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.

Jillian Dargatz

Jillian is a wife, a nurse, and a mother of three active young children. In between using the Ice Age Trail as an educational destination for her family, she works two nights a week at an ICU, where since March, she has consistently nursed patients suffering from the effects of COVID-19. Her employer has increased safety protocols to multiple levels of protection. Jillian feels confident she is safe. “I leave my work things at work and don’t take anything home with me. My employer provides showers and scrubs at the hospital, so nothing crosses over to my home.”

Jillian and her husband, Peter, along with Embry (7), Oakley (3), Arden (1), like to discover new things as a family and recognize that the Ice Age Trail has lots of opportunities for learning about nature. They combine exercise and family time with learning – listening for birds, watching for wildlife, and ‘bopping the blaze’ as they use the Trail to be together as a family, while keeping their distance from other people.

Jillian’s home segment: Monches Segment, Waukesha County

Ice Age Trail Alliance, Ice Age National Scenic Trail, Volunteers, COVID Response
Jillian Dargatz at Loew Lake. Photo Courtesy of Jillian Dargatz.
Barb Ceder

Barb and her colleagues make 105 meals each day – up 30% since the pandemic started. Barb attributes the increase in meal requests to the many customers who can no longer get to grocery stores or visit restaurants. Barb’s delivery team used to drop off the meals and chat for a while with the recipient. Now they hang the meal on the door, ring the doorbell, and wait for the door to be answered before they drive away. To make up for the lack of daily connection, the team calls the recipients once a week to check in with them.

Barb’s recommendation for our readers: “I like to get out and hike so I see people. The Trail can help to combat loneliness.” She uses the Trail for fun and to keep herself ready for her next backpacking adventure!

Barb’s favorite segment: McKenzie Creek Segment, Polk County

Ice Age Trail Alliance, Ice Age National Scenic Trail, Volunteers, COVID Response
Barb Ceder poses on the Ice Age Trail. Photo courtesy of Barb Ceder.
Stephanie Lundeen

Just over the border from Minnesota, the Gandy Dancer State Trail is also the Ice Age Trail, where hikers share the trail with bikers. As you approach Luck, Wisconsin, you’ll find a charming trailside restaurant, Café Wren, with seating for 30 people plus outdoor seating. While the restaurant hasn’t been open during the pandemic, Stephanie, the owner, has been busy doing some restaurant updates and spending more time on the Ice Age Trail which provides her with a strong connection to nature.

“I’m seeing more people on the Trail than ever before due to the Safer-At-Home order. My hope is that our community develops lasting habits and will decide to check out additional sections of Ice Age Trail in addition to the Gandy Dancer Segment.” Stephanie’s favorite part of being a trailside business owner is hearing stories from IAT thru-hikers and having the space to offer them food, water and shelter as they undertake the hike of their lifetime!

Stephanie’s home segment: Gandy Dancer Segment, Polk County

Ice Age Trail Alliance, Ice Age National Scenic Trail, Volunteers, COVID Response
Stephanie Lundeen, Ice Age Trail Alliance volunteer and owner of Cafe Wren. Photo courtesy of Stephanie Lundeen.
Rachel Roberts

Rachel has seen a lot more people on the Ice Age Trail, also. She works every day, so getting out on the Trail is hard to fit in. And since the pandemic started, Rachel prefers to stay home on the weekends. “I hesitate going on hikes since the volume of people is so high.” She is acutely aware of the symptoms of COVID-19 since, as a receptionist for UW Hospitals and Clinics, Rachel talks to people about COVID-19 every day. “I take phone calls from patients who think they might be symptomatic for COVID or they call to describe their symptoms.” Rachel doesn’t come face-to-face with patients while at work, but she hears their fear.

Rachel’s home segment: Table Bluff Segment, Dane County

Ice Age Trail Alliance, Ice Age National Scenic Trail, Volunteers, COVID Response
Rachel Roberts hiking the Ice Age Trail. Photo courtesy of Rachel Roberts.
Letitia Crisler

Letitia, a dental hygienist, said she is not working because her office is closed, but as a part-time volunteer chaplain she is listening to people as they share their fears. While her role is to listen and not provide direct advice, Letitia knows what her recommendation would be: change your habitat! “You can get in your car and then onto the Trail without seeing anyone. The sights and smells are so healthy! Even the sounds are refreshing – you can hear water flowing in a creek and grouse drumming. Changing your habitat can help calm the fears.”

Letitia’s home segment: Hemlock Creek Segment, Barron and Washburn Counties

Ice Age Trail Alliance, Ice Age National Scenic Trail, Volunteers, COVID Response
Letitia Crisler on the Hemlock Creek Segment of the Ice Age Trail. Photo courtesy of Letitia Crisler.
Dan Brereton

Dan grew up in the shadow of the Gibraltar Rock Segment, but now maintains the Hemlock Creek Segment. In this small, northern Wisconsin county of Washburn, Dan runs the jail, makes sure inmates get to court, and manages the dispatch center. The County fortunately has only one confirmed case so far, but employees have been careful and smart about how they manage interactions. “We have tried to educate as much as possible because we don’t have a lot of staff, so if someone comes down with COVID-19, we would struggle to staff appropriately.” For now, the inmates only have access to pre-screened and masked parole officers and attorneys.

Dan hasn’t been able to keep up with Trail maintenance and wonders how much damage the bears have done. “They love to use my signs as scratching posts!” Dan is looking forward to getting back out to manage his eight miles of Trail when he can volunteer again.

Ice Age Trail Alliance, Ice Age National Scenic Trail, Volunteers, COVID Response
Dan Brereton leads snowshoers on the Ice Age Trail. Photo courtesy of Diane Dryden of the Dryden Wire.

On behalf of the Ice Age Trail Alliance, we salute their dedication and hard work during this global pandemic.

About the Author

Tricia Baker hails from Summit, Wisconsin. She’s spent her career in business and marketing and started her own marketing firm, Baker Creative/Consulting. She serves on the Boards of an ad agency and a Milwaukee-based non-profit. In her free time, Tricia, along with her husband Brian, is hiking all segments of the Ice Age Trail.