Wisconsin History on the Ice Age Trail

With spring approaching (hopefully), everyone is looking forward to getting outside and taking advantage of all that Wisconsin has to offer in warmer weather.  On the Ice Age Trail, hikers can learn about Wisconsin history while taking a walk through beautiful scenery.

The Ice Age Trail is a hiking corridor that winds through 30 of the 72 counties in Wisconsin including Dane County.

Map of entire Ice Age Trail route when completed

The trail loosely follows the terminal moraine, or furthest advance, of the ice sheet present during the last continental glaciation – the Wisconsin Glaciation.  (For maps of the glaciation, see www.geology.wisc.edu/~davem/abstracts/06-1.pdf.)

It’s called the Wisconsin Glaciation because Wisconsin has some of the most interesting landforms that have survived since the time of the glacial epoch.  Much of the landscape was shaped by the glaciation that ended around 10,000 years ago.

As the ice moved south out of Canada, it split into various lobes.  The lobes stretched in various directions including one over Lake Michigan, one through the Wisconsin Valley and one over Lake Superior.  Many features of the Wisconsin landscape are a result of the impact of these lobes of ice on the earth.

The landscapes interpreted by the trail include forested areas, agricultural lands, prairies and wetlands.  On a segment of the trail near Devil’s Lake, a 25,000-year-old landscape can be found within a mile of a landscape that dates back 2 billion years.  These features allow hikers to witness landforms of various historical ages.

56 people have hiked the entire length of the trail (around 1,200 miles), but only about 640 miles are authorized as official segments of the Ice Age Trail.  New sections of trail are created around interesting features thus forming the educational trail.

Marker seen along official segments of the Ice Age Trail

The goal of the Ice Age Trail Alliance, the organization that builds and maintains the trail, is to interpret the history of Wisconsin through the landscape.  They aim to complete the entire length of trail within the next 50 years, thus creating a protected space that anyone can utilize and appreciate.

For more information and a glossary of terms, visit the Ice Age Trail Alliance website at http://www.iceagetrail.org/.

To plan a hike: Contact the Ice Age Trail Alliance at (800) 227-0046 for help planning your hike.  An Atlas and a Companion Guide with information about each section of the trail are available.  Visit http://www.iceagetrail.org/plan-a-hike for guidelines, trail closings and further suggestions.

To volunteer: Volunteers logged over 65,000 hours last year maintaining the trails.  To learn more about volunteer opportunities, go to http://www.iceagetrail.org/become-a-volunteer or contact the UW Hoofers Outing Club (http://www.hooferouting.org/) and ask about their projects with the Ice Age Trail Alliance.


5 responses to “Wisconsin History on the Ice Age Trail

  1. Very ironic you wrote about this — I was just making a list of fun stuff to do in Wisconsin this spring/summer. Thanks for the background and interesting facts!

  2. Some great science history, I’m definitely interested in going for a hike now!

  3. Great natural history lesson! I am surprised only 56 people have done the trail in its entirety, though. This is a good reminder that I need to explore more of this trail this summer.

  4. I agree with everyone – you picked a great, timely topic. What a lovely way to enjoy our newly-arrived Spring!

  5. Great timing, Caroline. And the nice thing about a blog is that it allows you to take a sidetrip and just write about something you enjoy. This is a great example in point. Hope you keep this up after the semester ends.

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