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.