It’s impossible to be outdoors without experiencing the changing of the seasons and the passage of time, and we are now officially past the Time of Mud and transitioning into that fabulous season we all know as summer in Wisconsin.
Something in the summertime light and air makes it particularly compelling, and despite our awareness of the season, time occasionally seems to stop, or maybe even go backwards.
There are always two or three or even more days when everything is perfect and it feels like you’re much younger, almost as if you’ll live forever. If you’re lucky, the realization that you won’t do so stays dormant for a couple of hours or so.
It seems the newest big thing in the theater is “A Quiet Place,” a film revolving around horrifying arachnid-like beings, their attraction to sound, and a bunch of actors who, needless to say, keep it zipped as much as possible.
No thanks – I’ll just head out to the silent North Woods to be surrounded by wolves when I need entertainment.
That’s only a slight exaggeration. A surprise early-April snowstorm sent hiking buddy Chris Sadler and me to the Alta Junction and Harrison Hills segments of the Ice Age Trail, a little north and east of Merrill. The IAT guidebook mentions a thriving pack of wolves inhabiting the Harrison Hills, and we may have seen evidence of them shortly after starting our hike on the Alta Junction segment.
That starts on Lincoln County Highway J about six miles east of Irma, which is so small it doesn’t even have a population listed on Wikipedia. The segment mostly follows an old railroad grade along the North Branch of the Prairie River.
But even getting there was an adventure.
Wisconsin’s Ice Age Trail is unique for several reasons, including its lack of directness compared to most of the other 10 National Scenic Trails.
Its S-shaped path terminates in the east near Sturgeon Bay and in the west on the St. Croix River. Driving directly between each terminus would require a trip of about 320 miles. Yet the trail winds about for some 1,120 miles, plus an extra 80 or so for a bifurcation that occurs at Devil’s Lake State Park.
Only the North Country Trail, which runs 4,600 miles through eight states (including northern Wisconsin), comes close to the meandering nature of the Ice Age. But it is a relatively flattened S in comparison.
Most national trails look more or less like fairly direct lines from one end to another when viewed as a whole. For me, the wandering Ice Age is more charming. The trail beckons as a way of seeing our fine state rather than plowing through it from beginning to end.
Although a spring-break dream of losing myself in a few days of backpacking hasn’t materialized, it’s easy to be grateful for Wisconsin’s outdoor treasures and those who protect them.
I’ll content myself with a few scattered day trips, and several recent ones helped me add 30 miles to my Ice Age Trail total. Along the way, I got to see a mysterious and outsized figure in Iola, which is a good reminder to recognize some giants in Wisconsin conservation.
April 14 brings another Wisconsin Hall of Fame induction ceremony, scheduled for 10 a.m. at Sentry Theater in Stevens Point. The ceremony is free, along with a coffee reception an hour earlier.
This year’s four honorees bring to 96 the total number of hall inductees. They are Door County naturalists Roy and Charlotte Lukes, former Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources head and current Wisconsin Wildlife Federation director George Meyer, and former wildlife management professor Arlie Schorger.
If you think your problems are piling up, try to imagine 80 million feet of timber stacked 20 feet high and backed up for miles along the Wisconsin River.
Such was the case in the mid-1880s north of Merrill, where I recently hiked another stretch of the Ice Age Trail. The IAT’s beloved Grandfather Falls segment in Lincoln County – traversed in a previous form by native Americans and French voyageurs portaging around the falls – inspired me to review the history of the area, including William F. Stark’s “Wisconsin, River of History.”
This section of the trail, which stretches 2.3 miles along the river and then juts east for 1.7 miles into the Merrill School Forest, is a favorite of IAT hikers because of its scenic views.
Stark noted a logjam at Grandfather Falls that may or may not have been the biggest in state history. I ran across references to at least two others that were reputedly the largest; regardless, we can all agree that the one at Grandfather Falls was a huge darn dam.