Saturday, July 30, 2016

Ice Age National Park Justified:
Feasibility and Status

By Drew Hanson

This final article in a three-part series addresses the National Park Service categories of feasibility and status for an Ice Age National Park in Wisconsin.


An Ice Age National Park (IANP) would share traits with several existing units of the National Park System. Since these other National Park System units exist, so could an Ice Age National Park.
  • Like Shenandoah National Park, IANP would be a long, narrow corridor of land east of the mountain west.
  • Like Theodore Roosevelt National Park, IANP would be a national park with separate units of NPS-owned land.
  • Like Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve, IANP would include cooperatively managed prairie land and a majority of land that is not owned by the federal government.
  • Like Big Thicket National Preserve, IANP would have many separate units of NPS-owned land.
  • Like Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail, IANP would have trail segments that are not currently continuously off-road.
  • Like Appalachian National Scenic Trail, IANP would have a cooperative management structure that relies heavily on volunteers.
  • Like Cuyahoga Valley National Park, IANP would emphasize landscape restoration in an underserved part of the county.

There is strong support from volunteers, local governments and local members of Congress for the Ice Age Trail that would transfer to an Ice Age National Park. The roughly 80,000 hours volunteers annually give to promote, develop and maintain the Ice Age Trail regularly ranks in the top ten of all National Park Service areas. In 2016, a two-month national online poll led to the Ice Age Trail receiving more votes than any other trail in the United States.

Fewer parcels need to be acquired to complete an Ice Age National Park than were needed to complete the Appalachian Trail. Plus, an Ice Age National Park has able partners who have acquired a hundred miles of Ice Age Trail lands in the past 30 years. Unlike the Appalachian Trail, land acquisition for an Ice Age National Park could continue as a partnership park, with partners continuing their important acquisition work that should be augmented by the land acquisition and management expertise of the National Park Service.

The precedent of NPS-owned lands managed under a cooperative agreement by a non-profit organization exists with the Appalachian National Scenic Trail. The same model can be easily duplicated for an Ice Age National Park, with the Ice Age Trail Alliance handling the on-the-ground management of most NPS lands.


The prospect of an Ice Age National Park has always been at odds with mountain majesty bias which is particularly acute in the National Park Service. This is one of the reasons Ray Zillmer’s Ice Age National Park proposals of 1958-1960 met opposition and a reason his proposal was bifurcated into a scattered National Scientific Reserve and narrow National Scenic Trail.

Planning for the National Scientific Reserve took 15 years. For the past 35 years, the National Park Service has made planning the Ice Age Trail its primary focus. This half-century of government deliberations, under the guise of planning, is without precedent. By comparison, planning for the Appalachian Trail took one-quarter of this time and, adjusted for inflation, at significantly less cost. Some units of the National Park System have had only two years of planning. Instead of waiting for nationally significant resources of an Ice Age National Park to be lost, it is time for NPS to transition to making resource protection and management its top priorities. In business terms, the resource, not the plan, needs to become the product.

Since 1979 the National Park Service has acquired over 2,500 parcels of land totaling roughly 111,500 acres along 620 miles of the Appalachian Trail. Since 2002, in a unique partnership arrangement with the U. S. Forest Service, the NPS has also acquired lands to help complete the Florida and Pacific Crest national scenic trails with the purchase of over 50 parcels totaling 5,000 acres from willing sellers.

In 2009, Congress and the President gave NPS the authority to become a full partner in land acquisition for the Ice Age Trail. With the enactment of the Omnibus Public Lands Management Act the NPS was granted the legal go-ahead to acquire lands for the Ice Age Trail directly from willing sellers. Before significant resources are lost, NPS needs to shift its focus from planning to resource protection and management. NPS measures of success should include Trail-miles acquired per year.

One strategy that could be employed for areas that are still “unplanned” is for NPS to transition the existing Ice Age Trail planning process to the planning process used for portions of the North Country and Appalachian national scenic trails. Congress can also establish NPS acquisition boundaries.

Another transition strategy could be that some Ice Age Trail lands currently held by partner agencies/organizations be evaluated for transfer to the National Park Service. This may be particularly true for corridor lands in the Southeastern Wisconsin Till Plains ecoregion which is the most populated area with some segments located less than a two hour drive of Chicago. For example, perhaps portions of Quincy Bluff, Cross Plains, Kettle Moraine, Chippewa Moraine or land of John Muir’s boyhood would make good candidates.

Regardless of the transition, these articles should have made clear that an Ice Age National Park is as nationally significant as it was when first proposed by Ray Zillmer almost 60 years ago. It remains relevant, suitable and feasible today and meets the National Park Service’s own criteria for designation as a national park.

Until a new designation is made, there remains a great deal that can and will be accomplished.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Ice Age National Park Justified:

By Drew Hanson

This is the second article in a three-part series that shows how an Ice Age National Park would still meet the National Park Service's criteria for a national park.

In response to bills introduced in Congress to create an Ice Age National Park that would tell the story of continental glaciation, studies were carried out by the National Park Service during the years 1958-1961. Excerpts from two of the resulting reports make clear an Ice Age National Park’s suitability for national park status.

“The relief and form of much of our countryside is due in part to the work of continental glaciation. The movement of the great ice sheet spread over what is now Canada and the northern part of the United States and extended from Long Island [New York] through the Middle West to Montana. When the ice retreated to the north it left behind a multitude of scars and scattered deposits. It would appear, therefore, that the possibilities are many for presenting the story of the last Ice Age in an area or areas where discernible land types created by the ice sheet exist and where such types are especially suitable for park use and interpretation. Since a number of major geological exhibits having to do with continental glaciation are not at present represented in the National Park System it is highly desirable that this subject be given full consideration.

Although continental glaciation features are present outside Wisconsin, there is, on the other hand, agreement among geologists that the features in Wisconsin, particularly depositional, are outstanding examples of their type and of prime scientific value. In some instances they are unparalleled and certainly merit preservation and interpretation.”

-- A Study of Continental Glaciation in Wisconsin: Preliminary Report by the National Park Service, Region Five Office, August, 1961

"…through proper utilization of the high quality resources which occur in the State of Wisconsin, one of the greatest stories in the natural history of North America could be illustrated and adequately interpreted. Here is an opportunity to develop a story using features intimately associated with the lives and livelihood of millions of people living in the northern portion of the great midcontinent section of America. The area owes its agricultural richness to soil produced and distributed by the continental glaciers.

It seems that the National Park Service could not embark on an adventure more important and broader in vision than that of using some of the same features that yield up essential necessities of life in the form of food, minerals and fiber, to enrich the cultural lives of these same people and the thousands from elsewhere who will be attracted to this great unit of the National Park System when established, adequately developed and fully interpreted. This could well rank among the greatest of the many significant adventures upon which the Service has embarked in the past or with which it may become intimately identified in the future."

-- Preliminary Geological Report on 1961 Field Study of Proposed Ice Age Area in Wisconsin, National Park Service, Robert H. Rose, Geologist


While most units of the National Park System are within one ecoregion, the proposed Ice Age National Park is part of four ecoregions: Northern Lakes and Forests, North Central Hardwood Forests, Driftless Area and Southeastern Wisconsin Till Plains. There are no existing national park units in the Southeastern Wisconsin Till Plains and a very small amount of national park acreage in the North Central Hardwood Forests. An Ice Age National Park would help to fill this ecological gap in the National Park System.

Rare within the National Park System are savanna and barrens ecosystems. Both are represented with more than token landscapes within the proposed national park, as are several significant prairies.


The proposed Ice Age National Park would contain countless significant historic sites. Transportation and logging histories are plentiful and combine at several abandoned narrow gauge logging railroads. Part of the area burned by the Great Peshtigo Fire of 1871, in which 1.28 million acres were decimated and 1,500 people died, is within the proposed Ice Age National Park. The historic Yellowstone Trail, which crosses the proposed national park twice, was the first transcontinental automobile highway in the United States. Several other railroads and an historic canal between the Great Lakes and Mississippi River watersheds are part of the proposed national park.

A path taken by fleeing slaves on the Underground Railroad during the mid-19th century crosses the proposed Ice Age National Park at the Milton House Museum. Built in 1844, Milton House has been designated a National Historic Landmark and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and the National Park Service Underground Railroad Network to Freedom.

Conservation pioneers John Muir, Aldo Leopold and Gaylord Nelson each left important stories to tell within the proposed Ice Age National Park. A second tier of conservation champions whose legacies could be told include: John Wesley Powell, Jens Jensen, Carl Schurz, Ray Zillmer and Henry Reuss. Eminent glacial geologists whose contributions to science could be illustrated include William Alden, Frederick Thwaites, Rollin Salisbury, Thomas Chamberlin and Louis Agassiz.


As more lands within the proposed Ice Age National Park become open to the public, it will also offer recreationists additional opportunities for nature study, scenic drives, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, camping, fishing, hunting and other uses.

The nucleus for the proposed Ice Age National Park would be the half complete Ice Age Trail. Today, 1.25 million people use the Ice Age Trail annually. Those who hike the entire Trail are recognized as Thousand-Milers. In the ten years prior to 1990 only four people had hiked the entire Ice Age Trail. During the 1990s 13 people hiked the entire Trail and 39 people completed between 2000-2010. Seventy people have become Thousand-Milers already this decade. These facts show that Thousand-Miler use of the Ice Age Trail is increasing exponentially. As increasing pressure and at-times overuse of the Appalachian Trail and other national park units sometimes diminishes the national park experience, the proposed Ice Age National Park could be made ready to meet increasing demand.

More on this series is available by clicking here.