Sunday, April 9, 2017

Ringle Segment Groundbreaking

It was a pleasure to be in the woods with such a great group of people. Volunteers from all over Wisconsin assembled east of Wausau this weekend to have fun, work safely using hand tools and grit and be part of something much bigger than any of us. We put in two days on a Mobile Skills Crew project that will be a multi-year effort to build a premier six-mile segment of the Ringle Segment of the Ice Age Trail.

Volunteers first opened the Ringle Segment to the public over 40 years ago. That previous generation of volunteers used whatever they could to piece together a route. Old logging roads, what we today call troads, were often the best option. That old route served us well but it took quite a beating and missed many landforms needed to tell the unique story that can be woven into the Ice Age Trail.

Over the past fifteen years, the properties needed to make this segment of the IAT permanent have been purchased from willing landowners. Protection work is time consuming and not possible without the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), state Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program, county governments and private donations. The Ringle Segment puzzle pieces are now in place.

Three years ago, Tim Malzhan and I began to explore this recently protected trailway with new eyes, with the hope of re-imagining and redesigning the Ringle Segment according to current trail layout, design, compliance and construction standards.

We designed a new route to take in many of the best landforms of the trailway, to tell a nationally significant natural history story and to be a sustainable recreation resource. It took hundreds of hours. The new route underwent archeological, water quality and endangered species review before any ground breaking could occur.

So when fifty or so of us gathered this weekend to finally break ground, we were standing on the shoulders of many people and over four decades of effort. But we are not finished. Oh no. We made better than expected progress but only scratched the surface. It will be a few more years before you will be able to hike all six miles and it will be worth the all the effort. I can assure you this is going to be an outstanding segment of Ice Age Trail to hike not just once. It's gonna be a great one!

If this sounds interesting to you, consider joining us to volunteer at future projects May 17-21, August 9-13 and in future years. To find out how, click on

Rock on!

Friday, February 3, 2017

Smoky Mtns Dispatch

By Drew Hanson

The stars aligned recently, giving me a rare opportunity to spend seven consecutive days hiking. Since there is a shortage of some kinds of hiking near my home, my chosen destination was Smoky Mountains National Park which boasts 800 miles of hiking trails plus three long-distance trails extending from the park.

Hike every day, I did. One was an eleven-mile trek to the top of Mt. LeConte and back. A couple days included out-and-back hikes on sections of the famed Appalachian Trail. Other days included loops or multiple shorter hikes in a single day.

It was an exhilarating trip, great for my physical and mental health. In the end, I could not help but wish I could do this more often, if even just on weekends. But life at home is too demanding for a regular 10-12-hour drive to the Smokies.

This led me to the question: Why does my home state of Wisconsin not offer this many hiking opportunities? Some will answer with something about how the Smokies have mountains and Wisconsin does not but that’s just Mountain Majesty Bias.

Yah, sure, the mountains are pretty. I visited this national park not because it has (small) mountains but because there are hundreds of miles of hiking trails within an hour's drive. One can hike the Smokies all day and then hike a different trail all the next day, and the next, and the next, literally for years and still hike different trails every weekend.

One day of my visit a trailhead parking lot was overflowing, easily 50 cars, used by people who want to hike and who, like me, were spending money in nearby towns. There are dozens of other trailhead parking lots in the park. It's a shame my home state did not make this kind of investment decades ago and that last year my governor vetoed $75k/year for the Ice Age Trail. The Smokies have so many miles of hiking trails because decades ago people made a choice and continue to make it so.

Smoky Mountains National Park was established in 1934. Most of the land to create the park was purchased by the states of Tennessee and North Carolina, then donated to the National Park Service. Today, with its mountains that are but hills by western standards, Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited national park in the United States. In 2010, it had over 20 million visitors! It is the primary economic driver for many nearby communities. It is a success.

Where I currently live in southern Wisconsin, there are places to hike for an hour or two. What is severely lacking are places to hike most of a day for multiple days, hence the need to travel so far to have the experience I did. One reason for the shortfall is Wisconsin’s decades-long shotgun approach of creating scattered parks and wildlife areas across the state. Another reason is that hunting groups have too often treated a hiking trail as a threat. Another reason has to do with Mountain Majesty Bias.

Fortunately, time has not run out. Wisconsin can still fix this problem and have a balanced outdoor recreation portfolio. By investing in the Ice Age Trail, the way states in the east have for decades invested in their trails, the Badger State could still have many more multi-day hiking opportunities.

We can do this and you can help. Contact your elected officials and well-off friends. Tell them about the Ice Age Trail and that we should not have to travel to the Smokies to find sufficient hiking.