officials might start on that basis. It is important, however, to keep our sights high and to keep the ‘whole plan – 500 miles’ always in mind as a goal to which the federal government or the state, or both, would aim, with the thought of completion as soon as possible. Therefore, if the [National] Park Service proposes to commit itself to only parts of the project, we should endeavor to secure a statement of policy favoring the whole, although not committing themselves to immediate development of the whole. The Park Service shies from the idea of administering a long strip. We should stress that most of the strip, long and narrow, should not be developed except by trees and access...”

Zillmer was basically saying, It’s OK if the National Park Service is interested in only certain segments of the overall National Park proposal as long as those federal segments are pieces of the entire continuous corridor that will someday become the Ice Age National Park. (Thanks to legislation that became law years later, in 1968, the National Park Service today administers several long, narrow strips of land such as the Appalachian Trail and St. Croix National Scenic Riverway.)

Several months later, Zillmer affirmed the goal of a not-at-all-haphazard continuous corridor in his article, Wisconsin’s Proposed Ice Age National Park that appeared in the March, 1959 edition of Wisconsin Alumnus magazine. The map that appeared with the article was more realistic than the stylized 1958 map.
Zillmer's 1959 map

In his January 31, 1960 letter to “Members of the Citizens Committee”, Ray Zillmer wrote, “A great deal has been accomplished since your appointment. This letter covers the present status of the movement to establish an Ice Age National Park across the state… The program seems to be developing in the following directions: The state for the present will continue to develop the Devils Lake and Kettle Moraine areas and the federal government the Chequamegon [National] Forest. The United States may develop several areas… all being in terminal moraines. The state, counties, local governments, and the Ice Age Park & Trail Foundation [which later became the Ice Age Trail Alliance] will develop the intervening areas so that in the end there will be a continuous 500 mile trail and parkway which will be combined so as to complete the Ice Age National Park…”

Less than a year later, Zillmer was dead. The general idea he championed had forward momentum but there was disagreement over the details. For roughly another ten years, instead of the continuous corridor and hiking trail being the central features of the effort, glacial geology carried the day. The federally administered segments that Zillmer recommended instead took on the shotgun approach as units scattered around Wisconsin. Today, almost half the units of the National Scientific Reserve are not on the route mapped by Zillmer or of today’s Ice Age Trail.

Had officials heeded the wisdom of Zillmer, the Northern Kettle Moraine would be a National Monument and/or units of the National Scientific Reserve would have been selected to be on the route of one of Zillmer’s maps. Conservation and recreation would have been better served. Even an article that appeared months after Zillmer’s death in Let’s See magazine titled A National Park in Wisconsin provides a map that could have been used as a blueprint for focusing efforts along a continuous corridor instead of a haphazard, shotgun approach. (The map below shows the current Ice Age Trail route in a black line, the units of the National Scientific Reserve with red dots and county boundaries in dashed lines.)

For instance, instead of selecting Mill Bluff as the place to tell the story of rocky crags that were once islands in extinct Glacial Lake Wisconsin, officials could have chosen the vastly more wild Quincy Bluff in Adams County (thus putting such a federal unit along the route of Zillmer’s maps and today’s Ice Age Trail). Perhaps instead of selecting Sheboygan Marsh and later Horicon Marsh as a unit of the National Scientific Reserve, officials could have adhered to Zillmer’s vision by choosing Bogus Swamp (and the outstanding nearby terminal moraine) in Langlade County.

As for including in the Ice Age National Park (and thereby connected by today’s Ice Age Trail) some part of one of the largest swarms of drumlins in the world that is present in southern Wisconsin, Zillmer left no guidance. He was focused on the terminal moraine as the defining landform of the proposed national park. Following his death, officials chose a 3,500-acre area near Campbellsport as a National Scientific Reserve unit. But to this day only 10 acres have been acquired for protection and the Ice Age Trail will not connect to it. Fortunately there is at least a small swarm of drumlins on the Ice Age Trail in Waupaca County.

It is also interesting to note that none of Zillmer’s known Ice Age National Park proposals extend north into Door County, where the Ice Age Trail today has its eastern terminus at Potawatomi State Park. That’s a topic I’ll explore in a future article on this blog.

The upshot? Ray Zillmer was a visionary, a man before his time. With greater adherence to his vision and guidance, the National Scientific Reserve would have better complemented and strengthened today’s Ice Age Trail. If officials would have listened to Ray Zillmer, perhaps Wisconsin would be home to an Ice Age National Park. More likely, though, if they had listened to Zillmer the Ice Age Trail would today be as complete and well-known as the Appalachian Trail.

Maybe it is just a case of coulda, woulda, shoulda or just meltwater down a glacier's crevasse. Either way, viva la Ice Age Trail!
Addendum: A second part of this article appeared a couple months later at

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Better Walking for Raleigh?

It's really hard to get around some American cities without a car. Neighborhoods built roughly 1945-1985 usually have no sidewalks. Some cities are tackling the problem. There's a short video at click here showing the situation in Raleigh, North Carolina. What do you think?

Friday, January 20, 2012

Roadless Areas along the Ice Age Trail

By Drew Hanson
While most of us use roads to reach a trailhead, one of the reasons we go hiking is to leave roads behind. The quality of our hiking experience is in part judged by the degree to which our hike brings us into contact with roads and other signs of civilization. When roads are a prominent part of the experience, I suggest that what we are doing is more like walking than hiking. But this isn’t an essay on semantics. It is about experience.
The current Ice Age Trail route includes over 1,300 road crossings. For an American hiking trail, that is a big number but most of the crossings are clustered in communities that the Trail passes through. As you walk the Ice Age Trail through Manitowoc, Slinger, St. Croix Falls and the other cities crossed by the Trail, you cross many streets.
On the other hand, most off-road segments pass through areas with significantly lower road densities. Some of the off-road segments even pass through places that might be considered roadless areas. This is an introduction to the larger roadless areas along the Trail.
Inspired by The Big Outside, by Dave Foreman and Howie Wolke (Harmony Books, 1992), in August, 2008, I completed an analysis of roadless areas along the Ice Age Trail. I used the best Geographic Information System (GIS) data available at the time. The effort evaluated all areas bounded by public roads along the Trail. The result was a poster map titled, “Largest Roadless Areas on the Ice Age National Scenic Trail”. It shows roadless areas that are greater than five square miles (3,200 acres). The map shows that there are few roadless areas over this five-square-mile threshold in southern Wisconsin. But in northern Wisconsin there are quite a lot. I’ve posted the map here in four parts.
The largest roadless area along the IAT is between Tower Road and County Highway E in western Lincoln County at a whopping 92 square miles. For Wisconsin, that’s big! Adding to its remoteness, it is part of a cluster of roadless areas that I call Spirit Wood. It is located northwest of Wausau, between Highway 102 in Taylor County and the Wisconsin River in Lincoln County. Hiking the Ice Age Trail across Spirit Wood takes you 40 miles without crossing a single paved road. The September, 2008 edition of Backpacker magazine ran a story titled Destination Nowhere which highlights the most remote, solitude-promising places in the United States. They missed Spirit Wood so I wrote an essay about it that appeared in the January, 2011 edition of The Muir View and the Summer, 2011 edition of Mammoth Tales.
The Ice Age Trail through the Chequamegon National Forest has several roadless areas over five square miles including one that is 14 square miles which contains the Ice Age Semi-Primitive Non-Motorized Area.
A sampling of other roadless areas (from east to west) includes:
-          The area containing Besadny State Wildlife Area in Kewaunee County at over 11 square miles;
-          The area bounded by Mineral Point Road, Timber Lane, Old Sauk Pass, Stagecoach Road and Highway P that contains part of the Cross Plains National Scientific Reserve in Dane County at 5.5 square miles;
-          Old Indian Agency House to Clark Road in Columbia County at 5 square miles;
-          The area containing Quincy Bluff in Adams County at 20 square miles;
-          Highway N to Poplar Lane in Marathon County at 9 square miles;
-          Highway S to Highway 52 in Langlade County at 45 square miles;
-          Bear Avenue (west) to Highway 102 in Taylor County at 14.5 square miles;
-          Moonridge Trail to Highway CC in Chippewa County at 12 square miles;
-          The area containing Straight Lake State Park in Polk County at 8 square miles.
In designing or discussing individual places along the Ice Age Trail, we always like to highlight traits that make each one special. The very lack of roads in these roadless areas makes these places special. As urban or park development is proposed along the Trail, we should endeavor to minimize the number of new road crossings, especially in these larger roadless areas.
In the hundreds of years to come, if we are to maintain the Ice Age Trail as a place to go for a hiking experience (especially a long-distance hiking experience that is rare in the north central United States), there must be larger roadless areas along the route. These places are special. If we want our great-grandchildren to have outstanding hiking opportunities in Wisconsin, we need to keep these roadless areas special by not building roads into them.