By Bill Polacheck, volunteer writer for the Ice Age Trail Alliance
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.
BP: How do you inspire volunteers to maintain the Ice Age Trail but also have fun?
GP: They do that for themselves. I often describe my role as getting out of the way. I try to be the connector between them, letting them work with each other and not blocking their enthusiasm. Paying attention to where their interests are so they work on things they enjoy doing. Recognizing they have talents that are different than mine though making sure they are aware of procedures and protocols.
“I try to be the connector between them, letting them work with each other and not blocking their enthusiasm.”
BP: You have put tremendous effort into the Mobile Skills Crew (MSC) events along the Ringle Segment. What is your crew trying to accomplish?
GP: The Mobile Skills Crew volunteers have been actively building a new trail to reroute and improve a segment built in the 70’s. The goal is getting it off logging roads and into pristine Ice Age features.
BP: You are known for your well-reasoned responses in the IAT Facebook group. What’s the role of that group?
GP: The Facebook group is a way for people to connect with each other. It’s a support group for potential volunteers and certainly for hikers. I try to link people to resources rather than just state my opinion. I try to steer people to be respectful of others and recognize there are reasons for the rules.
BP: What’s the hardest thing to teach new volunteers?
GP: Sometimes it’s finding the right balance between patience and enthusiasm. A lot come in gung-ho and you have to slow them down a bit to use energy wisely, work as a team, think things through before tackling them, and follow normal protocols for safety.
“Sometimes it’s finding the right balance between patience and enthusiasm.”
BP: What’s one of your favorite experiences on the Ice Age Trail?
GP: Back when we were building the Plover River segment, around 2012, we needed to create a boardwalk because we couldn’t get to the area without it. Some fifth-grade students from Minocqua came down and their assignment was to carry out decking boards to put on the boardwalk. We handed the boards to the students and they passed them on, hand to hand. They went on a hike and then wanted to pass more boards when they came back. I remember handing them two to three at a time, but they wanted four. Eventually, we had to tell them to get on the bus. (laughs) Their enthusiasm was so cool.
About the Author
Bill Polacheck is a writer living in the Milwaukee area. An avid environmentalist, he enjoys hiking, biking, and kayaking, and challenges himself to find beauty in the world around him on a daily basis.