After months of uncertainty, the familiar smiles of volunteers returned in a big way as 2021 progressed. Small events at the beginning of the year built toward the return of our large-scale projects. Despite shifting circumstances, trust quickly emerged as the season theme. Trust the plan. Trust Crew Leaders to lead. Trust volunteers to work carefully. Trust the skills, dedication, and passion of everyone who showed up to an event. As a result, we greeted August with a rousing return to near normalcy – hosting almost 100 volunteers and spanning two segments – that added three new miles of Trail in Dane County. A few months later, the ribbon (and cake) was cut on the newly minted Ringle Segment, an achievement worthy of a year filled with smiles.
By the Numbers: 2021 Successes
552 Volunteers Engaged
13,159 Volunteer Hours Logged
8 Bridges Totaling 164 Feet
23 Boardwalks/Puncheons, Totaling 1,813 Feet
1 Timber Wall, Totaling 21 Feet
13 Rock Walls, Totaling 165 Feet
4 Rock Steps
31,944 Feet of Sustainable Tread
6.42 Miles of New Trail
Summary of 2021 Trailbuilding and Land Stewardship Events
Volunteers Transform Slopes of Steenbock Preserve
Gibraltar Rock Segment, Southern Columbia County
Amid a brutal cold snap, chainsaws whirred as sawyers felled cedars. Fires, fueled by logs and brush, warmed swampers who tended them. A five-year collaboration between the Alliance and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is transforming the land comprising Steenbock Preserve. A hardy crew of 29 volunteers donated 361 hours to remove an invasive thicket from the Preserve’s western slopes. This stewardship work will help heal and increase the biodiversity of nearly three acres of prairie.
Volunteers Upgrade Structures on Waterville Segment
April 21 – 23
Waterville Segment, Waukesha County
This project was the first of two trailbuilding events geared toward improving and upgrading the Waterville Segment. Ahead of the project, efforts by the Waukesha/Milwaukee County Chapter generated momentum with pre-built boardwalk frames. Over 3 official days (and 1 unofficial), 31 volunteers donated 615 hours to build 4 structures totaling 450 feet. The on-site crews, composed predominately of chapter members, maintained the pace with their skillful construction.
Ready, Set, Plant!
April 30 – May 2
Brownrigg-Heier Preserve, Manitowoc County
A perfectly timed restoration effort (National Arbor Day) on the Alliance-owned Brownrigg-Heier Preserve, brought 60 volunteers together to plant 5,500 young trees. Over 3 days and 730 hours, this project helped convert a portion (25%) of a pine plantation established in the 1950s to a more natural and sustainable forest. The newly planted trees are hardwood species estimated to have increased adaptive capacity to changing climate. They include white oak, bur oak, black cherry, and sugar maple.
Highlighting the Blue Hills’ Glacial Beauty
May 1 – 4
Blue Hills, Rusk County
Seeking a scenic and geologically significant route for the Ice Age Trail through the Blue Hills, this trail layout event built on a previous expedition. Over 4 days, 19 volunteers methodically explored more than 6 square miles of remote Rusk County. After training, small groups of three or four traversed the woods looking for buildable and sustainable route options. The ultimate goal: a 17-mile path connecting impressive formations that also avoids wetlands and logging interactions, where ever possible.
A One-Mile Section Becomes a Jewel
May 18 – 20
Montrose Segment, Dane County
With eyes firmly fixed on an improved hiker experience, the Dane County Chapter worked to make the one-mile section between Piller Road and the Badger State Trail something special. Long before the sawdust-filled days preassembling frames and cutting deck boards, the Chapter diligently removed invasive species and reseeded a former prairie. Despite rainy weather, 20 volunteers constructed 311 feet of boardwalk and a 12-foot bridge, contributing 351 hours. These structures offer easier passage for hikers across standing water and notoriously muddy conditions.
New Bridge Spans Sailor Creek!
July 7 – 10
Jerry Lake Segment, Taylor County
The U.S. Forest Service and the Alliance teamed up to replace an at-the-end-of-its-lifespan bridge along a popular Northwoods stretch of Ice Age Trail. Perfect weather, minimal bugs, and a fantastic crew, made for quick work as the bridge over Sailor Creek rose from the mud like a lotus. Squelching boots through muck accompanied the din of hammers, saws, and drills, as 20 volunteers came together to complete the 178-foot Forest Service structure, in 3 days and 500 hours.
Three New Miles of Trail
July 28 – August 1
Valley View and Cross Plains Segments, Dane County
Despite sweltering heat and violent weather, two new Ice Age Trail sections opened after a five-day trailbuilding event. The efforts of 86 volunteers, donating 1,852 hours, created a new 1.1-mile path through Alliance-owned Mammoth’s Back Preserve including a 147-foot boardwalk. Gaps closed along the Valley View Segment created 1.6-mile road walk reprieve. And, experts from across the state built a 400-foot boardwalk across this segment’s suburban swamp. Outdoor enthusiasts living in Cross Plains and Verona (and beyond) benefit from three more miles of Trail.
Almost Reality: The Reimagined Ringle Segment
August 25 – 29
Ringle Segment, Marathon County
The less-than-stellar weather coupled with a record mosquito hatch attempted to slow down dedicated volunteer crews. Over 4.5 days and through rain, mud, and clouds of bug spray, 78 volunteers contributed 1,972 hours to open a beautiful new half-mile section of Trail. Volunteers cut and hauled lumber, built bridges, constructed rock walls, painted blazes, crafted tread and slung rotten granite through the air via a highline to more easily – and safely – create a hardened walking surface through a moss-covered boulder field.
New Section of Trail Replaces Busy Road Walk
September 15 – 19
Waterville Segment, Waukesha County
2020 reawakened a love of the outdoors in many Wisconsinites. The ‘Close the Waterville Gap’ campaign perfectly distilled this excitement. The appeal launched July 2020, and in an astonishing show of grassroots philanthropy, the project was funded and land purchased by September 2020. Now, a year later, new Trail opened as 97 volunteers donated 1,900 hours and blasted through invasive species, created a delightful sittin’ circle under a young oak, and cut tread to move the Trail onto newly purchased easements.
The Reimagined Ringle Segment is Complete
October 5 – 10
Ringle Segment, Marathon County
104 volunteers donated 2,718 hours to bring the final trailbuilding event of this epic project across the finish line. It took 5 years, 11 events, 1,161 volunteers, and 26,650 hours before champagne corks popped and volunteers raised a glass. Saying thank you feels insufficient compared to the accomplishment’s scale: opening the seven-mile section of the reimaginged Ringle Segment. Hewn from rocky ground, every hour volunteers invested in this multi-year project forged a world-class section of the Ice Age National Scenic Trail.
Wildcard: Three Segments Receive Upgrades!
October 21 – 23
Hartland Segment, Waukesha County
Lowe Lake Segment, Washington County
Holy Hill Segment, Washington County
At the confluence of great weather and great volunteers is a great project. Or, in this case, three projects on three segments. Over 4 days, 66 volunteers donated 2,200 hours constructing 2 boardwalks, totaling 377 feet. One is on the Lowe Lake Segment and another along the Hartland Segment in the Alliance-owned Hartland Marsh. A crew also built a half-mile loop trail in the Alliance-owned Emerald Preserve which supports a parking lot and is a trailhead for the Holy Hill Segment. This segment now sports a single-frame, mini-boardwalk.
Prairie Weeding Series at SwampLovers’ Preserve
July 19, August 11, and September 8
Table Bluff Segment, Dane County
A Wednesday stewardship series, Weeding & Wine, premiered in 2021. The long summer evenings offered the after-work crowd a chance to stretch their legs, meet new friends (and sip wine!), and help maintain biodiversity in an Alliance-owned preserve. A total of 40 volunteers contributed 142 hours pulling thousands of plants – translating to the removal of millions of weed seeds – from SwampLovers’ prairie and savannah. This labor of love protects these ecosystems from invading non-native species. During September’s event, volunteers also collected native prairie seed. Purple Prairie Clover, Pale Purple Coneflower, and Rosinweed will be planted next spring at SwampLovers’ Preserve and other nature preserves throughout Dane County, increasing biodiversity and pollinator habitat.
Thank you to our 2021 Trailbuilding and Land Stewardship Partners and Sponsors!
Fox Cities Backpackers Meetup Group
High Point Chapter (Taylor County)
Preserve at Hunters Lake Homeowners Association
Washington/Ozaukee County Chapter
Columbia County Department of Transportation
Department of Natural Resources: Wisconsin Forest Landowner Grant Program
Friends and Family of Spencer Hicks
Marathon County Solid Waste Department
New Glarus Brewing Company’s Only in Wisconsin Giving, Inc. Charitable Foundation
Prairie Springs: The Paul Fleckenstein Trust
Thank you for joining us for the 2021 Trailbuilding and Land Stewardship Season!