Trail Steward of the Year Award: Gail Piotrowski

By Bill Polacheck, volunteer writer for the Ice Age Trail Alliance
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Gail Piotrowski affixes a temporary blaze to help mark a newly opened section of Trail. Photo by Rachel Roberts.

While we feel like explorers as we hike the Ice Age Trail National Scenic Trail, it is important to remember the people whose footsteps we follow. The dedicated and inspiring volunteers of the Ice Age Trail Alliance make the Ice Age Trail the national gem that it is. Each year, we recognize our most esteemed volunteers. One award, the Trail Steward of the Year, recognizes volunteers for their outstanding contributions to trail management and development.

Bill Polacheck spoke with this year’s winner, Gail Piotrowski. Gail is a Co-Coordinator for the Central Moraines Chapter.

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Passage of ‘Great American Outdoors Act’ Bolsters the Alliance

Ice Age Trail Alliance, Ice Age National Scenic Trail, Table Bluff Segment, Rudbeckia, Black-eyed Susasn, Bloom, Summer
Black-eyed Susans in full bloom along the Table Bluff Segment of the Ice Age National Scenic Trail. The Land and Water Conservation Fund contributes to native prairie restoration projects, such as the prairie pictured above. Photo by Gary Hegeman.

On Wednesday, June 17, 2020, the United States Senate voted 73-25 to pass the Great American Outdoors Act to permanently and fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) and make a substantial investment in addressing the deferred maintenance backlog on our public lands.

The passage of this bill will help address priority repairs in our national parks and on other public lands by directing up to $9.5 billion over five years to address maintenance needs within the National Park System and other public land agencies. It will also fully and permanently dedicate $900 million per year already being deposited into the LWCF, our nation’s most important conservation program for land, water, and recreation areas for all Americans.

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Critical Connection Complete!

Ice Age Trail Alliance, Ice Age National Scenic Trail, Trail Easement, Mammoth's Back Preserve
Overlooking the land between County Highway P and Mammoth's Back Preserve where two recently acquired trail easements will extend the Ice Age Trail to Mammoth's Back Preserve. Photo by Kevin Thusius.
Just outside of Cross Plains is a newly minted 81 acre preserve with with an iconic shape. The distinct ridge-line on the property is reminiscent of the double-mounded back of a woolly mammoth, which inspired its name: “Mammoth’s Back Preserve.” See Celebrating Mammoth’s Back Preserve!

Mammoth’s Back Preserve was previously unattached to the Cross Plains Segment of the Ice Age National Scenic Trail to its west. However, this past May, the Alliance acquired two trail easements that will eventually connect the southern extent of the Cross Plains Segment to the existing Preserve.

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While Our Volunteers Serve Others, The Trail Gives Back

By Tricia Baker, Volunteer Writer for the Ice Age Trail Alliance
Ice Age Trail Alliance, Ice Age National Scenic Trail, Volunteers, COVID Response
We were curious about the many Ice Age Trail Alliance volunteers who have professions directly serving those who have been affected by COVID-19. While the Safer-At-Home order suspended maintenance along the Ice Age National Scenic Trail until June, our hard-working volunteers certainly didn’t stop working on behalf of others. Whether working directly with COVID-19 patients in an Intensive Care Unit, or working indirectly, by making and delivering meals through the Meals on Wheels program, our Trail volunteers and “frontline” professionals have made us very proud.

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The Rusch Preserve: Where Five Trails Meet

By Bob Rusch, volunteer writer and long-time supporter of the Ice Age National Scenic Trail
Ice Age Trail Alliance, Ice Age National Scenic Trail, Rusch Preserve, Rib Lake Segment, Land Donation, Land Conservation
Bob and Ann Rusch, all smiles after their donation of 120 acres in 2019. Photo by Kevin Thusius.

It all began with an unexpected phone call.

In 1983, a stranger telephoned Bob Rusch on behalf of the Ice Age Park & Trail Foundation (which eventually became the Ice Age Trail Alliance). He said he had heard Bob was an environmentalist and described the Ice Age National Scenic Trail. After several minutes, the caller asked two questions and got quick answers:

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Tending the Trail: Volunteers Lead the Way

By Christi Lee Ehler, Volunteer Writer for the Ice Age Trail Alliance
Ice Age National Scenic Trail, Ice Age Trail Alliance, Reconnect, Mobile Skills Crew events
Volunteers building new trail on the Ringle Segment of the Ice Age Trail near Wausau. Photo by Cameron Gillie.
Ice Age National Scenic Trail users are human — and unfortunately our ingrained negativity bias ensures a particular kind of reactivity to trail conditions: This sock-snagging span of brambles sure is annoying! Yet maybe you’re inclined to take for granted the previous and subsequent miles of bramble-free trail?

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Our Commitment to Justice and Equality

Ice Age National Scenic Trail, Ice Age Trail Alliance, Statement of Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
The Alliance is committed to making the Ice Age Trail and our community of supporters a safe and inclusive experience. Photo by IATA staff.

Outdoor spaces are everyone’s right to enjoy without being subjected to danger, suspicion, and violence. The tragic events in recent weeks, resulting in the senseless deaths of black Americans, exposes a challenge to our mission that goes well beyond the Trail.

Simply, we are appalled.

The Alliance is wholly committed to making the Ice Age Trail and our community of supporters a safe and inclusive experience for all people. Continue reading

Hiking Responsibly During a COVID-19 Pandemic

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Note: Updated 5/27/2020

A hike on a favorite segment of Ice Age National Scenic Trail offers mood-boosting fresh air and sunshine and provides a respite from the uncertainty around us. The Ice Age Trail is a perfect place for slowing down, gathering your internal resources, and gaining clarity.

It’s also important, while we are out exploring the Trail, that we remain respectful of the fact COVID-19 is still in our midst. It’s important to help stop the spread of the virus and help flatten the curve with considerate and responsible behavior.

Is Hiking Still Allowed?

Yes! It’s allowed and good for you, too! However, best practices call for thoughtful social distancing.

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Preventing Tick-borne Illnesses

May is Lyme Disease Awareness Month!

With warm weather enticing hikers into Wisconsin’s wild spaces, it’s a good time to consider how to prevent tick-borne illnesses while recreating outdoors. Tick-borne illnesses typically first cause flu-like symptoms and usually can be treated with antibiotics if caught early. Untreated, they may cause serious health problems, including death in rare cases. Information on tick-borne illnesses and tips to prevent tick exposure can be found below.

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Mammoth Steps to Reconnect

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Overjoyed to Reconnect with the Ice Age National Scenic Trail. Photo by Mary Johnson.

National Trails Day, Saturday, June 6, 2020

A Day to Reconnect, Refresh, and Assess.

Some days feel like they take FOREVER to get here. This year, Saturday, June 6, National Trails Day, is one of those. We’re marking its arrival by joining together and taking Mammoth Steps on behalf of the Ice Age National Scenic Trail.

This day will be among the first opportunities for Ice Age Trail Alliance volunteers to get back to doing what they love best: creating, supporting, and protecting the Ice Age Trail.

It’s a day to reconnect with the Trail from which they’ve been apart during the last few months.

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Mammoth Beauty Celebration!

Ice Age Trail Alliance, Ice Age National Scenic Trail, Mammoth Steps, National Trails Day, Lodi Marsh Segment, Dane County
A mother and son enjoy a spring saunter on the Lodi Marsh Segment in Dane County. Photo by Joshua Fager.
Imaginehikers safely sauntering along the entire Ice Age National Scenic Trail from end to end in a single day!

Imagineif they photographed the best features of the Ice Age Trail along the way: the expansive views, tread unfurling ahead, and ephemerals peeking up from the forest floor.

Imaginea snapshot of the Ice Age Trail, in its entirety, as it looks on a single day!

This vision could become a reality with your help.

We have 120 Ice Age Trail segments waiting for you to enjoy, camera in hand and eyes finely-tuned for beauty, as part of our National Trails Day celebration on Saturday, June 6.

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Bringing Together Landowners and Butterflies

By Kevin Thusius, Director of Land Conservation
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An Endangered Female Karner Blue Butterfly, Waushara County, Wisconsin. Photo by Steve Apps Photography.
One-inch wing-span. Brilliant blue on top. Orange dots under wings. Size of a nickel.

This description is of a rather rare insect that resides in central Wisconsin – the Karner blue butterfly (Lycaeides melissa samuelis). Its existence is so threatened it was placed on the federal endangered species list in 1992.

Its tiny size makes it easy to miss as it flits between grasses and wildflowers, and because it doesn’t attract a lot of attention, it’s disappearance from our Midwest landscape might not seem like such a big deal. Yet, each and every species, like the Karner blue butterfly, plays a valuable ecological role in nature. Each loss destabilizes this fragile balance. As the folks at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service point out, “experience has proven that many plants and animals have properties which will prove beneficial to humans as sources of food and medicine. With the loss of each species, we lose a potential resource for improving the quality of life for all humanity.”

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Where Ecology Meets People’s Experience

By Christi Lee Ehler, Volunteer Writer for the Ice Age Trail Alliance
Ice Age Trail Alliance, Ice Age National Scenic Trail, Trail Corridor, Prairie, Land Conservation
With White Penstemon in full bloom along the Trail corridor, Gary Werner (left) emphasizes the magnitude of the conservation work that’s been done on the Holmes Preserve as he and Tom Wise (right) walk-and-talk with Christi Ehler (center). Photo by Kevin Thusius.
“The Ice Age National Scenic Trail is where ecology meets people’s experience,” says Kevin Thusius, the Ice Age Trail Alliance’s (IATA) Director of Land Conservation. Managing Ice Age Trail lands for plant and wildlife habitat and managing them for aesthetics go hand-in-hand, because the more biodiverse a landscape is, the more it contains what people go into nature to see, hear, and feel.

A growing number of people, it seems, are particularly drawn to places where they might witness evidence of our ability to repair past environmental damage and create a healthier future for the earth. Ice Age Trail (IAT) segments where there are ongoing, large-scale efforts to rebuild ecological diversity are becoming some of the Trail’s most popular hikes.

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Ice Age Trail Inspired Limerick Sequence by The Portly Bard

Try the trail of the Ice Age today,
nature’s glacial destruction display.
Hike the terminal path
of the cold weather wrath
where Wisconsin held fast in the way.

From the Sturgeon Bay calm of its shore
to the Falls of St. Croix and their roar,
it’s history’s trail
through nature’s travail
that would alter forever earth’s lore.

It’s adventure that fits to a “tee”
spirits yearning for splendor to see
— whether done end to end,
or by segment, or bend —
time remembered as all it can be…

…amid features of rock to exalt
in the bluffs and the cliffs by default
now natural beauty
derived from the duty
of becoming a mineral vault.

Ice Age Trail Alliance, Ice Age National Scenic Trail, hiker in the fall
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Contest: Trail Inspired Limericks

Ice Age Trail Alliance, Ice Age National Scenic Trail, Quarantine Challenge, Limerick Contest
Are you looking for a lighthearted distraction from the pandemic?

Limericks are the answer! These short, silly poems offer a much-needed dash of humor to an otherwise uncertain situation.

Try your hand at writing an Ice Age Trail inspired limerick, (or two, or more) and enter them into our contest (in honor of National Poetry Month).

Your limerick could be an ode to mosquitoes, permethrin, ticks, yellow blazes, eskers, or kettle lakes! (Or wherever else your inspiration is found!)

They’re easy enough to write – get the kids involved!

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Spring’s Woodland Beauties

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Hepatica blooms along the Gibraltar Rock Segment of the Ice Age Trail. Photo by Nazan Gillie.
It’s a pleasant surprise to find small, dainty wildflowers peeking up through rough, brown leaves scattered across the forest floor. Such delicate beauty after a stark, frozen winter. Their emergence is a less a lesson about timing and patience, than it is of hardiness. They barely wait for a thawing earth before they surface and each year, it seems, their hardiness is tested as they endure one last snowy lashing of winter.

As you turn your face to the sun and head out on a hike, be on the look out for these woodland beauties:

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Hike Responsibly: 13 Things to Know

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Bohn Lake Segment, Washara County. Photo by Dave Caliebe.
The weather is perfect: sunshine, a light breeze, blue sky. It’s ideal hiking conditions. However, our nation is in the midst of a COVID-19 pandemic. What’s a responsible hiker and Ice Age Trail enthusiast to do?

Help Flatten the Curve:  

  1. Stay Local. Limit travel to within your community (or county). If you do not live near an Ice Age Trail segment, please enjoy your local county or city parks, or your own back yard.
  2. Let Go. Set aside your Thousand-Miler goal, whether it was to section-hike segments, or to begin a long-distance, multi-day thru-hike.

Hike Responsibly, if You Choose to Hike: Continue reading

The IAT & Closing/Reopening of Public Land

Ice Age Trail Alliance, Ice Age National Scenic Trail, COVID-19, Closing of Public Land, Impact of Governor Evers' order on the Ice Age Trail.

What to Know Before You Go!

The Ice Age National Scenic Trail is open (except where it crosses federally owned land in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest).

As of 5/01/2020, 34 of the 40 state parks, forests, and natural areas, previously closed, will now be reopened.

Reopening does NOT extend to restrooms, campsites, towers, shelters, playgrounds, nature centers, headquarters, contact stations, and concession buildings. These facilities remain closed until May 26, 2020. Continue reading

We’ve Partnered with Target Circle

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We are honored and excited to announce that we have been chosen to participate in a special charitable giving campaign, sponsored and funded by Target. And you have the chance to help direct a portion of Target’s donation to us!

Now through June 30, vote for us through the Target Circle program to help determine how Target’s donation will be divvied up. Find out more about Target Circle here: www.target.com/circle

Please note, voting is based on location and the Ice Age Trail Alliance is being featured in the Madison/Southern WI market which means Fitchburg, Janesville, Lake Geneva, Madison, Pleasant Prairie, Racine, and Sun Prairie.  However, if you live outside these urban areas, you can select one of these stores to be your Target store at which point, the Ice Age Trail Alliance becomes one of your voting options.

We’re asking our supporters, especially those of you who live in the urban areas listed above, to help us make the most of this incredible opportunity. Every vote counts to help us receive a portion of the available Target funds as we continue our mission to create, support, and protect the Ice Age National Scenic Trail.

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Give Forest Bathing a Try!

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Along the Milwaukee River Segment of the Ice Age Trail. Photo by Cameron Gillie.
The term “forest bathing” may bring up some odd images and a few questions, but in Japan, forest bathing, called “Shinrin-yoku” in Japanese, is a leisurely visit to a forest. Shinrin means “forest,” and yoku means “bath.” So Shinrin-yoku means bathing in the forest atmosphere, or taking in the forest through our senses. The aim of forest bathing is to slow down and let ourselves become immersed in the natural environment around us. Continue reading

Nature’s Wildness is a Necessity

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The Hartman Creek Segment of the Ice Age National Scenic Trail. Photo by Cameron Gillie.

“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity.”

~John Muir, environmentalist and author of Our National Parks, 1901

Mountains are hard to come by in Wisconsin. Yet, we have the excellent fortune of the Ice Age National Scenic Trail wending its way through the state. The Ice Age Trail provides us with the necessary wildness and opportunity to come home.  A vigorous hike or leisurely walk on a favorite segment of this thousand-mile footpath lets us, the “tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized,” reacquaint ourselves with a vital source of well-being, nature. Continue reading

Coronavirus/COVID-19 and the Ice Age Trail

A hiker admires an early spring bloomer along the Ice Age National Scenic Trail.
A hiker admires an early spring bloomer along the Ice Age National Scenic Trail.
Updated 3/26/2020 in light of the Safer-At-Home order [PDF] issued by Governor Evers on Tuesday, March 24, 2020.

The Ice Age Trail Alliance’s highest priority is the health and well-being of our staff, volunteers, and hiking community during the rapidly evolving health concern of the Coronavirus/COVID-19. Continue reading