Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Proposed Yellow River Hemlock Esker National Monument

As wild places around the country are bestowed the protection of national monument status, it is time this attention and safeguarding be given to deserving areas along the Ice Age Trail. One such special place is located in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, in Taylor County, Wisconsin.

The proposed Yellow River Hemlock Esker National Monument is a magical place, centered around the prominent Hemlock Esker. This esker was created during the Ice Age by a river flowing at the base of a vast continental ice sheet. Imagine how huge the glacier must have been to have a river flowing at its base that deposited a miles-long sinuous ridge, what geologists today call an esker. The eastern and southern flanks of the esker, drained by sections of the wild Yellow River and some of its tributaries, are also part of the proposed monument.

Natural communities within the proposed 8,000-acre monument include extensive tracts of mature hemlock-hardwood forest, areas of rich maple-basswood forest, open meadow in the upper reaches of Sailor Creek, several stands of lowland conifer dominated by white cedar and black ash and several headwater, morainal stream segments canopied with long lived species. The hemlock-hardwood forest is the dominant forest type occurring on hummocky end moraine and esker topography. Common associates include yellow birch, sugar maple and red maple. White ash, red oak, white spruce and super-canopy white pine are also present. Northern white cedar is frequently found on slopes bordering wetlands and in some ground moraine areas. Frequent snags and coarse woody debris contribute to the old-growth structure. An open shrub layer is dominated by hazelnut and gooseberry. Ground flora includes sweet cicely, intermediate wood fern, common oak fern and rough-leaved rice grass. The lowland coniferous forest forms a closed canopy white cedar forest in some areas. Black ash, red maple, yellow birch, hemlock and balsam fir are common associates. The ground layer is lush and diverse featuring such species as cinnamon fern, sensitive fern, one-sided shin-leaf, dwarf red raspberry, bunchberry and bryophytes. The understory is dense and consists of mountain maple, speckled alder and common winterberry. Bog forests of tamarack and black spruce with red maple, paper birch, yellow birch and white pine are present. Northern sedge meadows are common along Sailor Creek, especially where beaver have flooded the hardwood swamps. Both the northern goshawk (Accipiter gentilis) and red-shouldered hawk (Buteo lineatus) are documented breeding birds. Common resident birds include winter wren, hermit thrush, red-eyed vireo, ovenbird, blackburnian warbler and black-throated green warbler.

The proposed monument includes most of the Ice Age Semi-Primitive Area, most of Lost Lake Esker State Natural Area and a one of the wildest segments of the entire thousand-mile Ice Age National Scenic Trail.

The proposed monument is administered by the Secretary of Agriculture, U.S. Forest Service, Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest. National monument designation is needed to at last resolve long-term management issues. First, authorized and unauthorized motorized use is occurring within this geologically and recreationally unique area where the highest and best use is primitive, pedestrian recreational use such as hiking, fishing, snowshoeing, birding and non-motorized hunting of non-predator species. Second, although timber harvest in parts of this area is currently limited, it should be permanently further restricted in the larger area encompassed by the proposed monument. This would allow additional old growth characteristics to develop that support wildlife species who depend on old growth conditions and enhance primitive, pedestrian recreation. Finally, existing modest protections for the Ice Age Trail and Semi-Primitive Area are temporary, based only on a management plan that is regularly re-written and open to interpretation. Negotiations over how this unique area needs to be managed should be put to rest instead of being re-hashed every decade or two. Local tourism would benefit by having such a unique and permanently protected national monument as more people would travel greater distances to experience its uniqueness.

The proposed Yellow River Hemlock Esker National Monument would be good for the public, good for wildlife and good for the local economy.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Ice Age National Park Justified:
Feasibility and Status

By Drew Hanson

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.

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.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Ice Age National Park Justified:
National Significance

by Drew Hanson

In 1958, Ray Zillmer wrote, “[Wisconsin's] glacial moraines answer all the requirements for a national park.” He created two organizations, made a speaking tour and pressured officials to further his proposal. In response, Congressman Henry Reuss introduced bills in Congress to create an Ice Age National Park in Wisconsin. But Zillmer died in 1960. Instead of becoming a national park, his proposal was bifurcated into a National Scenic Trail and a National Scientific Reserve. Six decades later, the concept of an Ice Age National Park still satisfies all the requirements for a national park.

The question of national significance is addressed in this first of a three-part series on how an Ice Age National Park would still meet the National Park Service’s criteria for a new national park.

Often called the father of America’s national parks, John Muir spent his boyhood in Wisconsin along today’s Ice Age Trail. In his biography he wrote, "This sudden plash into pure wildness — baptism in Nature's warm heart — how utterly happy it made us! Nature streaming into us, wooingly teaching her wonderful glowing lessons, so unlike the dismal grammar ashes and cinders so long thrashed into us. Here without knowing it we still were at school; every wild lesson a love lesson, not whipped but charmed into us. Oh, that glorious Wisconsin wilderness!"

Applying the geology he
The lake of John Muir's boyhood home
learned while a student at the University of Wisconsin, Muir was the first to recognize that the valleys of Yosemite were carved by glaciers. Wisconsin, it turns out, offers an ideal landscape to learn glacial geology. As such, geologists named the last 65,000 years of the ice age the Wisconsin Glaciation.

Alpine explorer Ray Zillmer also found inspiration in the glacially-formed landscapes of Wisconsin. Beginning in the 1930s, he pushed the State of Wisconsin to acquire a series of glacial ridges in eastern Wisconsin and create a long-distance hiking trail along them. In the 1950s, he expanded the effort into the proposed Ice Age National Park. It was Zillmer who first instilled a sense of appreciation for long-distance trails in Gaylord Nelson who later sponsored legislation to protect the Appalachian Trail and create the National Trails System.

The Ice Age Trail was established as a “National Scenic Trail” by an act of Congress in 1980 with overall administration assigned to the Secretary of the Interior. The Trail could still form the nucleus for an Ice Age National Park.

Natural Significance

The Ice Age Trail courses
Devils Lake
like a river between the Potawatomi lookout in eastern Wisconsin and the Dalles of the St. Croix in western Wisconsin. Its route approximates the roughly 15,000-year-old terminal moraine of the Laurentide ice sheet for the majority of its length and the Kettle Moraine interlobate belt along its eastern section.

Due in large part to the resources left by continental glaciation in Wisconsin, the period at the closing millennia of the ice age – between 75,000 and 10,000 years ago – is known by North American geologists as the Wisconsin Glaciation. During this period, a concentration of classic glacial landscape features were left in Wisconsin. This is why the proposed Ice Age National Park is entirely within the Badger State.

Some of the glacial features within the proposed Ice Age National Park are among the finest examples of their kind in the nation. Common features include moraines, eskers, drumlins, kames, kettles, ice-walled lake plains, tunnel channels, extinct glacial lakes and of course glacially transported boulders known as erratics. Other glacial features and geologic processes evidenced along the Trail include the catastrophic drainage of pro-glacial lakes, pre-glacial river diversions, multiple glacial advances, potholes carved into bedrock by glacial meltwater, parallel ice-marginal ridges, buried Pleistocene forests, and others. A portion of the proposed national park encompasses the unique unglaciated Driftless Area, providing an illustrative and unparalleled contrast to the effects of continental glaciation.

Other geologic features within the proposed park include bedrock outcrops of Precambrian lava flows and quartzite, 1.9-billion-year-old metamorphosed rhyollite, Cambrian sandstones, and Ordovician and Silurian dolomites. Some of this bedrock would be among the oldest rocks of the entire National Park System.

Hydrologic resources of an Ice Age National Park are outstanding and play a critical role in the lives of millions of people. Many of these resources owe their origin to continental glaciation. They include more than 150 lakes (including Lake Michigan, one of the largest freshwater lakes in the world), countless smaller ponds and springs, many rivers and streams, productive groundwater resources and their recharge areas, and thousands of acres of various types of wetlands. The proposed park includes several nationally-significant trout streams.

oak savanna

Biological resources found along the Ice Age Trail that are of federal or global significance include Karner blue butterfly, Fassett’s locoweed, eastern wolf, Canada lynx, savanna, barrens and prairies. Most of the proposed park consists of carbon-storing forest areas. The largest roadless area is roughly 92 square miles.

With so much international dialog centered on climate change, an Ice Age National Park would provide an important baseline for understanding how climate can affect vast landscapes.

Cultural Significance

An Ice Age National Park would encompass an area with a rich cultural history. Places that were explored by, and shaped the conservation ethic of John Muir, Aldo Leopold, and Justice William O. Douglas are woven into the route of the existing Ice Age Trail. The beauty of the landscape inspired eminent architect Frank Lloyd Wright and Prairie School architecture. The deep traditions of fishing and hunting continue along segments of the Trail where residential areas do not preclude hunting.

Significant archeological resources within the proposed national park include effigy and conical mounds, ancient trails, petroforms, a pipestone quarry, an ancient mass-kill site of bison and a variety of stone tools. Countless sites showing human habitation and use have been found along the Ice Age Trail and undoubtedly others have yet to be found dating back at least 12,000 years. There is more evidence from Wisconsin than any other Upper Midwest state that prehistoric people killed and butchered mammals including the extinct woolly mammoth.

Historic resources within the proposed national park include the lands of John Muir’s boyhood, Aldo Leopold’s shack, the work of landscape architect Jens Jensen (who worked under President Theodore Roosevelt on national parks), five areas of 1930s Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camps or structures, the underground railroad and Abraham Lincoln lodging at Milton House museum, early 19th century lead mining activities, late 19th century logging camps, an area burned by the Great Peshtigo Fire of 1871 (the largest and deadliest forest fire in U. S. history), and places to interpret the work of prominent early glacial geologists William Alden, Frederick Thwaites, Rollin Salisbury, Thomas Chamberlin and Louis Agassiz.

Several areas within the proposed national park contain extremely productive agricultural lands and historic farmsteads. Establishing the Ice Age National Park can provide the opportunity to not only protect farmland with conservation easements in order to keep it in production, but also to interpret these significant natural resources and the cultural resources embodied by the farms and people who work them. As some people like to say, “The family farm is America’s most endangered resource.”

prairie and savanna

Recreational Significance

Almost twenty million Americans live within a two-hour drive of the proposed Ice Age National Park and more than 1.25 million people use the Ice Age Trail year round. Hikers, business owners, and government partners agree that the Ice Age Trail is already a great benefit to the Upper Midwest tourism and recreation industries. Economic research shows that Trail users contribute approximately $113 million annually. It is safe to assume that an Ice Age National Park would be even more loved and heavily used.

Lands within a proposed Ice Age National Park also support hunting, fishing, swimming, scenic drives, snowmobiling, off-road biking and a host of other outdoor recreation activities.

Look at a map of the nation’s national parks. There is a largely empty space in the middle part of the country. The proposed Ice Age National Park would fill the northern part of this gap and provide tens of millions of Americans with a readily available national park experience.

Next in the Ice Age National Park Justified series will be a discussion of the park’s suitability.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Wisconsin Hiking Pioneers

by Drew Hanson

Wisconsin has an impressive but largely unknown hiking history. This series highlights the accomplishments of five of the state's hiking pioneers. A couple of them may be obvious, but others will be full of surprises. Along the way you'll see how Wisconsin helped shape the sport of hiking in the United States and hopefully discover a lesson for the future of hiking in the Badger State.

Click on the names below for each article.

John Wesley Powell

John Muir

Harold Bradley

Ray Zillmer

Fritz Benedict

Wisconsin's hiking heritage runs deep!