Everyone is asking why I’m doing this. And a lot of people – Wisconsinites included – don’t even really know what the Ice Age Trail (IAT) is. I sure didn’t realize the extent of this great treasure of ours until I was deep into my preparations. So let me enlighten you.
The Ice Age Trail gently traces the edge of Wisconsin’s last glaciation. Winding 1,200 miles up, down and across the state, the path begins at the St. Croix River in northwestern Wisconsin, heads east across half the state, then dips south almost to the Illinois border before swooping back north, ending in Sturgeon Bay. Actually, you can start the trail at either end – the Eastern or Western Terminus – but since I’m going west to east, and you read left to right, I say the St. Croix River/Western Terminus is the trail’s start.
It’s not easy for a trail to become designated a National Scenic Trail. There are only 10 others in the nation, including the well-known Appalachian and Pacific Crest Trails. Further, the IAT is one of only three National Scenic Trails that lie all within one state (the others being the Arizona and Florida National Scenic Trails). The Ice Age Trail is in pretty elite company. Most residents have no clue.
The idea for the Ice Age Trail came way back in the 1950s, courtesy of a Milwaukeean named Ray Zillmer. But like most long-distance trails, it’s taking decades to complete. You have to purchase land, or get permission from landowners to let hikers pass through. You have to develop and maintain trails and install signage. It takes a lot of money, and a lot of work. So far about half of the IAT is completed, or about 600 miles, with the remaining 600 currently along suggested “connecting routes,” largely county roads that run roughly along the areas where trails are hoped to be developed in the future.