Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Camping Program Needed for the Ice Age Trail

By Drew Hanson

Use of the Ice Age Trail is increasing. But a significant impediment to more people enjoying the thousand-mile footpath remains: the lack of regularly-spaced camping areas. It’s like a coast-to-coast highway with no place to buy gasoline. Fix this problem and more people will use the Trail. More people using the Trail will bring economic, education, and physical fitness benefits to Wisconsin.

The non-profit Ice Age Trail Alliance recognizes anyone who can verify that they hiked the entire Ice Age Trail as a Thousand-Miler. In the ten years prior to 1990 only four people hiked the entire Ice Age Trail. During the 1990s 13 people completed their hikes of the entire Trail and 39 people completed between 2000-2010. By this meter, Thousand-Miler use of the Ice Age Trail is increasing at a rate of roughly 200% per decade.

Sign directing hikers to one of only two
existing dispersed camping areas along
the Ice Age Trail

The Southern Kettle Moraine State Forest has three backpack shelters spaced along roughly 30 miles of the Ice Age Trail. The shelters require a fee for use and can be reserved in advance. Use data for the three shelters for May – October, 2010 shows 297 user/nights out of a possible 552 available nights for an occupancy rate of 53.8%. For comparison, according to the report The Economic Impact of Expenditures By Travelers On Wisconsin: Calendar Year 2010 prepared for the Wisconsin Department of Tourism (see http://media.travelwisconsin.com/~/media/Files/Research/Economic%20Impact/2010/2010%20Full%20Report.pdf), hotels/motels/resorts/B&Bs had an average occupancy rate of 51% in 2010. Like hotels/motels/resorts/B&Bs, demand for Southern Kettle Moraine shelters is greatest on weekends when the shelters are often reserved months in advance. Comparable occupancy rates between camping shelters and hotels shows that demand for overnight use of the Ice Age Trail is solid where camping accommodations are available, even inconvenient accommodations that require a reservation and fee.

Another example of long-distance hiking use is provided by the 2,100-mile Appalachian Trail (AT). Most of the estimated 2-3 million people who use the AT each year hike only a portion of it but an increasing number complete the entire trail. According to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, approximately 500 - 600 people complete their hike of the entire AT each year (see http://www.appalachiantrail.org/about-the-trail/2000-milers). Given that the Ice Age Trail is roughly half as long as the AT and passes over terrain that is generally easier to hike, if the Ice Age Trail had a camping program, long-distance use numbers on the Ice Age Trail might surpass long-distance use of the Appalachian Trail.
Simple. One of the existing dispersed
camping areas along the Ice Age Trail.
A system of these is needed.
To address the need and realize the tourism potential of the Ice Age Trail, a new program of regularly spaced dispersed camping areas was adopted in 2011. While these camping areas should be free to use, the economic benefits come from the increased gas purchased to reach trailheads, food and specialized equipment purchased for multi-day hikes, visits to taverns near the Trail and more.
Such a program would be one of the least expensive economic generators that the State of Wisconsin could invest in. It would benefit half of the state’s counties. Partners such as the National Park Service and Ice Age Trail Alliance could assist with set-up. Once in place, the Wisconsin Department of Tourism could promote the program to state residents and the vast Chicago market. Other benefits would include educating residents about the beauty of their state, increasing public use of state-owned land and promoting physical fitness.
Let’s get the program rolling.

Monday, November 28, 2011

North Country Trail office moves from Madison to Lowell

After two decades in Madison, Wisconsin the National Park Service (NPS) recently relocated its North Country National Scenic Trail office to Lowell, Michigan. For years federal staff for the North Country Trail (NCT) shared an office with Ice Age National Scenic Trail staff on Madison's west side. The two trails even shared some staff, which provided some administrative efficiencies. But those efficiencies were wiped out by the travel required anytime North Country Trail staff needed to be on or near any part of the NCT itself. Plus not having a shared federal office will provide an emotional boost to both National Scenic Trails, especially for NCT volunteers who now have their own office and staff located on the NCT.

The kind of synergy of having federal and non-profit offices for the Appalachian Trail located in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia can begin to benefit the NCT in Lowell. I applaud the move.

For more on this story, see http://www.mlive.com/outdoors/index.ssf/2011/11/world_traveler_now_in_lowell_t.html

Sunday, November 6, 2011

One of the Top 100 Great Outdoors Projects in America

By Drew Hanson
A new report from the U.S. Department of the Interior highlights the Ice Age Trail as one of the country’s most promising projects designed to protect special places and increase access to outdoor spaces. The full report is at http://www.slideshare.net/USInterior/americas-great-outdoors-fiftystate-report
In a news release about the report, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar stated, “We have listened to the American people and their elected representatives about the most important things we can do to conserve our land and water and reconnect people, especially young people, to the outdoors. These projects represent what states believe are among the best investments in the nation to support a healthy, active population, conserve wildlife and working lands, and create travel, tourism and outdoor-recreation jobs across the nation.” The report lists 100 projects nationwide—two in every state.
One of the goals of the America’s Great Outdoors: Fifty-State Report is to "expand the Ice Age Trail through strategic conservation easements”.
USA Today mentioned "completing gaps in Wisconsin's Ice Age Trail" in the first paragraph of an article about the report that appeared at, http://content.usatoday.com/communities/greenhouse/post/2011/11/americas-greatest-outdoor-spots-feds-pick-top-100/1
This sounds like good news! Fifty-three years after Ray Zillmer first called on the federal government to help acquire the land needed for the Ice Age Trail, maybe it’s finally about to happen. Let’s hope so.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Trail Improvements in Taylor County

I was able to spend only a day with the trail crews, but from what I saw and heard I'd say the Ice Age Trail's Wood Lake and (part of the) Rib Lake segments are in the best condition they've been in for years. The Ice Age Trail Alliance's Mobile Skills Crew delivered another winner. From August 18 - August 21, volunteers from Wisconsin and Illinois made numerous trail improvements. Other volunteers made sure everyone ate well. Great fun! Less than 10% of it is constructed tread so hike it while it's fresh!

An email from the Ice Age Trail Alliance summed it up well with the following:
"The Rib Lake and Wood Lake Segments of the Ice Age Trail received some much-needed TLC and a reroute to boot. On the main stage, volunteers constructed about 1,600 feet of new trail, including more than 100 feet of boardwalk. Volunteers stole the show by turning a muck-covered oyster into a beautiful pearl. On the second stage, immediately to the east, volunteers held the spotlight by mowing over two miles, clearing the trail of debris and updating signage. On the third stage at Wood Lake, volunteers wowed the crowd by constructing a 56-foot boardwalk extension and performing more than a mile of trail maintenance and signage upgrades. On the outer stages volunteers provide TLC for about eight more miles, including cleaning up signage, mowing, chainsaw work and other corridor clearing activities.

All together, 88 volunteers contributed more than 2,400 hours. The time and effort volunteers put into these segments of the Ice Age Trail will be greatly appreciated by its users and maintainers for years to come. Thanks to all who contributed for your great performance in creating a safer, free-flowing, beautiful trail for audiences on the Rib Lake and Wood Lake Segments. Take a bow...we applaud you!"

I applaud you too. Thank you!

Friday, May 6, 2011

Ancient Trail between the Great River and Great Lakes

By Drew Hanson

Fueled by new modes of transportation and shifting economies, human travel routes change with the passage of time. Most of the changes result in routes being improved. But occasionally an old route is abandoned. This essay is a story about an ancient overland trail across what is now southern Wisconsin and one of its segments that still evokes a sense of what it might have been like thousands of years ago.

The first book ever published by the Smithsonian Institution was Ancient Monuments of the Mississippi Valley, by E.G. Squier and E. H. Davis. It appeared in 1847, one year before Wisconsin became a state. Chapter five, Monuments of the Northwest, notes an ancient trail that is the geographic riddle this story strives to unravel:

“The great Indian trail or ‘war path’, from Lake Michigan near Milwaukie [sic] to the Mississippi above Prairie du Chien, which has for the most part [emphasis added] been adopted as the route of the United States military road… [T]his great natural pathway, which has been for ages and must forever remain the route of communication between the Great Lakes and the Great River,” is along “… a high open prairie, on the dividing ridge between the waters of the Rock and Wisconsin rivers.”

Can we find this ancient trail today? The end points are clear: at the mouths of major rivers where the cities of Milwaukee and Prairie du Chien now stand. Various sources show the ancient trail passing through points where other communities grew, including Pewaukee, Lake Mills (Aztalan), Madison and Mt. Horeb. Connecting the dots between Madison and Milwaukee, nearly all of the ancient trail is now either modern highway or developed residential neighborhoods with grid street patterns. The same is true between Mt. Horeb and Prairie du Chien, where we can travel the route today but the tread of the ancient trail was obliterated by the earth moving needed to create highway 18 and the railroad grade that became the Military Ridge bike trail. Between Madison and Mt. Horeb, the location of the ancient trail is less obvious.

Roughly between the Mississippi River and the village of Mt. Horeb, the ridge that divides the waters of the Rock and Wisconsin Rivers is called the Military Ridge. It takes this name from a road that was improved by the U.S. military in the early 1830s. East of Mt. Horeb, the same dividing ridge follows an arcuate course northeastward and then southeastward to the edge of the Driftless Area near a small road named Timber Lane. Since the ridge east and west of Mt. Horeb is the same ridge, I refer to the entire ridge as the Great Dividing Ridge–a name applied to it by Increase A. Lapham in 1861 (Martin, L., The Physical Geography of Wisconsin, 1932).

The eastern edge of the Driftless Area near Timber Lane is marked by a terminal moraine known as the Johnstown Moraine. It was deposited by the Green Bay lobe of the Laurentide ice sheet roughly fifteen thousand years ago. The Ice Age National Scenic Trail and National Park Service Interpretive Site encompass part of this area because of the geologic contrast between glaciated and unglaciated landscapes the place provides. The area holds another distinction as well.

I submit that between Mt. Horeb and the eastern edge of the Driftless Area, the ancient trail continued along the Great Dividing Ridge instead of along the present route of the Military Ridge bike trail, the present route of highway 18-151, or other routes of the Old Military Road through this area. Except perhaps during the driest periods, the modern routes east of Mt. Horeb would have been too wet and included too many topographic changes to provide a good route for pre-eighteenth century foot travelers. The Great Dividing Ridge east of Mt. Horeb would have provided the most reliably high and dry walking route without steep climbs for thousands of years and is the most likely segment to which Squier and Davis were referring when they used the qualifier, “for the most part.”

So why was the part of the ancient trail along the Great Dividing Ridge between Mt. Horeb and the eastern edge of the Driftless Area abandoned as the major travel route through the area? We know that the primary draw for European and American settlers into Wisconsin during the early 1800s was the lead mining of the southern Driftless Area. The principal community of the lead district was Mineral Point. Other important lead mining communities were slightly farther south. The growth of these lead mining towns forced the creation of new transportation routes and altered those previously in existence.

Mineral Point is situated approximately eight miles south of the Great Dividing Ridge. One of the effects of its growing economy was to attract commerce and its requisite transportation routes into the community. At least some of the traffic through the region was thus redirected across the lower lands south of the Great Dividing Ridge. After the territorial and state capital became fixed at Madison, the shortest distance between the main communities reinforced the route shift generally south of the Great Dividing Ridge and with a far smaller percentage of transportation being done on foot, the water crossings of the upper Sugar River basin (part of the Rock River system) were rendered insignificant.

During the 1830s, U.S. government surveyors were delineating the grid of the Public Land Survey System in western Dane County. In addition to marking township and section corners, the original surveyors took copious notes on the distance from each corner to the nearest tree. More important to this story, they sometimes drew trails and roads on their maps and noted distances in their notes. The maps and notes of the original surveyors show that by the 1835, the primary travel route between Mt. Horeb and Middleton (just west of Madison) was located on the military road south of the Great Dividing Ridge.

In the decades following the work of the original government surveyors, lands were sold in rectangular 40-acre units. The lands were eventually settled by farming families. With evolving transportation technologies and as a matter of convenience to landowners, most travel routes were gradually straightened along survey lines wherever practicable.

During Wisconsin’s first half-century, important roads were often named for the community at the other end, such as, Green Bay Road in Milwaukee, Madison Street in Beaver Dam, Milwaukee Drive in New Holstein, and many others. As transportation routes change, sometimes road names become applied to only vestiges of different earlier travel routes. In other cases, newer straighter roads are assigned names of earlier nearby roads, even if the straightened road no longer reaches its namesake, such as Mineral Point Road on the west side of Madison that no longer leads to the city of Mineral Point.

Does anyone today drive Blue Mound Road or Capitol Drive in Milwaukee and Waukesha counties to reach Blue Mounds near Mt. Horeb or the Wisconsin Capitol? Could either Capitol Drive or Blue Mound Road be part of the ancient trail between the mouth of the Milwaukee River and mouth of the Wisconsin River?

The road name “Stagecoach Road”, just south of the village of Cross Plains, presumably refers to its early history as a stagecoach route. The nearby road named “Old Military Road” appears to not follow the route of the earliest military road through the area, but perhaps it marks some vestige of a partially straightened military road of an intermediate era?

During all the years since the lead mining days, the Great Dividing Ridge east of Mt. Horeb had no road of importance along its crest. New modes of transportation and shifting economies redirected traffic away from this part of the ancient trail. It fell from dominance as “the route of communication between the Great Lakes and the Great River.” The “high open prairie” became a high, mostly open agricultural field.

Extending east from the Great Dividing Ridge, where the Johnstown Moraine defines the edge of the Driftless Area, one of Middleton and west Madison’s main roads begins. Just as the modern names Mineral Point Road, Capitol Drive and Blue Mound Road hint at their origins, the ancient trail provided Dane County with the name for one of its modern roads. Honoring a Native American Nation that lived in this region and had its primary village at present day Sauk City, the road is named Old Sauk Road.

The march of civilization has left the Mt. Horeb to Johnstown Moraine segment of the Great Dividing Ridge and ancient trail largely without improvements. For the moment at least, one can still grasp the scene that has remained for ages. But it may not last for long. Residential development and quarrying threaten this link to our past. How long before new homes, quarrying and paved roads obliterate this last vestige of the ancient trail? How long will these vistas last?

Friday, April 15, 2011

Cut the Deficit without Betraying our Founding Fathers

By Drew Hanson
There’s a lot of discussion these days about the deficit. Rightfully so. The United States is in debt to the tune of something over $12,000,000,000,000. That’s twelve trillion dollars. And because our economy is still emerging from the worst economic disaster of the past 80 years, that number is going to get bigger before it gets smaller. It is a problem we need to address.
Unfortunately, too much emphasis is being placed on cuts to what some call “domestic discretionary spending”, that is for things like public education, public radio and television, and public health. These are programs that contribute to the quality of life for nearly all Americans. These are programs that distinguish rich countries from poor countries. These are programs worth fighting for.
Let’s not forget that the United States remains a wealthy nation, perhaps still the most wealthy nation on the planet. Our deficit is a big number but there is great wealth here and we have the exceptional ingenuity to fix the budget issues. So let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water.
A sensible approach to cutting the deficit would look at three things: our country’s mission, where the wealth of our nation resides and where we might make government programs more efficient. In this short essay I’ll explore the first: our mission.
The government of these United States has a wonderful mission statement, contained in the preamble of our constitution and written by our founding fathers. It reads, “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” Given our large deficit, if a federal government program does not directly help to satisfy this mission, we must look at cutting the program.
Two parts of the federal budget that do not directly serve our mission are, first, having far too many American military service personnel stationed overseas and, second, the continued development of many military weapon systems. Military service personnel should be paid fairly and on time, protected with the best safety equipment, given excellent health care and if they are injured in the line of duty provided with health care coverage for life. But stationing them in far off lands, sometimes for decades, does not satisfy the mission of our government as delineated by our founding fathers and is an unnecessary expense we can no longer afford.
America needs to be exceptional for its own citizens again before we can afford the job of global police. It is time other nations police the world and, if necessary, topple brutal dictators.
The trillion dollars we have spent on Iraq was…, well, how do you think it squares with our nation’s mission statement when our own citizens have basic health and education needs? The same holds for recent military operations in Libya. The more than 160 tomahawk cruise missiles we shot at Libya during one week last month cost about $1 million each. Without factoring the other associated costs, that operation dinged US taxpayers over $160,000,000.
The next time you hear someone complain about a million dollars for the Ice Age National Scenic Trail, for instance, or other beneficial education or public health project for our own people, point out that our government spent that much on just one bomb in Libya. What’s more in keeping with our government’s mission, securing “the blessings of liberty” for our own people with a public health resource like the Ice Age Trail or attacking a sovereign nation that posed no threat to the citizens of the United States? Especially when we are over twelve trillion dollars in debt, our military should “provide for the common defense” of the citizens of the United States only.
Make no mistake about it, there is plenty of waste in the military weapon systems our government is building. More than a trillion dollars in boondoggles were recently described in the New York Times at http://www.nytimes.com/imagepages/2011/03/13/opinion/13opchartimg.html?ref=opinion
Part of insuring “domestic tranquility”, promoting “the general welfare” and securing “the blessings of liberty” is embodied in our public education system, public radio, public television, public health programs and in relatively small programs like our National Park System (including the Ice Age National Scenic Trail), transportation enhancements and the Smithsonian Institution. These are things that give our civilization value and meaning.
It is time for a peace dividend to help pay down the deficit. By bringing home most overseas American military service personnel and by cutting certain military weapon systems we could save trillions of dollars without trashing our constitution and betraying our founding fathers.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

National Park Service Land Acquisition for the Ice Age Trail should begin now

by Drew Hanson

Historical Backdrop
During the 1940s-1950s, Ray Zillmer hounded Wisconsin governors and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR, which at that time was called the Conservation Department) to focus more resources on land acquisition of a corridor of land in the Kettle Moraine. The scenic belt of glacial ridges in southeast Wisconsin was recommended for purchase by the State in a 1934 plan. Zillmer held various leadership positions within the local and state chapters of the Izaak Walton League and was considered an authority on the subject and a persuasive advocate. We have Zillmer to thank for much of the progress on the Kettle Moraine State Forest during those early decades.
But Zillmer realized that completion of the Kettle Moraine conservation corridor (what we might today call a "greenway") was moving too slowly, thus making his broader goal of extending the greenway west along glacial moraines across Wisconsin more difficult. Furthermore, without the land base of a protected conservation corridor, his ultimate vision of a long-distance hiking trail would not be possible. He concluded that the State, for various institutional and political reasons, would not complete this conservation corridor on its own. So in 1958 he enlisted the National Park Service (NPS) and members of Congress to create a new Ice Age National Park.
Just two years later Zillmer died. His proposal was still in its infancy. In his absence the vision for the greenway and trail suffered from mission creep and progress sputtered. By 1980 the effort was back on track but today, over fifty years after Zillmer embarked upon the mission to create the Ice Age National Park, the NPS has acquired only one parcel for the Ice Age National Scenic Trail. Meanwhile the NPS has successfully acquired thousands of parcels for other national scenic trails around the country.

The Tools
Since 1979 the NPS 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 almost 5,000 acres from willing sellers. All of this land acquisition work was carried out by the NPS National Trails Land Resources Program Center in Martinsburg, West Virginia. Their work has been outstanding. The expertise gained along these other national scenic trails is critical to successfully completing the Ice Age Trail.
Two years ago, Congress and the President gave NPS the authority to become a full partner in the land acquisition for the Ice Age Trail. With the enactment of the Omnibus Public Lands Management Act the NPS now has the legal go-ahead to acquire lands for the Ice Age Trail directly from willing sellers. But during these past two years, NPS has done little to assign full-time NPS staff from the Martinsburg office to the Ice Age Trail to begin the task of acquiring parcels from willing sellers. Even the recently designated New England National Scenic Trail is beginning to benefit from land acquisition work by the NPS Martinsburg office.
In passing the law giving NPS this authority for the Ice Age Trail, did Congress and the President intend for NPS to not use the authority? I don’t think so.

The Proposal
About 500 miles of Ice Age Trail still need to be protected. To relocate unsafe connecting road-walk routes to off-road trail, to stay ahead of changing land uses and to allow the Trail to take its rightful place among the great national scenic trails, the federal partner needs to have an active role in the protection of the nationally significant resources that are found along the Ice Age National Scenic Trail.
The project is not daunting. Fewer miles and fewer parcels need to be purchased to complete the Ice Age Trail than were needed to complete the Appalachian Trail. Plus the Ice Age Trail has able partners, including the DNR, to hopefully continue to acquire other Trail lands. So to get started, NPS needs a Focus Area.
Proposed NPS Focus Area
The Trail corridor between the City of Madison and Village of Cross Plains would make an excellent Focus Area and starting point for NPS. This ten-mile segment contains a mere 20 parcels in need of protection. Located between Woods Road and Black Earth Creek, acquiring these 20 parcels would complete land acquisition along this segment and allow construction of a premier, off-road segment of national scenic trail.
Resources of this proposed Focus Area include the 156-acre property already owned by NPS, a 174-acre property owned by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, a representative portion of the geologic region known as the Driftless Area, 500 million year old rock outcrops, a cave and portions of glacial moraines. There is strong public support for protection of these lands and the risk of private development creates urgency for protection.
Please join me in calling on the National Park Service to begin a land acquisition program for the Ice Age Trail by contacting members of Congress and the National Park Service.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Mountain Majesty Bias

By Drew Hanson


author atop Matterhorn, Oregon, 1992
I need to be clear about something from the start: I love mountains. I've spent months backpacking in them. I did three weeks of mountaineering in the John Muir Wilderness through one of my favorite mountain ranges--the Sierras. I've backpacked three times in Glacier National Park, two times at Mt. Rainier, summited two of the Three Sisters in Oregon and without boring you further suffice it to say many others. I disclose this at the beginning not to proudly pound on my chest but to make it clear that I am not against mountains nor am I naively unfamiliar with them.

On the other hand, many people think mountainous areas are "wastelands." My grandfather can't understand why I "waste" my time visiting mountains to hike. Like many Americans, he has never hiked on one. But I suspect he and others living in "flatter" landscapes have a deeper understanding of scenery. Out of this I discovered that scenery should not be measured by elevation alone.

The Bias

The Conservation Movement, like the Labor Movement, Civil Rights Movement or Suffrage Movement, has a rich history that includes certain tendencies and biases. These biases are most on display at the large national conservation groups like Audubon, Sierra Club and National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) or what is sometimes collectively called, Big Green. One of the currents running through the history of the Conservation Movement and Big Green is a bias I call mountain majesty bias.

For example, a few years ago, there was a large property in New Mexico that was offered for sale to the federal government to add to Bandelier National Monument. The Big Green groups and National Park Service all got behind it, pushing Congress with all the rhetoric they could muster to allocate the $101 million needed to buy it. Big Green quoted John Muir and other conservation greats and found a couple rare species on the property to justify why this property was so critical to America. After a couple years of public relations blitz in which the mainstream press eventually jumped on board, they got the needed votes in Congress, the money was allocated and now the Baca Ranch is owned by the federal government as conservation and recreation land for all of us. It sounds like a beautiful place and I plan to hike there one day.

It’s a tried and true recipe used by Big Green countless times and loaded with mountain majesty bias. If you interview conservationists, especially those who support Big Green, I suspect you will discover that quite a few unconsciously subscribe to the following logic: lots of elevation (i.e. mountains and canyons) equals scenery that should be protected. The converse to this line of logic is: flatter landscapes are not scenic and hence receive less conservation attention.

Look at a map of federal lands in America. Where are nearly all of them? Most are in the west. And where do the loudest calls of “sell federal land” and “we don’t need to be spending any more tax dollars buying land” come from? Local people living in the west. Ever heard of the Sagebrush Rebellion?

So it’s hard for me to sympathize with Big Green when they make noise to have this mountain or that canyon in the west purchased by the federal government. If the Conservation Movement were concerned about filling gaps in America's existing conservation lands and serving a host of other societal benefits, such as undoing some of the damage done to imperiled ecosystems (i.e. savannas, prairies, barrens, wetlands) and economies of the Mississippi River basin, we need to look outside of mountainous areas for places to focus our conservation attention. It is long overdue for the Conservation Movement to turn its focus to America's mid-section to make it our nation’s highest conservation priority to protect farmland, great river systems, wetlands, prairies and a system of protected corridors with footpaths through them that includes the Ice Age National Scenic Trail.

$101 million to purchase land for the Ice Age Trail is unheard of. But for those of us who know the Trail, we know that $101 million would forever protect a couple hundred miles of it. Imagine an additional couple hundred miles of Ice Age Trail for the 18 million Americans who live within a two hour drive to enjoy! But the forces of Big Green and the mainstream press are not ready to help. To Big Green the Ice Age Trail has no mountains, so what’s the point?

Mountains add to the great diversity of landscapes in America. But the absence of mountains does not mean that a landscape is uninteresting or inferior or unworthy of a (thousand mile!) hike or other conservation attention. The mid-section of the United States is home to some magnificent scenery!  Think about it the next time Big Green asks you to urge your member of Congress to support protection of xyz mountain or abc canyon. Then think about how long it has been since Big Green did as much to help the Ice Age Trail or just about any place in the Midwest.


As an aside, at one point or another I was a member of all the Big Green groups including sixteen years as a paid member of NPCA. I read virtually every page of every magazine they sent me and sometimes responded to their “calls to action”. I wrote to NPCA at least a dozen times during those sixteen years asking that they please give even the slightest bit of attention, either in their magazine or in the halls of Congress, to my neighborhood National Park area–the Ice Age National Scenic Trail. But it was not to be. My membership in NPCA came to an end after they published an article about all the great National Park areas along the Great Lakes but failed to make any mention of the Ice Age Trail. I sent NPCA a farewell letter but NPCA’s misunderstanding of the Ice Age Trail stems from more than just mountain majesty bias. I described it in detail at http://pedestrianview.blogspot.com/2013/10/farewell-prejudiced-npca.html

Thursday, March 31, 2011

An Unwitting Ice Age Trail Pioneer

by Drew Hanson

[A version of this essay appeared in the Winter 2001 edition of Mammoth Tales.]

Have you ever been asked, “Since Ice Age glaciers were in many states why is the Ice Age National Scenic Trail only in Wisconsin?” I have.

Tongue in check, I sometimes answer, “Have you ever wondered why Rocky Mountain National Park is only in Colorado? Don’t the Rocky Mountains span thousands of miles and several states from Alaska to Mexico?”

I’m generally a little less sassy.

My typical response describes the world-class landscapes created by continental glaciation in Wisconsin and how the Ice Age Trail Alliance was founded here by the late Raymond Zillmer.  Another reason for the Wisconsin focus is the work of the late Wisconsin Congressman Henry Reuss who championed conservation legislation for Wisconsin between 1960 and 1980. The tens of thousands of people who have volunteered their time since 1958 to make the Ice Age Trail a reality also deserve a share of the credit.

Surprisingly, however, the Trail’s roots go back much farther. It was actually during the late 1800s that the seeds for a national park and trail to commemorate the Ice Age were sown: and they were sown in Wisconsin!

The life and extraordinary career of Thomas Chamberlin far exceeds the realm of the Ice Age Trail. He published more than 250 scholarly articles and books and received a multitude of awards for his work. One of his several biographers placed him alongside the world’s greatest thinkers, including Aristotle, Galileo, Newton and Darwin. His most-significant work was in the field of geology, which provides another basis for making Wisconsin the home of the Ice Age National Scenic Trail.

Thomas Chamberlin was born in 1843 on a farm at the crest of a glacial end moraine near Mattoon, Illinois. He attended Beloit College in southern Wisconsin and the University of Michigan. He served for two years as principal of Delavan High School, in southeast Wisconsin, and taught at the University of Wisconsin at Whitewater for three. In 1870, he co-founded the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters.

Returning to Beloit College in 1873, he began a nine-year term as professor of natural history. His primary focus became a thorough study of glaciated southeastern Wisconsin. This work resulted in the first scientific publication in the world on interlobate glaciation and the naming of the Kettle Moraine.

For most of his tenure at Beloit College, Chamberlin wore the second hat of Chief State Geologist. From this statewide position, he began to illustrate the anomalies of the unglaciated Driftless Area of southwestern Wisconsin. More importantly, he published the four large books titled Geology of Wisconsin. It surpassed in excellence and scope similar efforts of any other state geological survey.

His stock increased, Chamberlin became head of the Glacial Division of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). It was, likewise, a hat he would wear in addition to others. Seventeen years as Division head brought him recognition as the foremost authority on glacial geology in the United States.

In 1892, Chamberlin became the first chairperson of the Geology Department at the University of Chicago. Two years later, he completed the first-ever map of North America showing the extent of glaciation.
At the beginning of Chamberlin’s career, geologists believed there to have been one continental glaciation during the Ice Age. By the late 1870s, Chamberlin was the first to understand that there had been multiple glaciations–initially arguing that there had been two. Years later, using the best tools of his day, he determined there to have been at least four glaciations and named them for the states where their deposits were most easily recognized. Wisconsin was chosen as the namesake of the most recent continental glaciation.

(Since the 1960s, studies of deep ocean cores demonstrate that there have been perhaps 12 to 15 continental glaciations during the past 2 million years. The last period of the Ice Age, between 10,000 and 75,000 years ago, continues to be known as the Wisconsin Glaciation.)

Shortly before his death in 1928, the University of Wisconsin–Madison (UW), which he once served as President, honored Thomas Chamberlin with a bronze plaque attached to a large erratic boulder. It was placed at the top of Observatory Hill–a drumlin on the UW campus– where it stands to this day. The plaque describes his service to the University and monumental accomplishments in the field of geology.

Thomas Chamberlin was the greatest American geologist of his generation. His brilliance lit so many paths of knowledge that he made an unwitting contribution to the Ice Age Trail. His recognition of the unique geology of Wisconsin and naming of a period of history for this place provides one of the compelling foundations of the Ice Age National Scenic Trail.

Thousands of years ago, colossal glaciers had profound impacts on the planet. The landscapes of Wisconsin provided the ideal Ice Age canvas for continental glaciation to paint its most beautiful landscapes and intriguing sites for scientific research. The Ice Age National Scenic Trail is today a place to preserve, commemorate and enjoy this masterpiece.


The History of Geology and Geophysics at the University of Wisconsin—Madison, S.W. Bailey, R.A. Paull, and L.H. Burckle, Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin Systems, 1981.

“Chamberlin, Salisbury, and Collie”, Allan F. Schneider, in Geoscience Wisconsin, volume 18, “History of Wisconsin Geologists”, Wisconsin Geological and Natural History Survey, 2001.

“Wisconsin’s Glacial Landscapes”, David M. Mickelson, in Wisconsin Land and Life, The University of Wisconsin Press, 1997.

Ice Ages: Solving the Mystery, John Imbrie and Katherine Palmer Imbrie, Harvard University Press, 1979.

Protecting the Resources of the Ice Age Trail

By Drew Hanson

[A version of this essay appeared in the Summer 1999 edition of Pathways Across America.]

Near the end of the most recent Ice Age, a 120-mile long series of morainal ridges formed between two immense lobes of glacial ice in what is now southeast Wisconsin. Scattered along this belt, areas of distinct, crater-like depressions were left by melting blocks of ice. Geologists thus named this landform the Kettle Moraine. Scientific research that began here during the 1870s eventually led to the first map on the extent of continental glaciation in North America.
During the 1920s, increasing numbers of Milwaukeeans began to explore the Kettle Moraine for recreation and increased flooding along downstream sections of the Milwaukee River led conservationists to look for solutions. Proposals for public acquisition of the Kettle Moraine ensued.
Ray Zillmer, 1938
Ray Zillmer was one of the leaders in the effort to establish the Kettle Moraine State Forest. On three separate occasions he was the chairman of groups promoting the legislation. In 1937, the Kettle Moraine State Forest was established–consisting of separate, north and south purchase units. By 1956, however, the State of Wisconsin had acquired only half of the acreage for the two units. Zillmer and others thought this was not enough.
Ray Zillmer was an avid hiker, mountaineer, student of natural history and Harvard educated attorney. He wandered the wildlands of northern Minnesota, explored and mapped remote peaks in the Canadian Rockies, followed the development of the Appalachian Trail and studied Wisconsin’s contribution to the field of geology. Based on his vast experiences, he concluded that the Kettle Moraine State Forest, like Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, could form the nucleus for a linear park that would be used “by millions more people than use the more remote national parks.” He was certain this concept warranted national attention.
In 1958, Ray Zillmer founded the Ice Age Trail Alliance (then called the Ice Age Park and Trail Foundation) to begin efforts to establish a linear national park in Wisconsin that would encompass hundreds of miles of glacial moraines. In a letter dated August 28, 1958, Zillmer wrote to Daniel Tobin, Regional Director for the National Park Service (NPS) in Philadelphia, saying:
“I am intimately familiar with the moraines … of the existing Kettle Moraine State Forest, having covered almost literally every foot of the area many times in the last 40 years. …I found that my work in the Kettle Moraine Forest project was of unestimatable value in my reconnaissance.  In fact, I believe it is impossible to understand the [proposed national park] without a complete knowledge of what the state has accomplished.  It has established the practicality of a long narrow strip as far as outdoor recreation is concerned, and its great incidental value in soil and water control because it follows the watersheds.”
His efforts paid off. Later that year, Tobin accompanied Zillmer for several days of inspection along the glacial moraines. Zillmer was capturing the interest of the National Park Service, conservationists and political leaders. Bills were introduced in Congress to create an Ice Age National Park in Wisconsin. In April, 1961, National Park Service geologist Robert Rose completed a Preliminary Geological Report on 1961 Field Study of Proposed Ice Age Area in Wisconsin. He concluded the report with:
“…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. …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 fibre, 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.”
Unfortunately, just as creation of this new type of national park seemed to be gaining momentum, Ray Zillmer died. The vision of the Ice Age project being a linear park, like the glacial moraines it was to encompass, almost died with him.
Later in 1961, the National Park Service concluded that, while many of the unique glacial features of Wisconsin warranted national attention, a linear park hundreds of miles in length did not match any NPS model of that day. Instead three recommendations were made. First, the Northern Unit of the Kettle Moraine State Forest should be elevated to an NPS-administered National Monument and National Scientific Landmark status should be considered for two other state parks. Second, interpretive assistance should be provided to the State at other existing properties and waysides. Third, planning assistance should be provided to the Ice Age Trail Alliance for the development and marking of a trail along the moraines across Wisconsin.
Government officials then went back to the drawing board. What they came up with was the Ice Age National Scientific Reserve – an affiliated area of the National Park System composed of scattered units around Wisconsin. In 1964, the late Wisconsin Congressman Henry Reuss succeeded in ushering the National Scientific Reserve legislation through Congress and gaining the signature of the President.
The 1964 National Scientific Reserve law set in motion a number of planning, land acquisition and development activities for volunteers and government officials. These were most intensive through the rest of the 1960s and early 1970s. Meanwhile, other legislation made its way through Congress that more closely matched the concept Ray Zillmer had for the Ice Age project being a protected corridor with a hiking trail threading through it.
In his 1965 Natural Beauty speech, President Johnson stated, “We can and should have an abundance of trails in close to our cities. In the backcountry we need to copy the great Appalachian Trail in all parts of our country.” The push to establish linear national parks was growing and in 1968 the National Trails Act and National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act became law. The Ice Age Trail was passed over while the initial baselines of the National Trails System became the Appalachian and Pacific Crest national scenic trails.
Twelve more years would pass before the Ice Age Trail finally became a component of the National Trails System. A comprehensive management plan was completed in 1983–twenty-two years after NPS first proposed assisting with trail planning. The plan stated, “The purchase of private lands should be minimal.” Instead it proposed having volunteers obtain “easily revocable” informal agreements with landowners to safeguard a trailway. Volunteers were expected to create a meaningful hiking trail across hundreds of privately owned parcels without securing permanent rights. Keeping the Trail open to the public became nearly impossible as some properties crossed by the Trail changed hands every year and new owners did not always have positive sentiments toward the public walking across their land. It was quickly realized that easily revocable handshake agreements would not suffice.
The Ice Age Trail Alliance (IATA) had been involved with assisting the State with land acquisitions since 1958. It wasn’t until 1986, however, that IATA officially became a land trust. Between 1986 and 1999, IATA was directly involved with acquiring over 70 parcels for the Trail totaling almost 2000 acres. Nearly all of these properties constitute a narrow ribbon along the Trail. The acquisition of viewsheds and entire glacial features, with the exception of small features like kettle ponds, have been luxuries that IATA could rarely afford. Nonetheless, successes have been achieved. Notable among these are along the City of West Bend and in Dane County.
The State of Wisconsin, too, has had many important land acquisition successes along the Ice Age Trail. These include: expansion of Northern Kettle Moraine State Forest and Devils Lake State Park, establishment of the Chippewa Moraine National Scientific Reserve and creation of additional Kettle Moraine State Forest units at Pike Lake, Loew Lake and Lapham Peak. On the other hand, between 1965 and 1970, the State of Wisconsin reduced the acquisition boundary for the Southern Kettle Moraine State Forest by 11,000 acres–lopping off a few miles of potentially protected corridor for the Ice Age Trail.
Other opportunities have been lost as well. The same qualities that add credence to the “scenic” in National Scenic Trail, also generate interest among the creators of sprawl-type developments. In some areas, attempts to secure a narrow trailway are competing against developers for the last remaining pieces of yet undeveloped landscape. Time is running out.
The unquestionable success of the National Trails System is the completion of the Appalachian Trail. But a national system of walkable trails is not to be found. Decades after President Johnson called for “copies” of this great footpath, only the Pacific Crest Trail comes close.
The protection of trail resources is a complicated endeavor. It requires the labor of diverse groups, from NPS officials and members of Congress to thousands of dedicated volunteers. The success of this endeavor is dependent upon members of these groups working together and within appropriate roles. The experience of the Ice Age Trail Alliance has shown that a non-profit land trust and trail development organization, even one that receives government assistance, cannot sufficiently protect hundreds of miles of national trail resources.
To copy the Appalachian Trail, we must copy part of the organizational structure that successfully completed it. The National Park Service must take a lead role in protecting trail resources through fee title acquisition and permanent easements. Without serious NPS attention to the protection of nationally significant resources, much of the Ice Age Trail will likely forever remain just a line on a map.

Footpaths are Conservation’s Missing Link

By Drew Hanson

[This essay comes from a presentation by the author at the 1999 conference Building on Leopold's Legacy: Conservation for a New Century, at the Monona Terrace Convention Center in Madison, WI.]

In his essay The Land Ethic, Aldo Leopold describes a necessary third step in the sequence of human ethical evolution. This step involves the development of “a land ethic [which] changes the role of Homo sapiens from conqueror of the land-community to plain member and citizen of it.” However, in the fifty years since the publication of this essay in A Sand County Almanac, most people still view themselves as separate from nature, rather than as “members of a community of interdependent parts.” Herein lies a failing of the Conservation Movement.

Aldo Leopold
Man versus nature is a false dichotomy that ignores the many ways we are dependent on the natural world. Meanwhile humanity edges closer to exhausting the world’s air, land and water resources. One of the key arenas for raising the general understanding of humanity’s dependence on nature is outdoor recreation.

In Conservation Esthetic, Leopold writes: “The automobile has spread [the] once mild and local predicament [of outdoor recreation] to the outermost limits of good roads–it has made scarce in the hinterlands something once abundant on the back forty.  … Advertisements … confide to all … the whereabouts of new retreats, landscapes, hunting-grounds, and fishing-lakes just beyond those recently overrun. Bureaus build roads into new hinterlands, then buy more hinterlands to absorb the exodus accelerated by the roads.  … This is Outdoor Recreation, Latest Model.”

This passage could just as well have been written today. As a society we continue to create most of our new outdoor retreats far removed from the homes of the masses of people. Just as it was fifty or seventy years ago, one only need look at a map of public lands in Wisconsin to see that the vast majority of public open space is in the north. But with three-quarters of Wisconsin’s population living in the southern half of the State, how effective are these distant lands at connecting people with nature? The same holds for the United States with most of its public open spaces in the West or East while the great center of the country is home to relative fragments of public land.

Indeed, in Smokey Gold, Leopold wrote, “Here [in Adams county], come October, I sit in the solitude of my tamaracks and hear the hunters’ cars roaring up the highway, hell-bent for the crowded counties to the north.” The roar of cars continues today–exceeding anything Leopold prophesized. This is true of the Northwoods, as well as at our great national parks like Smokey Mountains, Grand Canyon and Yosemite. Traffic jams and ozone alerts now occur several times a year at Yosemite Valley, California as well as Door County, Wisconsin.

So how can we reshape our outdoor recreation model? We need a model that adds to America’s national parks, national forests and wilderness areas by borrowing a page from the human-scale connections prevalent in areas of Europe. We need a system of footpaths to connect people to native natural landscapes, to the agricultural lands that sustain them, and to other people.

Benton MacKaye
This idea has been around in the United States for quite some time. In 1921, Benton MacKaye proposed, “a series of recreational communities throughout the Appalachian chain of mountains from New England to Georgia, to be connected by a walking trail.  … Food and farm camps could be … combined with the community camps with the inclusion of surrounding farm lands (An Appalachian Trail: A Project in Regional Planning).”

The late Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson, speaking on his championing of the National Trails System Act in 1968, stated, “Hiking trails provide the entire American family with perhaps the most economical, most varied form of outdoor recreation. This law gives us a much-needed opportunity to preserve and more widely enjoy many significant parts of our country’s natural heritage. The goal is to provide all of us, no matter where we live, with easy access to a wide variety of trails suited to our tastes and needs.”

As a young man, Leopold drew inspiration from his regular tramps into the hinterlands of Burlington, Iowa and Lawrenceville, New Jersey. These long walks, prior to the days when No Trespassing signs became prevalent, allowed him to study and connect with nature at a pedestrian pace. The youth of today, as well as their families, have far fewer such opportunities. The nearest hinterlands or nature preserves, for many, are not easily accessible.

From the mid-1930s through 1960, Milwaukee attorney Ray Zillmer explored the Kettle Moraine belt of southeast Wisconsin and argued tirelessly for the establishment of an Ice Age National Park to protect them and long-distance hiking trail to enjoy them. He regularly asserted that the population centers of Wisconsin and surrounding states were in need of appropriate recreation opportunities close to home. In the decades to come (i.e. today) he knew that without corridors of public land bisected by footpaths, the problem would become ever more acute.

Where public open space was not conveniently located near most people, Zillmer saw the problem in how people used their extra time. “Free time, which people have and which is increasing, should be used in a constructive way, so that they will do the thinking and not sponge-like receive the thinking of others, and so that they will use their body instead of watching other people use theirs (letter to Walter E. Scott, Wisconsin Conservation Department, March 2, 1956).” With foot trails bisecting corridors of public land close to home, people could hike, volunteer to build and maintain trails, or perform landscape restoration and maintenance. Zillmer was especially fond of the idea of bringing teenagers to the trail for work days. Here, “youth groups [could] help clear and build a trail, not only because of the amount of work accomplished…but as much for helping build character (letter to Guido Rahr, Wisconsin Conservation Commission, January 23, 1958).” It was akin to what Leopold called a “sense of husbandry (Conservation Esthetic).”

The conservation, recreation, education, economic and physical fitness goals for the footpaths of the National Trails System have yet to be realized. Among its components, due to its completeness as an off-road trail within a protected corridor, the Appalachian Trail is the closest to the grandeur imagined for these trails that only Congress can designate. The other National Scenic Trails in the System, including the Pacific Crest, Continental Divide and Ice Age trails–until our Nation makes a serious attempt to fully protect, complete and embrace them–offer only glimmers of their diverse potential.