Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Zillmer Begins to Map the Southern Cariboos

by Drew Hanson

This is the second in a series of articles about Ray Zillmer’s pioneer mountaineering exploits in the Canadian Rockies. Ice Age Trail fans know Zillmer as the Milwaukee attorney who in 1958 founded the Ice Age Park and Trail Foundation which became the Ice Age Trail Alliance. Each article in the series enlarges our picture of his rugged approach to wilderness travel by summarizing one of his papers that were published in the Canadian Alpine Journal. This one is based on Exploration of the Southern Cariboos which appeared in 1939.

Zillmer's own words is the best place to begin. “This was my seventh back-pack trip in the mountains of Alberta and British Columbia. On two previous trips I went alone, and on the others I was accompanied by another amateur who was inexperienced in mountain backpack trips. This year Lorin Tiefenthaler, my companion on the Mackenzie trail, was again with me, and he has put an end, once and for all, to the comment of my friends that ‘no one goes with Zillmer a second time.’ We planned to carry everything ourselves, without help or re-provisioning. The food was measured in the exact amounts required for the thirteen days. We carried only that which was absolutely necessary—2-pound sleeping bags, a very small tent, no firearms, no camp axe, no change of clothing except socks and underwear. But as we planned to make a plane table survey and to cross the icefields, we carried, in addition to our normal load, the equipment for the survey together with a primus stove, a gallon of gasoline, and climbing equipment. We planned to go up the valley of the Thompson from the point where it leaves the Canadian National Railways at the flag stop, Gosnell. The vicinity is unsurveyed and the only maps are based on sketches made by prospectors or trappers”.

Ray Zillmer on the Azure-Thompson Divide
“I had given thought to this trip for two years, studied plane table surveying, read all the material on the country that I could find, and carried on a considerable correspondence relative to it. I learned little about this part of the Cariboos, being quite surprised to hear from the trapper of the Canoe valley that he ‘had not been to the extreme head of the Canoe,’ and from others that they had never been at the head of the Thompson. I surmised that there must be a good reason for this.”

The first documented trek through the southern Cariboo Mountains was in 1871. Seven other expeditions explored the area in the intervening years, two of which included geologist R. T. Chamberlin—another man with Wisconsin ties. R. T. Chamberlin was the son of famed geologist Thomas Chamberlin who was an unwitting Ice Age Trail pioneer.

As had been arranged for Zillmer and Tiefenthaler, upon disembarking the train they met “Miss Ella Frye”, the licensed trapper of the upper Thompson River. They spent a night at her cabin of which Zillmer wrote, “On the wall of her cabin was the hide of a grizzly which she had shot a few miles up the trail we were to take in the morning. We plied her with questions for several hours, and her knowledge of the valley was of great help to us. She helped us even more, however, by insisting that we take the only mosquito netting she had. That was the one thing we needed most, yet we had forgotten it. She gave us a gasoline can, for ours was leaking. And she offered us a rifle which we declined. An old friend could not have been kinder to us.”

The next morning was July 3, 1939. Zillmer’s description of the next few days needs no editorializing. “For thirty and a half miles we followed the rough and heavily overgrown trail up the north and east side of the Thompson, to a point where it crossed to the other side of the stream. It took us four and a quarter days of strenuous travel to reach the crossing. It rained a lot and we were always wet, either from the rain or from the dripping willows, alders, and parsnip, through which we forced our way, or from the tall nettle and Devil’s club growth, through which we walked with hands raised high. Only when we crawled into our sleeping bags were we dry. It was wasted effort to dry our shoes or clothing, for we would only be thoroughly soaked again shortly after we started walking. I had trouble seeing, for my glasses were covered with the water or the debris from the bushes we pushed through.”

“At times the trail was so overgrown that we could not even see it, although we were on it. On such occasions we kept on it only by feeling for and following the trail’s depression of several inches. But this frequently resulted in our stumbling or falling when we stepped into holes or against small stones or logs we could not see. We forded the many branches of the Thompson and crossed many mud holes, and marshes often covered with water.”

“A day was lost through an injury to my left leg. Late on the first day of our trip the trail led to an area 150 to 200 yards in diameter, which was cluttered with several large and many small fallen trees. With my attention focused on looking for the trail while I was walking on a fallen tree seven or eight feet above the ground, I suddenly lost my balance and was compelled to jump. I was carrying my heavy sixty-pound pack and I crashed through the debris and undergrowth a foot or so. Only the next day did I realize that I had injured the tendons in my left leg. I suffered the next few days, not because of the very painful leg, but because of the mental anguish over the thought that I might have to give up the trip. But my leg improved on the fifth day, and I could again travel at a faster gait.”

“I had trouble opening my eyes on the morning of the second day, and when Lorin looked at me he said: ‘No wonder. Your eyes are almost closed from the mosquito bites. And you look as though you had small pox.’”

“On the morning of the fifth day we arrived at the crossing of the Thompson. For the first time, the weather had begun to clear.”

At this point the tandem faced several options. Zillmer described each choice within the historical context of their predecessors’ expeditions. They ended up choosing the option which involved fording an ice-cold stream back and forth. Eventually they reached a ford which was deeper and swifter than the rest. Zillmer wrote, “Lorin crossed rather easily, but he was six inches taller than I.” On Zillmer’s second attempt, “after standing a few seconds, though they seemed hours, I was thrown over, pack and all, on my back into the fast water. But the very strong current fortunately threw me quickly across to the other side of the stream, with no injury except a slightly skinned finger, in spite of the many rocks in the river.” They soon set camp.
Click on Zillmer's sketch map to see enlarged image
In the morning they began their exploration of the Thompson River headwaters and adjacent basins. For the next week they enjoyed good weather while they mapped this previously uncharted area and documented the sources of several rivers. They were afforded commanding views from the hand-full of peaks they summitted. They reveled in floral alpine meadows, described mountain goat, caribou and marmot and surveyed several glaciers.

Their time drawing to a close, it took three days to hike out. Of reaching the trailhead, Zillmer wrote, “We now weighed thirty pounds less. In spite of bushwacking, mosquitoes, rain, mud, and marshes, we are ‘rarin’ to go back to the Cariboos.”

Friday, October 18, 2013

Farewell, Prejudiced NPCA

by Drew Hanson

Areas of the National Park System are outstanding places to enjoy on foot. One organization gets a lot of attention for its efforts on behalf of the National Park Service but this writer’s 17-year experience exposes a prejudice. Following up on Mountain Majesty Bias, below is most of my October 11, 2006 letter to National Parks Conservation Association.

Dear National Parks Conservation Association,

Since 1990 I have been a devoted member of National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA). I have read, usually cover to cover, every edition of National Parks magazine and saved every one of them. Since 1990 my life list of visited units of the National Park System has grown from three to 71.

But your article “The Fourth Coast” is trying my patience and testing my allegiance. Although the article represents a long-overdue treatment by NPCA of Great Lakes and more broadly freshwater issues, NPCA’s bias against the Heartland portion of the United States still shows.

The map that appeared on page 25 was by far most upsetting. It shows Mississippi River and Recreation Area and St. Croix National Scenic River even though both are entirely outside the Great Lakes watershed, places the label for the North Country National Scenic Trail a hundred miles out of place and omits the Ice Age National Scenic Trail entirely. The Ice Age National Scenic Trail is partly within the Great Lakes watershed, the St. Croix and Mississippi parks are not.

A dozen times over these 16+ years I have written letters or emails to NPCA describing one facet or another of the national park in my backyard, the Ice Age National Scenic Trail, but not once has NPCA mentioned the Ice Age Trail (IAT) in National Parks. Here was your chance to provide some glimmer of hope for the thousands of IAT volunteers (whose VIP hours total rank in the top ten of the entire National Park System each of the past several years) that NPCA is on our side. Here was your chance to show that you pay attention to your members. But you blew this chance to provide even token recognition.

The sting inflicted by your latest anti-Heartland bias might have been less severe had you not labeled the North Country Trail (NCT) at all because the IAT and NCT are both “non-units” of the National Park System. I am perplexed as to why instead of labeling both or neither you would choose to label only one. Both the IAT and NCT are great trails and could be great units of the National Park System if treated reasonably.

Why has NPCA been so insulting to those of us who labor on this non-traditional park, who pour our hearts into the Ice Age National Scenic Trail?

Given NPCA’s record of taking my money but ignoring my pleas, I cannot help but note that my NPCA membership is set to expire 6/30/07. That gives NPCA eight more months to say something constructive about the Ice Age National Scenic Trail in National Parks magazine. Anything short of that will lead to a very disappointed member redirecting his annual donation to some other deserving cause.

Best regards…

I never received a response from NPCA. So as promised, my membership with them ended on June 30, 2007. The 17-year stack of National Parks magazines went into the recycling bin. No sweat. My life list of National Park Service areas continues to grow without NPCA—the most recent addition being Keweenaw National Historical Park.

You don’t need to support NPCA to learn about and support the conservation of national park areas. If you want to support an organization that does fantastic conservation work in the Heartland region of the country, give to the Ice Age Trail Alliance. If you want to support an effective national or international conservation organization, I recommend The Nature Conservancy or The Conservation Fund. If you enjoy reading news about the National Park Service, a great website and list serve is National Parks Traveler, which runs balanced and informed stories about places in the Heartland and beyond.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Conserving our Legacy of Forests

by Drew Hanson
A version of this article appeared a decade ago as the cover story of Mammoth Tales.

Forest areas in north central Wisconsin were permanently protected from development in 2002 under a landmark easement. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) and the landowner, Tomahawk Timberlands, led the effort to protect 35,000 acres of working forest. The conserved areas are in several large blocks.

The State’s easement with Tomahawk Timberlands ensures the following in perpetuity:
·         the land cannot be subdivided into smaller parcels;
·         development of buildings is not allowed;
·         public hunting, fishing, and hiking are allowed;
·         sustainable timber harvest can continue.

Preventing the subdivision and development of these 35,000 acres means that road densities will remain low and a more natural setting remains for critters to thrive and pedestrians to explore.

One of the bigger blocks protected by the easement is along the Ice Age Trail in western Lincoln County. A separate 1999 easement protected only a narrow strip for almost five miles of Ice Age Trail through this property. The 2002 easement, known as a forest legacy easement, adds another level of protection to a much larger area around the Trail.

Almost 70% of forests in Wisconsin are privately owned. During the past couple of decades, our forests have been increasingly subdivided into smaller parcels and developed. At the same time, some companies that own forestland are being bought out by interests that do not necessarily share our love of and livelihood from Wisconsin’s forests. Should these trends continue into the decades ahead, we could expect vast areas of forests to be subdivided and developed.

The Forest Legacy Program is here to help. A private land conservation program administered by the U.S. Forest Service, the Forest Legacy Program provides financial assistance primarily for the purchase of conservation easements on forested lands. WDNR and private land trusts, such as The Nature Conservancy and the Ozaukee-Washington Land Trust, are leading the implementation of the program in Wisconsin.

The voluntary program leverages private and other public funds to provide Americans with a bigger bang for their conservation buck. In 2001, over 700,000 acres were conserved across the nation using $60 million from the Forest Legacy Program to protect forestlands with a value of $151 million.

Funding for the Forest Legacy Program is provided on a project-by-project basis by Congress.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Hiking and Biking Sometimes Need Separate Trails

by Drew Hanson

A recent solicitation from the International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA) may be helping fill the organization’s coffers but it is creating a stir among their friends in the walking and hiking communities.

Click on the image at right to read the offending ad.

National Scenic Trails are open to everyone. We all share all eleven of them. But no one should be allowed to do whatever they want on them. There are rules to using trails just like there are rules to all sorts of other things in our lives. For one, we're not allowed to walk or pedal a bike on controlled access freeways like most interstate highways. The rules protect safety, preserve civility or leave the shared thing in the same general working order for the next person to use. In some places, rules even protect the high quality of an experience.

Unfortunately some advocates pressing to change trail use like to loosely use the word "share" as though adding more types of uses is somehow altruistic. Such slack talk misuses a word we all learn as kids. How something is shared is key. Challenging are the more subtle things about sharing that require leaving the shared thing in the same condition as we found it. If one child borrows a friend’s bicycle but returns it with torn handle grips, that's not good sharing.

What if I were to argue, why won’t the rest of you just share a museum like the Guggenheim (in New York) by letting me ride my bike inside? Eh-hem. How would such a ride affect the experience of others? Would that be good sharing?

One online mountain bike advocate recently wrote, “If your children said ‘I was here first!’ and wouldn't share with their friends would you let them get away with it?” A response is that we all teach our children how to share. This means following rules regarding how a toy is used, not wrecking shared toys, not harming others, not intimidating others, etc. If my child finds a toy first, she is taught to share it with others as long as everyone is using it by the rules. Some toys, like handmade or antique dolls, may need special rules. If there are too many demands on the toy and the children cannot work it out, I may need to buy more than one of the same toy so they can play separately.

Regarding the need to sometimes separate trail uses, another online advocate quipped, “separate but equal, didn’t we try that before?”—suggesting Brown v. Board of Education somehow relates to trail use. It doesn’t. No person is being discriminated against by trail use rules any more than is the case with use rules for highways or museums. Anyone may use a public trail, highway or museum, as long as they follow the rules, which sometimes prohibit pedestrian use.

Some mountain bike advocates like to cite a study from the organization American Trails about multi-use trails as proof that mountain bikes can be on hiking trails. But, first, American Trails is an organization that is biased toward high impact trail uses. An article about higher impact uses of the Ice Age Trail appeared in Pedestrian View in September, 2012.

Second, in the 1980s-90s on the Ice Age Trail when mtn bikes were gaining popularity on the segment through the Southern Kettle Moraine State Forest, hikers and trail maintainers accepted the added use. But gradually the greater impact of bikes became more and more apparent. The issues were studied, land managers consumed by the problem, a report completed and in the end it was determined that hiking use and biking use needed to be separated. (They chose to make the old segment of the Ice Age Trail part of a new mountain bike trail system while a new roughly parallel hiking trail needed to be created, but that's water under the bridge.)

The resulting report, "Off-Road Bicycle and Hiking Trail User Interactions: A Report to the Wisconsin Natural Resources Board", Alan W. Bjorkman, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources-Bureau of Research, May 24, 1996, 124 pages, was quite thorough. An excerpt from page 1 of the report: "Purpose: In the Spring of 1992, the Wisconsin Natural Resources Board authorized a three-year study to describe social, biological, and physical impacts of off-road mountain bike use. This was in response to mounting evidence of physical impact and social conflict on off-road biking trails. This report is the result of three seasons of natural and social science research." In a nutshell, the report documented and quantified various negative impacts (perceived, physical and user conflict) of having mountain biking and hiking on the same trails.

Where bike use has occurred on a segment of National Scenic Trail since a segment was opened to the public, such as the Sugar River Trail portion of the Ice Age National Scenic Trail, and if it can continue to occur safely and without erosion, it should continue. Also, where a large enough land base exists along a National Scenic Trail and where the natural resources can support new trail systems without harming rare things, separate mtn bike trails should generally be a reasonable option.

I would personally advocate for new off-road bike trails in certain areas along the Ice Age National Scenic Trail that might otherwise become ATV trail systems, housing developments, and more (unless the presence of rare things prohibits any other uses). But advocating for the addition of mtn bikes on the tread of a National Scenic Trail will continually put IMBA at odds with others.

Let's be honest, anyone is free to enjoy any portion of any National Scenic Trail provided we all follow a shared set of rules. Divisive efforts that pressure public officials to change the rules that keep National Scenic Trails safe, civil, sustainable and high-quality are misguided.

Active outdoor recreationists like walkers, hikers, bicyclists and mountain bikers need to work together to preserve more places for silent sports, support full funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, maintain high-quality experiences and respect the fact that separate trail systems are sometimes needed.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Great Hiking Protected Near Rib Lake

Terminal moraine is the prized landform of the Ice Age National Scenic Trail. It makes for great hiking, beautiful scenery and roughly defines the route of the Ice Age Trail. But to hike the entire Ice Age Trail involves walking only about 12 miles of terminal moraine.

So the protection of a 156-acre property on the terminal moraine in Taylor County is an especially exciting accomplishment. The Ice Age Trail Alliance announced the news today in a press release. The purchase will permanently protect the route of the Ice Age National Scenic Trail through the property--part of a larger effort to create a premier hike between Rib Lake and a vast block of Taylor County Forest. Already known in Ice Age Trail circles for its August Ice Age Days, the Rustic Inn and Camp 28, the future looks even greener for Rib Lake!

Kevin Thusius, the Alliance's Director of Land Conservation, stated, "We feel very lucky to be able to protect this property so generations of Ice Age Trail users can enjoy it." The property also features an old growth stand of oak and pine.
A Grand-Pappy on the Property

The Alliance is planning to relocate the existing route of the Trail through the property. It currently runs on a wide gravel woods road but will be redesigned into a more natural footpath that allows pedestrians to enjoy the outstanding geologic features under the canopy of mature woods. A public parking lot along State Highway 102 is also planned to provide better public access to the Trail.

The property was purchased by the Alliance within the seller’s timeline with financing from The Conservation Fund’s Land Conservation Loan Program. The Alliance is seeking funds from the state’s Knowles-Nelson Stewardship program and the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund to finance the purchase and repay the loan.

"Recognizing a serious threat to the natural viewshed enjoyed by hikers on the Ice Age Trail, the Alliance swiftly developed a conservation strategy to save the historical landscape." said Reggie Hall, Director of the Fund’s LCLP. "We’re honored to provide quick financial assistance to the Alliance for this effort to preserve and enhance access to significant geographic features along the beloved scenic trail."

The Ice Age Trail Alliance is a nonprofit volunteer- and member-based organization established in 1958 that works to build, maintain and promote the Ice Age National Scenic Trail. One of only 11 National Scenic Trails, the Ice Age Trail is a thousand-mile footpath that highlights Wisconsin's world-renowned Ice Age heritage and natural resources. Visit www.iceagetrail.org to learn more.

The Conservation Fund is a top-ranked, national nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting America’s favorite places before they become just a memory. A hallmark of the Fund’s work is the deep, unwavering understanding that for conservation solutions to last, they need to make economic sense. Through its Land Conservation Loan Program, the Fund provides bridge financing and real estate expertise to help land trusts conserve historic farms, natural areas, favorite community parks and more. Learn more at www.conservationfund.org.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Ray Zillmer Retraces an Ancient Trail through British Columbia

by Drew Hanson

Most people know of Ray Zillmer as the father of the Ice Age Trail and founder of the Ice Age Trail Alliance. Fewer know that he was a prominent Milwaukee attorney, leader of the Izaak Walton League and instrumental in the State’s purchase of lands for the Kettle Moraine State Forest. In this article, we see another side of this amazing person: as an accomplished backpacker, mountaineer and outdoorsman.

After reading the diary of the explorer Alexander Mackenzie, Ray Zillmer later wrote, “There was always with me the thought that I must take the overland pack trip of Mackenzie.” The 1792-93 journey Mackenzie and his nine comrades took across Canada was the first recorded transcontinental crossing of North America north of Mexico—twelve years prior to Lewis and Clark’s voyage of discovery.

The area of Mackenzie’s travels that most captured Zillmer’s imagination was in the mountains of western Canada. Since there were no guidebooks of the route and not even large scale topographic maps of the area, Zillmer wrote letters to all who might have useful information to help him plan a trip through the still wild country. He found scant reliable news. The manager of a remote lodge near Bella Coola wrote, “This is an extremely arduous trip, the trails are not well defined and the country only very thinly populated by Indians.”

At roughly 250 miles, the route crossed the Telegraph Range, Nechako Plateau, Coast Mountains and parts of present-day Tweedsmuir and Kluskoil Lake provincial parks. No one since Mackenzie had duplicated his route.

Ray Zillmer
During the 1930s-40s, Ray Zillmer built an impressive mountaineering resume in British Columbia. He joined the Canadian Alpine Club in 1931 and solo hiked around the Drummond and St. Bride glaciers in 1933. In 1937, he and a Swiss alpinist set-up a temporary base camp for 30 climbers on the snow-slopes of Mt. Collie at 9500 feet. For 1938, he made it his mission to retrace the footsteps of Mackenzie on an ancient trail between the Fraser and Bella Coola rivers.

Lorin Tiefenthaler
Accompanying Zillmer would be a young Lorin Tiefenthaler, also of Milwaukee. Zillmer described him as, “more than six feet in height, over two hundred pounds in weight, strong, healthy, considerably younger than I, and a splendid companion. He had never been in the western mountains before and was without any experience in backpacking, but he learned quickly.”

Zillmer’s description of their journey was published in the 1938 Canadian Alpine Journal—the primary source for this article.

The two men set out from Prince George, British Columbia on June 28, 1938. One of Zillmer’s “greatest concerns was to locate the Mackenzie trail where it left the Fraser”. After some searching, they found, “a faint trail. It was 4.30 p.m., we were not in condition, our packs were at their heaviest, and the way to the plateau above was very steep, and, just as Mackenzie did, we found the next hour the hardest on our trip. Hereafter we were to have many experiences such as Mackenzie related in his diary.”
Ray Zillmer's hand-drawn map of his 1938 trek
Chief among the similarities was the scarcity of water. While they could sometimes see lakes and rivers in the distance, they found little water to drink during their first few days. The first night they found only “a small, stagnant, shallow pool among the trees. It was full of debris, mosquito larvae, and tasted of decaying vegetable matter. I strained it through a clean cloth and drank it. Lorin could not bring himself to drinking it. We had only soup and apricots. We expected to be sick that night from the water. However, we slept well, and the next morning we enjoyed a meal cooked with this water.”

There were important differences between the Zillmer and Mackenzie expeditions as well. “Whereas Mackenzie travelled with Indians most of the time, met them almost every day, and learned the route from them. We saw no Indians until the twelfth day, and no whites on the entire trip.”

Another difference was the forest. During Mackenzie’s time, the route was well established by trading between interior and coastal people. But Zillmer found, “there was much more timber than in the time of Mackenzie, so that we had almost no open views. This made the task of following the route more difficult.”

Near their crossing of the Euchiniko River, for instance, they faced several confusing route options. Hours later it turned out they chose the wrong option. Zillmer recounted, “For less than a day we had been off his trail, but now we were on it again.”

They carried no gun but Zillmer did have a fishing pole. On their second evening of fishing for their supper Zillmer wrote, “With a casting rod of which the top section was missing, and a small bass plug, I fished three pools adjoining fast water. Approximately twenty casts netted fifteen bites and ten rainbows weighing about two pounds each. On one cast I caught two fish on the two hooks of the plug. I never fished after that for it was too easy, and besides, we did not have time for it.”

Along the way there was a lupine-rich alpine meadow, traversing a one-foot ledge across a cliff, views of snow-capped peaks, part of a day negotiating three canyons, several waterfalls and other trials great and small.

Of the final days of the trek, Zillmer wrote of the downward descent, “our toes were constantly pressed against the front of our shoes. As a consequence, both of us lost the nails of our big toes. Our feet were badly swollen and blistered. Lorin lost thirty-two pounds and I fourteen. However, we had not experienced cold weather as we had expected from Mackenzie’s account.”

On their 16th day, they reached Bella Coola where they recuperated for a week. Taking special comfort from a rustic Tweedsmuir Lodge, Zillmer wrote, “Our clothes were rags, so we wore clothes kindly loaned us until we were again completely outfitted a few days later. I have always wanted English flannels and here in this outpost I got them, and they were altered to fit me by a daughter of a pioneer settler of the valley, a settler who had come from Wisconsin, my own state.”

Saturday, April 6, 2013

From Bowling Pins to Land Conservation

by Drew Hanson

As a boy, I heard an old story about a maple woods that had been in the family. The woods were handed down from one generation to the next and then all the grandest old trees were cut down. The story ended with how the maple trees were turned into, of all things, bowling pins.

The story stuck with me and in my mind the woods eventually took on an enchanting quality.

I grew up in rural Marinette County, where my dad’s family has been for generations. The land where my parents built a home when I was one year old was originally part of the Keller farm—my great-great grandparents. A nearby road was named for them. Other family lines, like the Jaegers, Meyers and Hansens, also had farmsteads nearby.

Going through the Marinette public schools, quite a few other kids were what my grandparents called shirt-tail relation. So when I left college at UW-Marinette to attend UW-Madison, I joked that I needed to leave town so I wouldn’t accidentally marry a cousin.

Years later I was searching microfiche for old family stories in newspapers at the State Historical Society Library in Madison. There I found a story from 1896 of my great-great grandfather Jaeger who was delivering milk when the horse pulling the wagon lost all composure at a railroad crossing. Jaeger was thrown to the ground, the wagon badly damaged and the horse injured so severely that it was shot on the spot. Not the sort of thing you see today, eh?!

More satisfying, though, were the small news items that mentioned the place Hansen Maple Grove or just Hansen Grove. It was mentioned as a meeting place for church and school groups to gather for picnics and as the home town in the obituaries for some family members. This was the maple woods of my family lore and judging from the stories, it was a place that must have held special meaning for not only my ancestors but for their neighbors too. It made me proud.

Thrilled, I soon visited. But today it is a different place—nothing enchanting or grand about it. A private home stands in the middle. As a place for family and neighbors to gather, relax and recreate, Hansen Maple Grove is gone. It is the opposite of a ghost town—like a ghost woods. It would be easy to blame the landowner for the loss of that woods but they probably had few options. We should assume they needed the money from the harvest of those big trees. They did what they needed to do and they had every right to do it.

Hansen Maple Grove existed for about a half-century. It was a time, at least in northeast Wisconsin, before public parks and public picnic grounds. In the vastness of rural America of those days, neighbors let neighbors walk through each others’ woods.

Out of my combination of pride and sadness came a motivation to be a conservationist, to do my small part to help other places like Hansen Maple Grove be around for hundreds of years or more. In a world that is changing faster all the time, we need to be conservative about land and water by conserving special places for generations to come.

When my ancestors settled Wisconsin a century and a half ago, the state was still dominated by nature. Today it is increasingly dominated by highways, powerlines, subdivisions, mowed lawns and No Trespassing signs. Fortunately, today we have public parks and picnic areas and several options to help create other similar places in order to meet the needs of the growing population.

Two of the more important of these options (sometimes we think of them as tools) are conservation easements and the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program.

A conservation easement is a legal agreement between a landowner and a land trust or government agency that permanently limits uses of the land in order to protect its conservation values. It is the most traditional tool for conserving private land and offers flexibility in crafting the terms. It allows landowners to continue to own and use their land, and they can also sell it or pass it on to heirs. An easement may apply to all or a portion of the property, and need not require public access.

The Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program was created by the Wisconsin Legislature in 1989 to preserve valuable natural places and wildlife habitat, protect water quality and fisheries, and expand opportunities for outdoor recreation. It accomplishes these through the acquisition of land and easements, development of recreational facilities, and restoration of habitat.

If Hansen Maple Grove had existed during this era of conservation easements and the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program, there is no guarantee the landowner would have chosen to conserve their land instead of trading it for bowling pins. But one thing is certain: these tools would have given the landowner options.

If you are a private landowner, options are good things.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Monumental Stepping Stone

by Drew Hanson

Last week President Obama designated five new monuments in the states of New Mexico, Washington, Ohio, Maryland and a first unit of the National Park System in Delaware. The designations will mean protection for land and water resources and historic sites that help tell the story of our country. More pressing in today’s economy, these designations will mean jobs.

According to USA Today, Jamie Tedesco, executive director of the Taos Green Chamber of Commerce, said that the designation in northern New Mexico will be a shot in the arm for the region.

Part of Delaware's new national monument
Tedesco said studies show the national monument designation will bring $15 million into the economy and 277 jobs.

"National monument designation has shown to bring jobs to an area," Tedesco said. "It just raises the spotlight on it. When you put a national monument tag on something, there's all kinds of promotional advertising going on with that."

In designating the new national monuments, the President was invoking the Antiquities Act of 1906. The law gives a president the authority to, by executive order, restrict the use of particular federal government land or accept donation of lands for that purpose. The aim is to prohibit excavation or destruction of antiquities. With this law, protection can occur more quickly than waiting for Congress to act.

Sixteen presidents have used the Antiquities Act to protect 125 places but none are in Wisconsin. Almost, though—the Badger State was once in line to have a national monument.

A 1961 National Park Service (NPS) report recommended that the Northern Kettle Moraine be elevated from a state forest to a national monument and unit of the National Park System. To date, nothing has come of the recommendation and it remains unlikely that the State of Wisconsin will turn over the Northern unit of the Kettle Moraine State Forest to the federal government.

So consider another possibility.

There is an area along the Ice Age Trail that could be a national showcase for illustrating the difference between lands impacted by continental glaciers versus lands that show no signs of ever being glaciated. In 1961, NPS geologist Robert Rose wrote of this area, “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, 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 … immediately 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.”

Rose was adding to the body of work that extends at least as far back as Thomas Chamberlin and Rollin Salisbury’s seminal work Driftless Area of the Upper Mississippi Valley, published in 1885 by the United States Geological Survey.

Rocks not of the Driftless Area
While a geologist can readily distinguish the difference between the two major physiographic regions—glaciated and unglaciated—the rest of us generally need to look a little more closely. The unglaciated landscape of most of the Driftless Area contains only a couple types of rocks—sandstone and dolomite. But the adjacent glaciated landscape contains a geologic potpourri of rock types that were carried by vast continental ice sheets. By seeing the distinct rocks up close the difference becomes obvious. Even children can grasp the contrast in the rocks during an easy walk between the two landscapes. It’s fun to experience. But past farming and more recent public rock collecting is erasing the evidence.

The President could designate this area as Driftless Border National Monument, a unit of the National Park System, beginning with lands already owned by the federal government.

Base map from Lee Clayton and John W. Attig, 1997
The United States Department of the Interior owns two parcels totaling about 300 acres on the Driftless Border in the Town of Cross Plains. Together the parcels could form the basis for a new unit of the National Park System. The focus then becomes leveraging the designation into greater action on the part of Congress and NPS for the Ice Age Trail. After all, the real goal is eliminating gaps in the Ice Age Trail.

Some national monument designations become a step in the conservation path of a place. Historically, Presidential designations of national monuments have sometimes forced the hand of Congress to finally take action. Such was the case when President Theodore Roosevelt designated Grand Canyon National Monument in 1908 and President Carter designated 15 national monuments in 1978—both actions led Congress to enact legislation creating new national parks from the national monuments. Another example is President Calvin Coolidge’s 1925 designation of Meriwether Lewis National Monument which later became part of the Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail.

Creating the Driftless Border National Monument would help protect the nationally-significant antiquities of the site, increase tourism dollars and jobs for Wisconsin and, if shepherded strategically, push Congress and NPS to eliminate gaps in the Ice Age Trail.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Shenandoah and Kettle Moraine Diverge

by Drew Hanson

Envisioned to be roughly the same length and shape and created at almost the same time, Shenandoah National Park and the Kettle Moraine State Forest have different conservation legacies. Why?
Shenandoah National Park

Shenandoah National Park encompasses part of the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. The National Park Service owns a continuous corridor of land for the park, stretched along a long and narrow ribbon of ridges. See a map of the park here. Significant to the question of this article, it includes a 101-mile segment of the Appalachian Trail.

Shenandoah was authorized by Congress in 1926 and fully established on December 26, 1935. Prior to being a park, much of the area was farmland. The State of Virginia acquired the land through eminent domain and then gave it to the Federal Government provided it would be designated a National Park.

Most of the people displaced for the park left their homes quietly. According to the Virginia Historical Society, eighty-five-year-old Hezekiah Lam explained, "I ain't so crazy about leavin' these hills but I never believed in bein' ag'in (against) the Government. I signed everythin' they asked me." (Source: Wikipedia) The lost communities and homes were a price paid for one of the jewels of our National Park System.
Northern Kettle Moraine State Forest

Near the end of the most recent Ice Age, a 100-mile long series of morainal ridges formed between two immense lobes of glacial ice in what is now southeast Wisconsin. Nineteenth century geologists named the belt the Kettle Moraine. Due to its rocky soils and steep slopes, the Kettle Moraine turned out to be ill-suited for farming. With flooding downstream becoming a problem, the Izaak Walton League purchased the first 800 acres in the Kettle Moraine in 1926. Eight years later the State Planning Board recommended the entire scenic belt of glacial ridges be purchased for a public conservation and recreation area. The Kettle Moraine State Forest was established in 1937 albeit in two separate, North and South purchase units.

Conservation leaders like Ray Zillmer kept up the drum beat of pressure to acquire the connecting corridor between the North and South units of the State Forest. In 1942, the Milwaukee Chapter of the Izaak Walton League adopted the report, “The Wisconsin Glacial Moraines”. A couple years later, the Wisconsin Division of the Izaak Walton League adopted a similar resolution.

In a July 1, 1948 letter to Oscar Rennebohm, Acting Governor of Wisconsin, Ray Zillmer introduced himself and the Kettle Moraine State Forest: “I have given a great deal of my time to the Kettle Moraine project. I have given 34 addresses to over 2,000 people, and I know how the people feel about it. I would like you to give consideration to extending the purchase area so that the northern and southern areas are connected to form a line 100 miles long. As far as the State of Wisconsin is concerned, this will be one of your most important acts. I consider my own efforts in the promotion of this project the most important contribution in my life.”

After receiving a response from the Acting Governor, two weeks later Zillmer replied: “Your letter shows that you have a very good knowledge of the Kettle Moraine project. Personally, I believe it will perform a greater service to the people of Wisconsin than any other projects which are more expensive. The war demonstrated that so many of our young men are not physically fit. We need more outdoor projects where we can retain health by normal exercise of the body. I believe it is urgent to extend the Kettle Moraine area at the very earliest opportunity. It will make possible the purchase of many tracts not now available. The connection of isolated tracts with larger areas will gradually take form.”

In spite of these and many other calls for the protection of the Kettle Moraine corridor, there were set-backs. Zillmer addressed one loss in a December 28, 1948 letter to Ernest Swift, Director of the Wisconsin Conservation Department. Regarding a Mr. Froedert, who sold his property to a developer for twice what the State was offering to include the property in the Kettle Moraine State Forest, Zillmer wrote, “I want you to know that I was utterly disgusted with Mr. Froedert; perhaps more sorry for him than anything else, because he has, in his struggle for wealth, lost all social values”. Lamenting the loss of enchanting Blue Spring on the property, he wrote, “In its original form, the Palmyra Blue Spring, was known in southeastern Wisconsin as one of the most unusual, natural phenomenon. It was a very active pool of a beautiful blue color and so active as to simulate the pools in Yellowstone National Park. It was a place which, in its original condition, could have been developed into a pilgrimage spot for nature lovers. This has been spoilt by the damming of the waters.”

Ten years later, Zillmer founded the Ice Age Park and Trail Foundation (later re-named Ice Age Trail Alliance) to promote and assist in the creation of an Ice Age National Park.

Another fifty years later, there remains no 100-mile segments of the Ice Age Trail (none are even half that long) and the Kettle Moraine State Forest never became a continuous corridor of public land like Shenandoah National Park.

What happened? Why did the 100-mile continuous corridor of public land for Shenandoah National Park achieve success but the Kettle Moraine State Forest (and Ice Age Trail) did not? Did Mountain Majesty Bias have an effect? Is it because eminent domain was used to acquire the land at Shenandoah but in only rare instances for the Kettle Moraine State Forest? A friend said to me, "Maybe Virginians care more about their unique and beautiful landscapes than Wisconsinites?"

What do you think?