Sunday, March 6, 2016

Wisconsin Hiking Pioneers:

Raised in Berkeley, California, Harold Bradley had the kind of childhood that would seem dreamy to most hikers. His father, Cornelius Bradley, was one of the people assembled in 1892 by their friend, John Muir, to found the Sierra Club.

Muir was a frequent guest at the Bradley home, sometimes spending nights and loved for his animated storytelling. Like Muir, Harold and Cornelius hiked and camped in and around Yosemite National Park, including in Hetch Hetchy Valley before it was famously dammed. Mount Bradley, also in the Sierras, is named for Cornelius Bradley.

After earning his PhD at Yale and teaching there for a year, Harold Bradley moved to Madison, Wisconsin in 1906 to become professor of biochemistry and the first faculty member of the University of Wisconsin Medical School.

During a 1927 canoe trip to Canada’s Quetico Park, Harold Bradley and others of his group conceived of an outing club at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Four years later, Bradley co-founded Wisconsin Hoofers.

Hoofers was designed to “foster interest and participation in outdoor activities by providing and developing leadership, instruction, programs, services, and equipment.” Modeled after New Hampshire’s Dartmouth Outing Club, ‘Hoofers' was chosen as the club’s name because Hoofers move by their own power, or "hoof it"!

During its early years, Hoofers held weekly trips for hiking, climbing, archery, and camping, along with a semi-annual 25-mile walk around Lake Mendota. Devils Lake was another center of activity.

Harold Bradley remained an active part of Hoofers activities and his eldest son served a term as Hoofers President. Part of a hiking trail that was created in the 1930s between Baxters Hollow and Devils Lake was marked by Harold Bradley. The trail was extended to Natural Bridge and a few of its bronze markers can still be found today. More broadly, Harold influenced the lives of generations of young adults to enjoy vigorous outdoor pursuits.

1938 map with red line showing trail marked by Harold Bradley

During his years of residing in Wisconsin, Harold Bradley returned to California on many occasions for hiking and skiing trips in the Sierras, sometimes solo and other times with sons or friends. On one ski trip with a son in 1935 Harold happened to meet and befriend the renowned photographer Ansel Adams.

After 42 years of service to the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Harold retired to his family home in Berkeley.

Following the tradition of leadership established by his father, Harold became a member of the Sierra Club’s national board of directors in 1951 and served for ten years, including a two-year term as Club President. When he retired from the board he was elected an Honorary Vice President, which he held from 1961 until his election as Honorary President in 1974. In 1966, he was given the John Muir Conservation Award, the highest the Club can extend to anyone.

Harold Bradley helped purchase land at Tuolumne Meadows that was later donated to the National Park Service for inclusion in Yosemite National Park. Introduced to skiing while living in Madison, he was posthumously inducted into the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame. The University of Wisconsin-Madison named one of its student residence halls in his honor and he and his wife were lead donors to the construction of its first children's hospital. He also left a legacy for the sport of hiking.

Harold Bradley was a linchpin of Wisconsin hiking history. John Wesley Powell influenced John Muir, who influenced Harold Bradley, who co-founded the Wisconsin Hoofers and influenced at least one of the remaining Wisconsin Hiking Pioneers. Find other articles in the series at


“Bradley Memorial Hospital,”

“Hiking Trails in the Lower Wisconsin River Valley,” by Fredric Allen Benedict, master of science thesis, University of Wisconsin, 1938.

“Hoofer Sailing Club History,”

“Hoofers Make Plans,” Wisconsin State Journal, November 11, 1935, page 8.

“Hoofers, A History,” Sierra Club Reminiscences, 1975,

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