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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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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