Grandfather Falls brings history with the hike

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.

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Merrill School Forest a great first, second or third choice

Lesson learned: always bring snowshoes.

Frequent hiking buddy Chris Sadler and I were reminded of the need for winter preparedness during a not-so-well-planned trip to hike the Turtle Rock Segment of the Ice Age Trail last week. We set out to knock a few more miles off the IAT, but Chris forgot to prompt his hiking buddy to prompt Chris to bring the paraphernalia required to negotiate the trail.

I suppose I could blame any addle-brained behavior on my part to osmosis. After all, it was Chris who spent the previous three weeks in South Carolina, where temperatures in the 40s apparently cause most of that region’s population to hole up, barring their doors until everything blooms again and they can hear ice cream trucks jangling down the street.

Truth be told, this was just one of those trips where I agonized over a destination, and thus never picked one until shortly before Chris came to pick me up. I asked when he arrived if he’d brought snowshoes, and because he hadn’t, we decided to skip them.

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