Tuesday, May 22, 2012

More on the National Scientific Reserve

By Drew Hanson

(Note: A previous article on this topic at http://pedestrianview.blogspot.com/2012/03/coulda-woulda-shoulda-national.html 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!

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