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.

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