By Evan Newhouse
The Ice Age Trail, originated in 1958, now serpentines through 31 of Wisconsin’s 72 counties. This historic trail covers 1,200 miles of land, equivalent to traveling from Madison to the eastern edge of Maine, or Madison to Arizona, or even Madison to the Florida peninsula! This national scenic trail is used for biking, snowshoeing, camping, and hiking, including several 50 and 100-mile endurance races. The impressively long trail has 550 miles of paved road and 650 miles of preserved trail, maintained almost entirely by volunteers. In the year 2017, Ice Age Trail Alliance documented 79,196 hours of volunteer marking the 5th straight year of exceeding 70,000 hours. Ice Age Trail Alliance is always looking for more volunteers in attempt to surpass 70,000 for more years to come.
Most volunteering on the trail is done through Ice Age Alliance, a non-profit organization run by volunteers to maintain the trails. The alliance has events ranging from removing invasive species and addressing water erosion on the trail to finishing the 550 miles of paved trail and clearing debris. In April 2018, I had the opportunity to volunteer with the Walworth/Jefferson Chapter of Ice Age Trail Alliance to remove snow and debris including tree roots, logs, branches, rocks, and snow from the trail. Friendly hikers and runners passed by showing gratitude towards our work and enjoying the trail, reminding our group why we devoted our time to maintain the trail. During my volunteering our group helped make the snowy trail more clearly established for short term use, as well as clearing debris and obstructions, including roots, rocks, and branches across the trail.
While volunteering, I had the chance to connect with peers and hear their experience and reasons for volunteering. One fellow UW student shared that he would be camping on the trail the next week and wanted to give back to the trail community. Other volunteers talked about maintaining the trail so they could train on it for the 50-mile endurance run. Many of the volunteers had reasons to help maintain the trail, though a reason is not required to give back to the trail and the community. One peer had no particular reason, he just enjoyed being outside and had free time in his weekend.
I was in awe of how beautiful the trail was. Social media offers us access to beautiful national parks and natural areas around the world, but we often overlook the beautiful things we have in our own community. Ice Age Trail Alliance contains 21 different chapters including one here in Dane County. Volunteer opportunities range from a few hours of volunteering to a weekend camping trip with good food and great company.
Volunteer opportunities on the Ice Age Trail vary depending on the time of year. Calling the Alliance at the number listed below is a great way to see what volunteer opportunities are coming up. While Hoofers Outdoor Club here at UW-Madison already volunteers with the Ice Age Trail, the trail could use many more volunteers. There are many resources around campus and Dane County making involvement with the Ice Age Trail easier than climbing up Bascom Hill in the Summer. The beauty, trail length, and community surrounding this scenic trail is why you never know who or what you will meet around a corner of the Ice Age Trail.
For questions regarding the Ice Age Trail, call them at (800) 227–0046 or email at email@example.com.