Moving forward tough while remembering the past

This column originally appeared in the June 1, 2017, issue of the Portage County Gazette. Most of it is about a day spent on the Ice Age Trail and its connecting routes, but my column often addressed more than one topic. In this case, it was the memory of a colleague I respected a great deal.

Even though last week was a good one, with a fun birthday party outdoors and more hiking on the Ice Age Trail, it was also a week of sorrow, as we lost another great friend of the outdoors.

I was home preparing for my daughter’s party when I heard the news, and it cast a pall over much of the weekend. Still, the party ended up being a fine one, with rambunctious 8-to-10-year-olds running around the yard, driveway and garage, which we had cleaned out for birthday cake and a place safe from the rain that threatened but never came.

Earlier in the week, I had finished 16 more miles of the Ice Age Trail.  As always, it was a wonderful time, made better with the company of a good friend.

We can never take such times for granted, because they always disappear too soon.

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Muir exhibit leaving soon, but Muir Park easy to visit

This column originally appeared in the Oct. 24, 2017, issue of the Portage County Gazette. The Muir traveling exhibit hasn’t disappeared, though — it can be booked through the Wisconsin Historical Society for those interested in exhibiting it.

It’s the last weekend to see the state historical society’s exhibit on John Muir while it’s in Stevens Point, but that doesn’t mean it’s your last chance to get a little closer to understanding what he was about.

The eight-panel exhibit, set up through Oct. 21 in the lobby of the library at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, focuses on Muir’s youth in Wisconsin, his advocacy for the U.S. national parks system and his thoughts on environmental issues.

The exhibit’s next stop is UW-Parkside in Kenosha, where it will reside from Oct. 24-Nov. 11, but anyone can get a slightly different take – and likely a more brisk one – by taking a walk at his boyhood home at John Muir Memorial County Park south of Montello.

Frequent hiking buddy Chris Sadler and I made the hour-long drive to Marquette County to take in the early fall air and see where the 10-year-old Muir learned to swim and loved to explore the natural world.

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National trails: Too much to know, too little time to know them

This piece originally appeared in the Feb. 2, 2017, issue of the Portage County Gazette. Every now and then, I look for updates on Summers, but can find no information on his planned effort to do all the national trails — or any info at all.

Ice Age Trail winter thru-hiker Mike Summers passed through Portage County last week, and his name is one we might want to keep an eye out for.

The North Carolina native, by way of Chicago and Portland, is on a two-month foray through Wisconsin to practice winter camping.  He’s prepping for a two-and-a-half year, 20,000-mile hike on our National Scenic Trails, so he wants to learn all he can about handling winter weather.

That’s admirable enough, but it was one of his Facebook videos that really made me understand his commitment to the task: fording the Prairie River in Lincoln County sometime early this week.

Barefoot, of course.

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Dedication of landowners gives life to trails

author’s note: this is a very slightly edited version (for clarity) of my original column from Nov. 2017 in the Portage County Gazette. Sadly, Bob Ellingson passed away in February 2020, but I hope this column helps commemorate him properly in some small way. (Top photo by Jean Klein)

Nobody has to look far to find evidence of a world gone mad. When the craziness drives us outside, though, it’s good to remember that there are folks like Portage County’s Bob Ellingson who allow and encourage the natural experiences that often keep us sane.

Bob is one of the many faces behind the Ice Age Trail, an 1,100-mile miracle that exists because of the hard work of volunteers, a small but dedicated staff at the Ice Age Trail Alliance, and many others.  Businesses, politicians and promoters have all played important roles in the formation of this trail, which isn’t yet finished as a path through field and forest.

But no role is more important than that of landowners like Bob.

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Small steps in Marathon County good enough for now

(Author’s note: Continuing my attempts to archive my past Portage County Gazette columns. This one is from May 24, 2017.)

 

Bridge on Plover River IAT segment, Marathon County

When it comes to protecting our public lands, it’s easy to see recent developments as one step forward and three or four steps back.

Efforts to strip protected status from national monuments and sell off or otherwise allow desecration of Wisconsin public lands by greedy businesses seem to fill the news recently.  These aren’t the best ways to start the summer outdoor season, but it doesn’t hurt to keep them in the back of our minds while we’re out having fun.

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