Be an Advocate

The Ice Age Trail is a joint effort of public and private partners. On the public side, the Ice Age Trail relies on continual support at all levels of government: municipal, county, state and federal. Please help build this support by writing to your elected officials. Tell them why you think the Ice Age Trail is a benefit to you and your community.

Focusing on a particular hot topic in your letter can be particularly effective. The following current issues threaten the integrity and safekeeping of the Ice Age Trail. If you would like guidelines for contacting a legislator on one of these topics, please call us at 800-227-0046 or email For names and contact information for your legislators, visit the Wisconsin State Legislature's website.

To receive updates on legislative issues and hot topics affecting the Ice Age Trail, sign up for IATA eNews by emailing us at

Land and Water Conservation Fund

Land acquisition funding for permanently protecting the Ice Age Trail has come from a variety of sources over the last 20 years. Chief among them are the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program, the Dane County Conservation Fund Grant Program and private donations to the Ice Age Trail Alliance. Since 1999, federal funding for acquiring permanent Ice Age Trail rights has been available through the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF).

The Land and Water Conservation Fund has been a cornerstone of conservation and recreation for more than 30 years. Federal and state land managers use the fund to buy land to preserve wilderness, create urban parks, protect trails and address a host of other conservation and recreation needs. The LWCF was established by Congress in 1964 and authorized at $900 million annually, a level that has only been met twice in the program’s history. Funded by offshore oil and gas leases, LWCF appropriations have been erratic at best since the early 1980s. Over the past decade, the majority of LWCF funds have been diverted to programs totally unrelated to conservation and recreation - as much as 85% has been used for other programs.

In recent nationwide surveys, American voters expressed clear and unequivocal support for funding land, water, wildlife and natural resource conservation. Fully 80% of voters across the country favor setting up a permanent land and water conservation trust fund, with the money coming from offshore oil and gas drilling revenues.

The LWCF program is critical to the future protection of the Ice Age Trail and the thousands of acres of forests, prairies, wetlands and other important wildlife habitat along its route. If you live in Wisconsin, please take a moment to thank members of the Wisconsin Congressional delegation who have supported LWCF appropriations for the Ice Age Trail and request that they support future appropriations.

Safe Highway Crossings

Imagine a family enjoying a segment of the Ice Age Trail. Partly into their walk, a four-lane highway with no bridge or underpass bisects the Trail. Is it safe for this family to try to dash across four lanes of busy traffic? Is this an appropriate situation for one of the eleven National Scenic Trails designated by Congress and the President?

These "at grade crossings" on busy highways present unpleasant and unsafe barriers to everyone's use and enjoyment of the Ice Age Trail.

When a highway that crosses the Ice Age Trail is expanded, a "grade separated crossing" is often the best solution. According to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) Facilities Development Manual, Chapter 11, Section 55, Subject 15, "To be considered for a grade separation, the minimum highway Average Daily Traffic (ADT) is recommended to be 3500 or greater." Nearly all highways with planned expansion projects along the Ice Age Trail meet this ADT minimum.

The Ice Age Trail was also designated a State Scenic Trail by the Legislature and Governor and funding for "grade separated crossings" is provided to states as federal "transportation enhancements" to cover the costs of building safe crossings for the Ice Age Trail that are needed when highways are expanded.

What can you do to help make the Ice Age Trail safer? Here's a list of planned highway expansion projects that will impact the Ice Age Trail. If you live near or hike these areas, please consider attending WisDOT's public meetings and providing your comments to WisDOT to help keep the Ice Age Trail a safe place to walk:

  • US Hwy 12 in the state forest east of Whitewater
  • US Hwy 18 west of Wales
  • Hwy 26 on north side of Janesville
  • Hwy 83 at Naga-Waukee County Park
  • US Hwy 10 at Foley Road east of Amherst
  • US Hwy 45 near Summit Lake
  • US Hwy 14 at or near Cross Plains
  • Hwy 13 north of Chelsea
  • US Hwy 63 near Barronett
  • US Hwy 12 near Baraboo
  • Hwy 48 at Straight River east of Luck
  • Hwy 21 at Mecan River west of Wautoma

Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program: Speak Out for Trailway Protection!

The Ice Age Trail needs your help. Support the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program.

The Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program is critical for permanent protection of the Ice Age Trail. Since 1990, 85 miles of the Trail have been permanently protected, and 71 of those miles protected with at least some assistance from the Stewardship Program.

Funds used to match Stewardship Program funding along the Ice Age Trail have come from various private, local government and federal government sources. One notable source of matching funding has been appropriations from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), administered by the National Park Service. Since 2000, more than $10 million from the federal side of LWCF has been used to match funding from the Stewardship Program.

Please contact your State Assemblyperson and State Senator using these four simple steps:

1. Determine which state legislators to contact. You can get the names and contact information for your state legislators from the Wisconsin State Legislature's website.

2. Contact your legislator. Send a letter to the State Assemblyperson and State Senator in whose district you reside. An email is less effective, but still worthwhile.

3. Craft your message to include these four components:

  • A short statement about why you care about the Ice Age Trail. This could be a short statement about a place along the Ice Age Trail that is special to you.
  • State that you support the Stewardship Program.
  • Thank him/her for taking the time to read and consider your comments.
  • Include your name and mailing address.

4. Notify the Ice Age Trail Alliance of your legislative contacts. Let us know about your contacts by emailing Kevin Thusius, IATA Director of Land Conservation (800-227-0046, If you have any questions, please contact Kevin for assistance.

Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program: Background

The Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program was created in 1989 to preserve valuable natural areas and wildlife habitat, protect water quality and fisheries, and expand outdoor recreation in Wisconsin.

The Stewardship Program is named for two of Wisconsin's most revered conservation leaders, Governor Warren Knowles and Senator and Governor Gaylord Nelson - men who helped shape the Ice Age Trail.

While governor, Warren Knowles expanded a precursor to the Stewardship Program known as the Outdoor Recreation Areas Program (ORAP) and worked to consolidate various programs to form the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. He served on the Ice Age Trail Alliance (then the Ice Age Park & Trail Foundation) board of directors from 1985 to 1993.

While a U.S. senator, Gaylord Nelson led the efforts to pass the National Trails System Act and the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. Both became law in 1968. He co-sponsored the 1980 legislation that made the Ice Age Trail one of the eleven National Scenic Trails. In 2002, he formally dedicated the western terminus of the Ice Age Trail at Interstate State Park in St. Croix Falls.

Gaylord Nelson also championed the federal designation of the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway. Two properties overlooking the Riverway, and visible from canoe on the river, were purchased by the Ice Age Trail Alliance (then the Ice Age Park & Trail Foundation) with assistance from the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program. Both properties form the nucleus for a new city park called Ray Zillmer Park. The Ice Age Trail across these properties is helping to bolster St. Croix Falls' goal to become the "City of Trails."

Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program: Examples of Land Protected

Between 1986 and 2009, various government and non-profit land trust partners have completed 184 land transactions to permanently protect almost 16,000 acres along and for the Ice Age Trail. This amounts to 93 miles of the Ice Age Trail permanently protected for public enjoyment; 71 of these Ice Age Trail miles would not have been secured for the public without the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program.

The groups that have utilized the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program to acquire land along the Ice Age Trail include the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Ice Age Trail Alliance, Cedar Lakes Conservation Foundation, Riverland Conservancy, West Wisconsin Land Trust, and Natural Heritage Land Trust.

Individual properties along the Ice Age Trail that have been permanently protected, thanks at least in part to the Stewardship Program, include the following:

  • Polk County: Three purchases covering five parcels along the Straight River were made by the Ice Age Trail Alliance in the mid-1990s. These acquisitions opened a new segment of the Ice Age Trail to the public, protected significant river and wetland habitat and helped to draw conservation attention to this remarkable area. More recently, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources acquired more than 3,000 acres around Straight Lake to create a new state park and protect a new 5-mile segment of the Ice Age Trail.
  • Dane County: In 1992, the Ice Age Trail Alliance protected an 81-acre property at the edge of the Driftless Area in Dane County. Known as Valley View Preserve, the property has seen extensive oak savanna and prairie restoration, interpretation and trail-building efforts by local volunteers. Over two miles of public footpaths, including over a quarter-mile section of the Ice Age Trail and more than 25 interpretive panels, provide a popular trail network.
  • Dane County: Although the Swamplovers property harbors important wetland resources, its most significant natural resource might be considered its prairie. At 433 acres, it is the largest property ever protected by IATA and is adjacent to a 73-acre property that IATA purchased in 1992. Neither property could have been protected without assistance from the Stewardship Program. The Table Bluff Segment of the Ice Age Trail crosses both properties.
  • Marathon County: Several properties have been protected by the IATA that are adjacent to and downstream of Marathon County’s Dells of the Eau Claire County Park and State Natural Area. Nearby, two large "industrial forest" properties have been recently protected for the Ice Age Trail and surrounding forest resources. Most of these acquisitions would not have been possible without matching grants from the Stewardship Program.
  • Walworth County: Three properties totaling 100 acres at the Clover Valley State Wildlife Area were purchased to protect a new segment of the Ice Age Trail and provide public hunting opportunities in densely populated southeast Wisconsin.
  • Washington County: Three properties at Polk Kames in the rapidly developing Mid Kettle Moraine of eastern Wisconsin were purchased by Cedar Lakes Conservation Foundation (CLCF). All have been transferred to DNR and are home to a new segment of the Ice Age Trail.
  • Washinton County: Two properties in the City of West Bend's Glacial Blue Hills Recreation Area were purchased by the Ice Age Trail Alliance in the late 1990s with matching funds from the Stewardship Program. The trails through these properties, including a half-mile of the Ice Age Trail, are heavily used by neighborhood residents and statewide Ice Age Trail enthusiasts alike.
  • Washinton County: Three properties north of the popular Holy Hill area were purchased using Stewardship Program funds. The 120-acre parcel adjacent to the Basilica of the National Shrine of Mary Help of Christians at Holy Hill is home to a beautiful new section of the Ice Age Trail. The other two properties will soon eliminate a 2.5-mile road walk.
  • Taylor County: In 2009, the Ice Age Trail Alliance protected a 160-acre property home to a well-managed private forest. The generous landowners donated half the value to match the half secured by Stewardship Program funding. Nearby, one of northern Wisconsin’s best cross-country ski areas gained a permanently protected trailhead when the Ice Age Trail Alliance acquired the 30-acre Rusch Preserve near Rib Lake in 1999. Protected by the purchase was a quarter-mile of the Ice Age Trail. The Stewardship Program provided half the purchase amount for this popular property.
  • Lincoln County: The New Wood State Wildlife Area in a remote area northwest of Merrill more than doubled in size in 1999 with the purchase of over 2000 acres. A new 6-mile segment of the Ice Age Trail was opened across the property that is managed primarily for public hunting.
  • Waushara County: Two properties around the renowned Mecan River headwaters were purchased by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to add protection to the water resources, increase public hunting opportunities, and provide a permanent route for the Ice Age Trail. Recently, several properties have been secured in the Bohn Lake and Greenwood areas for expansion of two Ice Age Trail segements.
  • Waukesha County: In the heart of the Kettle Moraine, Hartland Marsh is an island refuge in a sea of development. The Stewardship Program has helped the IATA protect over 130 acres while the Village of Hartland has acquired additional adjacent properties. Comprised of wetland, prairie, oak savanna, over a mile of the Bark River, a segment of the Ice Age Trail and other connecting trails and boardwalks, Hartland Marsh is an important outdoor classroom for students from nearby schools.

The Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program is helping to protect these and the many other places that best say "Wisconsin".


The growing popularity of all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) gives people another means to enjoy Wisconsin's great outdoors. Many ATV riders have goals similar to Ice Age Trail hikers: to enjoy the scenery and solitude of an excursion through the woods.

Unfortunately, a small percentage of ATV users ride irresponsibly and make it difficult for both responsible ATV users and Ice Age Trail foot travelers to enjoy their outdoor experience. The federal law that established the Ice Age Trail as a National Scenic Trail prohibits ATV use, and Wisconsin administrative code states that the Ice Age Trail is primarily a footpath for pedestrian use. ATV users who illegally ride on the Ice Age Trail create several serious problems:

  • They chew up trails, making mowing and maintenance difficult. ATV ruts can severely damage trails and destabilize hills. Pedestrian bridges are not designed to withstand the weight of ATVs and their riders.
  • They cause concern among private landowners and are a reason why some recreational easements have be denied to the IATA.
  • They create a safety hazard. The DNR recommends that ATV operators wear helmets, face shields, gloves and protective equipment. The hiker who suffers a collision with or spray of gravel from an ATV is exposed to the same risks as an ATV operator, but does not have this protection.
  • They can create excessive noise and dust, which reduce the solitude and beauty of the natural world and change the very character of the Ice Age Trail.

The IATA and the Wisconsin ATV Association are working together to address the problem of irresponsible ATV use. The two organizations have signed a Memorandum of Understanding to help reach our common goal. 

If you spot an ATV user riding on the Ice Age Trail, please take the following steps:

  • Get the registration number and a photo of the ATV if you can.
  • Report the incident to the local law enforcement agency. A cell phone can be very handy in reporting a violation on the spot.
  • Complete and submit a DNR Trail Incident Report.

Additionally, consider asking your state legislative representatives to pass laws that will require that license plates on ATVs be legible and that the ATV tax fund be used to repair ATV damage along paths such as the Ice Age Trail.

Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program: Public Access

Providing public access is central to the effort to complete and maintain the Ice Age Trail. All properties that have been acquired for the Ice Age Trail using Stewardship Program funding include public access.

Primary public uses of Ice Age Trail lands include: hiking, walking, backpacking, fishing, snowshoeing, bird watching, nature appreciation, cross-country skiing and nature study. Other public uses that are accommodated in certain areas include hunting, snowmobiling, and other low impact uses.

Between 1986 and 2006, 75% of all the acreage permanently protected along the Ice Age Trail is open to public hunting.  Private landowners retain all hunting rights on an additional 6% of lands protected through easement agreements for the Ice Age Trail. Therefore, although providing hunting opportunities is not stated in the official vision for the Ice Age Trail, eight out every ten acres of all lands permanently protected along the Ice Age Trail are open to either public hunting or private landowner hunting. The properties that are not open to hunting tend to be either too small to provide legitimate hunting opportunities or are located too close to residential areas to be safely hunted.

The the Ice Age Trail Alliance actively promotes, encourages, and facilitates the public use and enjoyment of properties purchased with Stewardship Program assistance in a number of ways. Recent activities include publishing the Ice Age Trail Atlas, the Ice Age Trail Companion Guide, and a quarterly magazine about the Ice Age Trail, Mammoth Tales. Ongoing activities include constructing, signing, maintaining and restoring native habitat along approximately 600 miles of the Ice Age Trail currently open for the public's use and enjoyment.