Thursday, May 3, 2018

Don't Spoil the Views

by Drew Hanson

An unneeded powerline that would mar a vast scenic area is planned for southwest Wisconsin. Known as the Cardinal-Hickory Creek high-voltage transmission line, it would connect Middleton with Iowa by way of a 100+ mile string of 150-foot tall towers.

Driftless Area

According to National Park Service geologist, Robert Rose, “The driftless area of Wisconsin is world famous because it is an unglaciated area of considerable size … lying far within extensively glaciated territory.” The Cardinal-Hickory Creek powerline would slice through the Driftless Area, from one end to the other.

One of the organizations opposing construction of the powerline is Driftless Defenders. According to their website, the powerline would cost ratepayers in excess of $500 million.

Blue Mounds

Native Americans called them Mu-cha-wa-ku-nin or Smokey Mountains. Today we call them Blue Mounds. Wisconsin’s first scientist, Increase Lapham, wrote that Blue Mounds, “were very important landmarks to guide the traveler in his course through the boundless prairies.” This includes 10,000 years of pedestrian use on the Ancient Trail that existed between the mouth of the Wisconsin River and mouth of the Milwaukee River.

Blue Mounds remain an inspirational landmark to users of the Ice Age Trail. Like a distant guidepost, Blue Mounds are visible from at least a dozen places on the Ice Age Trail in Dane, Columbia and Sauk counties. Click on the map at right. Some of the view points include the ridge above the Village of Cross Plains, 11 miles from Blue Mounds, and from 29 miles away on the Ice Age Trail at Sauk Point in Devils Lake State Park. Farther south, Blue Mounds is visible from part of the Montrose Segment of the Ice Age Trail as well. One could argue that these multiple view points make Blue Mounds the most important scenic feature of the entire thousand-mile Ice Age Trail.

Why deface views of such an historic and scenic feature?

Black Earth Valley

The proposed powerline would also degrade views of Black Earth Valley which is home to Black Earth Creek. The creek is a class 1 trout stream that is recognized as a premier trout destination and regionally significant resource. It has benefited from intensive habitat improvements. According to the DNR’s website, “The history here is deep, multi-layered and dynamic.”

Along the south rim of Black Earth Valley, at a future unit of the National Park System, are prairie and oak savanna remnants. Along the opposite valley rim are also prairie and oak savanna remnants on privately-owned land. Volunteers have worked for decades to restore these rare native plant communities. Standing among large old oak trees, the views from valley rim to valley rim are outstanding. The view would be junked by the huge Cardinal-Hickory Creek powerline.

Not Needed

The future of energy is in conservation and local renewables.

According to a recent report by the Wisconsin Public Service Commission, slow growth in electricity use is anticipated, with peak demand expected to increase just 0.5 percent a year through 2024. Such a small increase in demand can be met through energy conservation measures and modest investments in local renewables such as solar.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s website, the share of U.S. total utility-scale electricity generation from nonhydropower renewables is expected to increase by almost a full percentage point each of the next two years.

Dane County is leading the way. A massive solar energy site is planned for the Dane County Regional Airport. It would be the largest solar energy project in south-central Wisconsin and the second largest in Wisconsin. Coupled with other conservation and local renewables projects, it means we don’t need to spend $500+ million for a new huge powerline to bring power from elsewhere.

So enough with the Cardinal-Hickory Creek powerline idea. It is not needed and would deface treasured natural resources.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Call it Driftless Border

by Drew Hanson

There is a place in Dane County with many names including the Cross Plains Reserve, Interpretive Site, Ice Age Complex and Cross Plains State Park. None of these names speak to the uniqueness of this place which distinctly straddles the border between glaciated and unglaciated landscapes. I propose we call it Driftless Border.

By analogy, imagine Rib Mountain State Park instead called Wausau State Park. Or the person with several nicknames including some not so flattering. Names matter.

The Driftless Area is an expansive part of southwest Wisconsin that was untouched by Pleistocene glaciers. Most of the Driftless Area’s outline is subtle, especially to the untrained eye, partly due to the presence of older glacial deposits. In other places, the boundary of the Driftless Area is invisible because the glacial deposits that had defined its boundary were carried away by glacial meltwater or other erosional processes. However, in Dane County between Cross Plains and Verona, the Driftless Area is bordered by geologically young glacial deposits, giving this part of the Driftless Area a well defined border. Hence the name, Driftless Border.

This is not the first time the name Driftless Border has been used. It appeared in my 2013 article at
and in 2015 at

The unique geology of the Driftless Border was well-known to University of Wisconsin geologist Fredrik Thwaites (1883-1961) whose 1908 master’s thesis described the geology of the Cross Plains/Verona/Middleton area. A biography of Thwaites appeared in Geoscience Wisconsin, volume 18 and is downloadable at

I believe Thwaites’ knowledge of the Driftless Border and its national significance shaped National Park Service geologist Robert Rose’s review of Ray Zillmer’s proposed Ice Age National Park in Wisconsin. In 1961 Rose wrote:
“The driftless area of Wisconsin is world famous because it is an unglaciated area of considerable size … lying far within extensively glaciated territory… Several eminent geologists who have been consulted are unanimous in the view that a segment embracing a good example of the moraine-driftless area relationships is highly essential in illustrating the story of continental glaciation. With the completion of each field study, beginning with the initial reconnaissance of 1958, the desirability of including such a segment becomes more firmly recognized… The relationships between moraine and bedrock of sedimentary origin are most strikingly exhibited in an area of about 9,000 acres south and east of Cross Plains. Within this area rugged morainal ridges belonging to the Wisconsin [Glaciation] occur while the strikingly eroded margins of the driftless area lie immediately to the west and south. In brief, this key area is a self-contained unit scenically and scientifically.”
This is why this area became a unit of the National Scientific Reserve and underscores the rationale for the name, Driftless Border.

Naturally, the Driftless Border also needs a designation, such as state park, national reserve, national monument, etc. but that is for another discussion.

For additional information about the unique geology of the Driftless Border, see:
Geology of the Ice Age National Scenic Trail, David M. Mickelson, Louis J. Maher Jr., and Susan Simpson, University of Wisconsin Press, 2011; and
Ice Age Complex at Cross Plains, Final General Management Plan and Environmental Impact Statement, National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, 2013.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Before Bears Ears

by Drew Hanson

For weeks conservationists have been fretting over the President’s low regard for the Antiquities Act. The concern is justified. Stripping protections from Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments is not only legally questionable, it opens these areas to irreparable damage. Sad as it is, this is not the first time a treasured place has been diminished by government manipulation. Long before President Trump’s controversial actions, a revered Wisconsin landscape also suffered a loss of protections.
1959 USGS Hartland topo map

The Southern Kettle Moraine State Forest (or “Southern Kettles”) was established in 1937 by the legislature to protect a long, narrow belt of glacial ridges in southeast Wisconsin. Its original boundary stretched between Whitewater Lake and the village of Hartland. In the decades that followed, acquisition of lands progressed too slowly for southeast Wisconsin conservationists and supporters of a long-distance hiking trail. But too quickly for others.

Completion in 1956 of the first segment of interstate highway 94 from Milwaukee to within five miles of this part of the Southern Kettles increasingly opened doors to the development of exurban residential subdivisions. The skids of Milwaukee’s white flight were greased. Rural landowners and residential subdivision developers began calling for an end to land acquisition for the Southern Kettle Moraine State Forest.

Bowing to the local pressure, in 1965 the State reduced the boundary of the Southern Kettles by 9,000 acres--a reduction of more than 25%. The reduction decapitated the State Forest, eliminating the portion between highway D near Hunters Lake and the village Hartland. Unsatisfied, the critics kept up their drumbeat of opposition.

1965 reductions to the Southern Kettles shown in red
At a 1968 public hearing in the Eagle Village Hall regarding the future of the Southern Kettle Moraine State Forest, Harlan Clinkenbeard, Assistant Director of the Southeast Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission stated, “The Kettle Moraine represents one of the most significant natural resource areas in Wisconsin.” He highlighted the many values of the area from recreation to recharge of the groundwater aquifer and concluded his remarks with, “The importance of the Kettle Moraine to the seven-county region in which 42 percent of the state’s population resides is immeasurable and the loss of this area to urban development may cause irreparable damage to both the land and water resources of the region.”

His warning went unheeded. Again succumbing to pressure, in 1970 the Wisconsin Natural Resources Board voted to remove an additional 1,970 acres from the Southern Kettle Moraine State Forest. The reduction lopped off another area from the northern tip of the Southern Kettles.

1970 reductions to the Southern Kettles shown in black
Every time I drive interstate highway 94 between Madison and Milwaukee I think about these removals from the State Forest. I see scars where a public forest was supposed to be. I feel disgust and grief.

Some will say the loss of protections for lands in Wisconsin is easier to accept than the loss of protections for lands in Utah. But that’s just Mountain Majesty Bias.

Today, most of those nearly 11,000 acres are either large lot residential subdivisions or one-story commercial developments. If the Natural Resources Board had not reduced the State Forest by almost 11,000 acres, perhaps the groundwater recharge area for Waukesha would have been safeguarded. Perhaps Waukesha would not have needed to request water from Lake Michigan. Perhaps the Ice Age Trail would have passed through a State Forest corridor for an additional 12 off-road miles. Who were the winners and who were the losers?

Perhaps Bears Ears will fare better.

Click on maps to enlarge them.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Denver Delivers

by Drew Hanson

If you are looking for a city with great walking, Denver delivers.

Multitudes of wonderful walks are easy to find in the Mile High City thanks to a well-designed multi-modal transportation system and more than 80 miles of greenway trails.

No need for a car in Denver. The city's light rail system is fantastic! It is clean and quiet and costs a fraction of a taxi ride. The A-Line connecting the downtown to the airport is one of five spurs emanating from the downtown. The trains are further integrated into the city's transportation network by allowing bicycles on-board, an Amtrak stop at Union Station and some train stations with enough parking for the park-and-ride commuter. These trains can take you to all regions of the city to begin whatever walk you create.

light rail leading west from Denver's downtown
Downtown Denver has complete sidewalks, secure pedestrian crossings of nearly every street, great restaurants and a hoppin' night life. Most notably, the downtown's 16th Street Mall is a 1.2-mile pedestrian promenade that is off-limits to automobiles except for free buses. It is a lively, bustling strip for your walking pleasure.

16th Street Mall
A main line of Denver's greenways is the South Platte River Trail, which follows the main body of water through the city. While walking this trail, it is easy to get lost in thoughts of this river flowing east, through Nebraska, to the Missouri River, then Mississippi and eventually into the Gulf of Mexico.

South Platte River
One of the most heavily used greenways in Denver is along Cherry Creek. Trails flank both sides of the creek that passes along the downtown. The trail on one side is for pedestrians. The other side for bikes and rollerblading. It connects Confluence Park, where it meets the South Platte River Trail, with Cherry Creek State Park, a distance of 12 miles.

pedestrian side of the Cherry Creek Trail
One of the more scenic greenways in Denver is coursed by both the Lakewood Gulch Trail and the W-Line rail. It offers distant views of the downtown to the east and mountains to the west.

Lakewood Gulch Trail

Wayfinding signage on the greenway trails includes simple icons within arrows painted on the pavement at major intersections. Click here for more information about the city's urban trails.

handy painted icons point ahead to downtown and back to mountains

On a recent trip to Denver, the pedometer app on my phone told me I walked 9.7 miles the first day and 17 miles the second. Bliss! And so much more left to explore.

35,765 steps, or about 17 miles, in Denver makes for a good day

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.