Interview conducted by: Miranda Murphy, Operations Assistant.
Article written by: Maura Hanley, AmeriCorps VISTA Communications Support Specialist.
Ice Age Trail Alliance volunteers are the living breathing soul of the Ice Age Trail. They build, support, and maintain it. They donate thousands of hours of their time every year to care for the Trail.
One of these dedicated volunteers is Chicago resident Alice Weinert.
From hiker to volunteer, Alice developed her passion for volunteerism with the Ice Age Trail through the Alliance’s MSC Program.*
* The Alliance’s MSC Program trains volunteers in advanced trail construction and crew leadership techniques. The program organizes large-scale, multi-day Trailbuilding and Habitat Improvement events.
Alice grew up in Long Island, N.Y. but moved to Shorewood, Wis. as a teenager. She discovered the Ice Age National Scenic Trail through hiking the Lapham Peak Segment.
After moving to Chicago, Ill. to attended Northwestern University, Alice started frequently hiking trails on the Southside of the city. She noted the high volume of users on these trails and wanted to give back and support trail management and sustainability. However, she was not able to find opportunities to do this work in Chicago.
Luckily, Alice still had connections to Wis. Her Mom lives here and happened to work with Mark Struve, a longtime Alliance volunteer. Mark introduced Alice to the Trail maintenance and building events.
In July of 2022, Alice’s work schedule opened up and she attended her first MSC project event at Rice Lake Preserve in Marathon County. Dave Caliebe, the Alliance’s Trail Program Manager, remembers the first time he met Alice, “she hopped in the bed of a truck to use a porta potty about to be moved to a more convenient location. From then on, I knew she would be a great volunteer.”
In addition to making quite the first impression and learning various trailbuilding and management skills, she also helped build a 900-foot boardwalk!
From this first event, Alice was hooked. She attended three more projects during the 2022 MSC Trailbuilding season: Rib Lake, Lapham Peak, and Iola Ski Hill. At the Rib Lake project, Alice helped construct a stone staircase and retaining wall, dubbed “The Grand Staircase.” Stonework became Alice’s forte. But, she’s always willing to “help out wherever is needed, whether it’s building boardwalk, tread, in the kitchen at basecamp, or stonework,” says Dave.
Pat Witkowsi, the Waukesha/Milwaukee Co. Chapter’s Trail Coordinator, says “The only thing more contagious than Alice’s energy is her always present smile.”
Alice’s positive energy, willingness to get down and dirty, and her incredible work ethic have made her a “cornerstone of MSC events,” says Riley Dupee, the Alliance’s Field Operations Specialist.
Alice is also an active volunteer with the Waukesha/Milwaukee Co. Chapter. “Alice shows up for nearly every maintenance event for the Chapter and she manages weekly Monday Mudders and Chapter workdays,” says Pat, “coordinated with a fulltime job and a several hour roundtrip drive from Chicago.”
One day this winter she showed up to a Waukesha/Milwaukee Co. Chapter workday for a habitat improvement event. Even though the temperature was -10, she brought a homemade rum cake for the other volunteers. “We were missing a knife,” says Pat, “so Alice cut the cake using a plastic yellow blaze.”
Alice’s engagement with the Alliance continues to grow. One of her major projects for this spring and summer is starting a Chicago-based Ice Age Trail Alliance volunteer group. The plan is for the group to travel to Wisconsin and help with trail workdays and different chapter projects.
She hopes this group will be a resource for the Trail that can serve many purposes, like attending MSC projects, but also aid in smaller management and building projects. Chicago has the third largest engagement rate on the Alliance’s social media platforms, so there is definite interest for a volunteer group. Not to mention, a formal group will help organize local Chicago Alliance volunteers and streamline their volunteer efforts.
Alice thinks this group is a great opportunity to introduce more people to the Trail, especially since “there is a whole National Scenic Trail in their backyards,” she says.
We are grateful for all Alice has done and continues to do to conserve, create, maintain, and promote the Ice Age Trail!