My three-season project for 2022 is to walk at least part of every Ice Age Trail segment within an hour’s drive from home.
Last year I hiked every City of Madison conservation park and most of the larger Dane County parks. It was a joy to explore unfamiliar places, relish natural beauty, and enlarge my mental map of the area. This year’s forays onto the Ice Age Trail promise all that and more: a deeper knowledge of how the geological past shaped Wisconsin’s landscape.
I’ve long heard of the Appalachian Trail but didn’t know it was the first of many under the National Trails System Act of 1968. Wisconsin’s Ice Age Trail joined the list in 1980. Conceived by Milwaukee conservationist Ray Zillmer in the 1950s and built mostly by volunteers, the thousand-mile footpath winds along the terminal moraine of the region’s latest glacier. It runs from Door County in the east to Saint Croix Falls in the west.
The trail passes through a mix of public and private lands. Negotiating the necessary agreements is a slow, arduous undertaking. More than half the projected trail is now complete, with finished segments connected by road. It’s a work in progress. My understanding of the lasting impact of the Ice Age is a work in progress too.
I'm a historian who writes novels and literary nonfiction. My home base is Madison, Wisconsin.