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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Murry Creek Segment helps the good times last

Probably one of the greatest strengths of local newspapers is that your local columnists can’t sing in them, at least in print.  So we just share lyrics.

A fine musical group out of New Orleans, the Subdudes, reminded me this week that I haven’t been getting enough outdoor time, especially with the family. There’s a spoken portion of their song “All The Time In The World” when a character intones, “Look man, I’m hungry when I wake up … sleepy when I eat. Only time I feel good is with some dirt beneath my feet.”

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Hiking Lodi in winter? Yes, peas

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Never put off until better weather a hike that’s perfectly wonderful today.

That was my experience for the Lodi Marsh and Eastern Lodi Marsh segments of Wisconsin’s 1,120-mile Ice Age Trail. When planning my next IAT excursion, I frequently deliberate over whether summer’s flowering or fall color increase a segment’s appeal. But this past Saturday, I decided it was simply time to go enjoy the Lodi area despite the chance of a snowstorm.

Along with frequent hiking buddy Chris Sadler, I already had walked roughly 12 miles on three segments from Lodi north to Gibraltar Rock (a beloved overlook)  and the Merrimac ferry on the Wisconsin. We agreed it was a favorite hike, in no small part because we enjoyed Lodi so much.

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Leopold Center, Portage good bookends for Ice Age Trail connector

Marker at Aldo Leopold Foundation

The holiday-weekend photo of a corpulent governor lounging on a New Jersey state-park beach, closed to the general public through government shutdown, seems an apt metaphor for both our political and natural environments.

Greed can be described in many ways. A pithy one is, “He would skin a gnat for its hide and tallow.”

Aldo Leopold, a great adopted Wisconsinite, had the rare ability to go both short or long when describing our relationship to nature.  He said, “Industrial landowners and users, especially lumbermen and stockmen, are inclined to wail long and loudly about the extension of government ownership and regulation to land, but (with notable exceptions), they show little disposition to develop the only visible alternative: the voluntary practice of conservation on their own lands.”

Whether one’s preference is brevity or a more drawn-out elegance, we see that selfishness and lack of community spirit keep business, government and individuals from working together on important things in life.

Public lands, Leopold, limited access, and pesky little critters are this week’s topics while recounting  another jaunt along a section of the Ice Age Trail.

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