Friday, August 4, 2017

MSC Lands Prestigious National Trail Awards

Let’s face it, Wisconsin has never been seen as a leader in hiking trails, until now. Thanks to a novel program called the Mobile Skills Crew (MSC), the Badger State has moved to the forefront of how to design and build a premier hiking trail. At the center of this newly earned prestige is Tim Malzhan, director of the MSC.

Each year since 2002, volunteers from throughout the upper Midwest gather at MSC events along the Ice Age Trail (IAT) where they are trained in advanced trail construction and crew leadership techniques. These volunteers, in turn, apply their knowledge and experience to smaller-scale, local trail building projects. The obvious result is more high-quality Ice Age Trail miles on the ground every year. Less pronounced are how these top-notch trail miles are part of a newly respected IAT brand and are the result of growing volunteerism for the Wisconsin outdoors.

One of eleven national scenic trails in the United States, the Ice Age Trail is a thousand-mile footpath entirely within Wisconsin. Envisioned in the late-1950s, the IAT spent decades in infancy and adolescence before finally beginning to take its place among the great long-distance hiking trails such as the Appalachian Trail in the east and Pacific Crest Trail in the west. This year, 2017, is proving to be a break-out year for the IAT and the MSC.

The first national award of the year came early this spring, when the United States Forest Service presented the MSC with its Honor Award for Volunteerism and Service. The award recognizes a collaborative effort spanning 2012 – 2016 to address infrastructure upgrades to popular segments of the IAT where it traverses the Medford district of the Chequamagon National Forest. Tim Malzhan was one of the individuals specifically recognized.

Malzhan during the design phase of an MSC project near Ringle
A remarkable amount of work in the Chequagmegon National Forest was completed, including replacement and construction of over 700 feet of elevated boardwalk, 67-foot and 20-foot clear span bridges and 4 miles of trail tread construction and trail signage upgrades. Extending these achievements into nearby areas, an impressive 1,110 volunteers contributed 23,087 hours toward improving the IAT.

A second national award of the year came to Malzhan alone. At its 23rd International Trails Symposium in May, the group American Trails presented Malzhan with its prestigious Outstanding Trail Leader Award. This award recognizes individuals who have made compelling and significant contributions to the trails movement in their home states.

Malzhan, who grew up near Poy Sippi, fell in love with the Ice Age Trail in 1991 while becoming just the third person to ever thru-hike the thousand-mile trail. He was hired to Ice Age Trail Alliance staff in 2000. After training with Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado, Malzhan created the highly successful MSC program to support the layout, design, construction and maintenance of the Ice Age Trail. The comprehensive approach has the benefit of boosting public awareness, support and volunteerism. As MSC has flourished under Malzhan’s leadership, the trails community around the country has noticed.

MSC volunteers constructing trail tread near Wood Lake
The third national award in this banner year was the George and Helen Hartzog Award for Outstanding Volunteer Service. Winning this coveted National Park Service (NPS) award was the MSC program.

One of the things that garners attention and sets MSC apart is its passion, enthusiasm and friendly sense of community. Since 2002, these attributes brought 13,408 volunteers to 146 projects and generated a staggering total of 265,351 volunteer hours toward making the Ice Age Trail a premier hiking trail.

Written by NPS staff, the glowing award nomination waxed:
“With each passing trail season, MSC continues to gain notoriety in communities throughout Wisconsin, establish new and lasting partnerships with local governments, businesses, schools and community groups, and connect more people of all backgrounds with the Ice Age Trail. MSC has earned, and enjoys, instantaneous recognition among numerous partner entities as a professional, dependable driving force of the Ice Age Trail, allowing each new success to sow the seeds of future partnering opportunities.

To watch an MSC project roll into action is akin to watching a national All-Hazard Team spring up at a wildfire or hurricane incident and become operational within a matter of hours. When MSC arrives at a project site, things happen with a well-practiced efficiency. Large event tents and shelters are erected, individual crew tents blossom, a 16-foot trailer specifically customized as a mobile kitchen unit begins prepping meals for hundreds, check-in occurs for arriving resources and safety briefings are held. By sunset of set-up day, the entire operation is ready for another multi-day flurry of well supervised work, mixed with the hallmark camaraderie always found among ‘old timers’ and new MSC'ers alike.”

Find out more about the Mobile Skills Crew on the Ice Age Trail Alliance’s website at . Consider volunteering at a project or at least get out for a hike on a beautiful MSC-constructed trail segment.

1 comment:

  1. Its good to see Tim get recognition for his good work. I regularly hike Tim Malzhan designed trails and each time marvel at their aesthetic conception and sustainable construction. To hike these trails, one is relieved of the mere physical challenge of trekking on difficult terrain and is transported into a landscape where one considers its historical, social, geological and spiritual significance.