The Ice Age National Scenic Trail is a thousand-mile footpath that wanders thru remote sections of Wisconsin's "Blue Hills"
The Ice Age National Scenic Trail is a thousand-mile footpath that weaves through forests, monadnocks, prairies and glacial formations across Wisconsin. One of the wildest and most remote sections of the trail is in what early settlers called the “Blue Hills” of rural Rusk County in the northwest part of the state. The roots of this ancient mountain range provide a stunning backdrop for the Trail.
Thanks to funding from the RTP Grant program, the Ice Age Trail Alliance (Alliance) succeeded in maintaining and significantly upgrading nearly 20 miles of the Ice Age Trail. The “Mobile Skills Crew” program of the Alliance brings state of the art trail design, construction and stewardship resources to bear where local volunteer capacity is not sufficient to address trail needs. Local volunteers worked shoulder to shoulder with statewide volunteers to construct a 20-foot clear span bridge, 140-feet of elevated boardwalk, 1.6 miles of new Trail and repair an additional four bridges and boardwalks. The result is a safer, more hiker- friendly footpath.
Volunteers removed rocks and other impediments within the trail way to make it easier to maintain in the future. The upgraded signage brought this section up to statewide standards and gives comfort to hikers through the big woods and maze of logging and ATV roads. Youth involvement and community outreach were important components in the project’s success.
Five school districts participated, bringing students of all ages out for service learning and to gain a deeper understanding of and connection to the Ice Age Trail and the surrounding environs. The project reached out to the entire Village of Weyerhaeuser through direct mailings to inform residents about the project and the great resource the Trail is for recreation in their backyard.
Young men in the Boy Scouts of America “Order of the Arrow” program helped put the finishing touches on a half mile of new trail. The project supported local communities by purchasing food for volunteers, lumber and other supplies locally. A 2012 study found the Ice Age Trail contributes $112 million to the Wisconsin economy yearly.
Through design and sustainable construction techniques, users now enjoy a new Trail instead of walking down a county highway. The 20-foot bridge replaced a non-compliant bridge that was canted and near the end of its useable lifespan.
The remote location of the bridge necessitated creative thinking to transport lumber and tools. Adjacent Hemlock Creek provided the perfect avenue. Lumber, including 20-foot laminated stringers, were floated downstream by an armada of boats and canoes, captured at shore, then finely assembled and crafted by dedicated volunteers.
The $45,000 RTP grant was matched by 200 volunteers who pitched in nearly 6,000 hours of work, plus local businesses that provided food and other services; and funds, equipment, and leadership from the Ice Age Trail Alliance. The Rusk County Forestry Department contributed equipment and workers to remove garbage, old signs and posts and to ferry equipment and lumber through areas otherwise inaccessible by vehicle.
The Blue Hills harbors a wealth of natural beauty, enjoyed by hikers, backpackers, birders, fishermen and hunters alike. The upgraded Ice Age Trail promotes greater use by these groups, enhancing the local economy and bringing greater awareness and appreciation of the Trail.
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