Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Gem of a Junction

by Drew Hanson

Whenever I have free time, it’s hard to beat a walk or a hike. If I’m running errands on the far west side of Madison, one of my favorites is the Ice Age Junction Area. Sometimes it’s called the “Ice Age Trail Junction Area” or “Ice Age Trail Junction Natural Resource Area”. My vote would be to rename it “Kathleen Falk County Park”, but that’s another story.
The park has no lake or stream, no picnic shelter or playground equipment. It’s just a great place between Madison and Verona to have a few minutes of respite from civilization.

Click on the map below for a larger image. A map of the broader area is at

Source: map 66f, Ice Age Trail Atlas 2011
I usually deposit my car in the well-marked parking lot on the south side of McKee Road. A paved bike path leads south to the Military Ridge Trail. I like to use the bike path for about a quarter-mile to access the oak woods in the middle of the park as quickly as possible.

In the winter I sometimes wander around the woods, where the sounds and views are dominated by nature. From there I might follow some of the mowed paths that are designed to firstly be prescribed burn breaks. Or I might just explore off-trail.

In the summer the greatest assets of the park are the native prairies. Volunteers with the Dane County Chapter of the Ice Age Trail Alliance and staff with the Dane County Land and Water Resources Department have spent years converting former cultivated fields into the beautiful restored prairies we see today. In July and August, the prairies are in their full glory—they’re absolutely fantastic. I enjoy these prairies far more than the historic prairies at the famous UW-Madison Arboretum.

The topography is more fun here than most other places in Madison too. With the terminal moraine a couple miles to the south, according to David Mickelson’s Geology of the Ice Age National Scenic Trail, the prairie-covered high hill in the northern part of the park is composed primarily of dolomite bedrock with an upper layer of glacial till.

The only disappointing thing is the current route of the Ice Age National Scenic Trail (IAT) that courses through on a more-or-less north-south orientation. In general, some of the most scenic areas of the property are missed. But that's about to change. A reroute is in the works. Careful trail layout and design by specially trained volunteers and staff is the first step. Once all the prep work is complete, in coordination with the National Park Service and Dane County Land and Water Resources Department, the Ice Age Trail Alliance will lead construction of the new trail tread. The result will be a park that is a gem.

Care to volunteer to help make it so?

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