Volunteers break ground on new Ice Age Trail segment
By Lauren Anderson
As the fall weather makes its bitter turn at the end of October a committed group of volunteers will work outside all day and camp all night in the Lodi area.
Their mission: to add one and a half more miles to the Ice Age Trail.
From Oct. 24-27, more than 200 volunteers from across the Midwest will break ground on the trail’s newest segment near Gibraltar Rock.
While the more than 1,000 mile-long Ice Age Trail stretches across Wisconsin, nine miles of which fall in the Lodi Valley region, the entire trail isn’t visitor friendly in its current state. For the past 11 years, volunteers have helped build walkable trail segments in an effort, ultimately, to see an uninterrupted Ice Age Trail throughout the state. So far, about 650 miles of trail have been built and made accessible to the public.
Land acquisitions in the past two years have allowed for the trail’s expansion on a property adjacent to Gibraltar Rock. Now that the Ice Age Trail Alliance (IATA) has secured the land, ensured it doesn’t interfere with any archeological landmarks and designed a pathway for the trail, hundreds of volunteers will undertake a project later this month to build 1.5 more miles of trail.
Over the course of four days, the volunteers will build a trail that runs thr-ough a pine grove, arou-nd ravines and circles around to the western side of Gibraltar Rock. The new segment will provide new access to one of the area’s finest features, Lodi Valley Chapter liaison Bill Welch said.
“Gibraltar Rock is such an important part of our history and the area,” he said. “Because it followed the last glaciation period, the area has interesting geography and topography. There are not many other places like Gibraltar Rock on the trail.”
From engagement proposals to church services to hiking, Gibraltar Rock is a favorite destination for local residents and tourists.
The new segment will add to the already popular area. Currently, the 2.5 miles of trail between Slack Road and the Merrimac Ferry, which was installed by volunteers in 2010, is one of the most heavily used trails in the state, Welch said.
Visitors’ experiences will only be enhanced by the new segment, IATA Director of Trail Operations Tim Malzhan said.
“People are going to be really surprised to discover the new features and experiences available to them at Gibraltar Rock,” he said.
The appeal of Gibraltar Rock, in combination with the Ice Age Trail, is likely to draw many more visitors, IATA Outreach and Education Manager Luke Kloberdanz said.
“What we do with the Ice Age Trail is build an educational trail that families can come out to experience and connect with the beautiful Wisconsin landscape,” Kloberdanz said.
The project will also highlight the historical and geological significance of Gibraltar Rock.
“We feel like we’re honoring history, honoring tradition and contributing to the quality of life for visitors and especially for Lodi, Sauk Prairie and Prairie du Sac residents,” Malzhan said.
More visitors could also mean more dollars invested in Lodi businesses. A 2012 study conducted by the IATA found that one mile of new trail equates to a $30,000 investment in local economies.
Kloberdanz said volunteers from out of town often return to the area for a visit.
“The more people who come and see the wonders we have, the more they will come back with their families later, and hopefully spend a little money locally,” he said.
Before the Lodi area reaps the benefits of the new trail segment, hundreds of volunteers will first invest many hours of work.
During the work days, volunteers will put in full days, waking up at 6:15 a.m. to a breakfast prepared for them by volunteer cooks. Then IATA crew leaders will review the projects that lie ahead for them that day, reviewing all of the necessary safety precautions, skills and sequences of work. After leaders assign crews of four to 10 people, the trail builders are off.
Crew leaders have already divided the 1.5 miles of trail into more manageable 200-foot sections, which the volunteers will rake and scrape down to the dirt.
“When we’re done, there will be a bare dirt trail that meanders through the woods,” Welch said.
More experienced volunteers will help build a stone step structure leading up the incline to Gibraltar Rock and retaining walls to support the trails.
Meanwhile, other volunteers will remove invasive plant species, cook meals and shuttle volunteers around the project site.
“One of the things about the project I find amazing is how much work you get done in a day – and even more in four days,” Welch said.
While some will be able to do heavier labor than others, Welch said regardless of skill level or physical capabilities, there is a task for everyone to do.
“Some are using tools and hauling debris off and building the trail. Others are producing meals for the volunteers. Others are registering our volunteers,” he said.
After eight hours of work on the trail, volunteers will return to the campgrounds, eat dinner and enjoy some evening entertainment.
“They’ll gather around the fire and enjoy themselves, wake up and do it all again,” Klob-erdanz said.
Older adults, as well as many area youth, will lend a hand.
Seventy-two students from the Ouisconsing School of Collaboration (OSC) will join the volunteers in a service learning project.
Lodi Elem-entary School’s fifth grade class, Cub Scouts Pack 355 and Lodi High School’s “Trail Keepers” group will also come out to help on the trail.
In addition to trail building, students will learn about conservation and topography, all of which could help train a new generation of trail builders.
“Maybe some of the students coming out to help us for the project will be the ones to help us get across the finish line 30 years from now,” Malzhan said.
Whether young or old, volunteers always leave with a sense of pride in their contribution to the trail’s construction.
“It’s really great when people from Lodi come out and volunteer,” Welch said. “By building the trail themselves they really take ownership of it. Often people who have worked out on the trail, when their relatives come into to town, take them out to the trail to show them their work.”
The Gibraltar Rock project will conclude the IATA’s volunteer projects for 2013. As the ground begins to freeze, the IATA uses the break from construction to begin planning projects for next year, Kloberdanz said.
Given it’s the last one of the year, Kloberdanz said the IATA will be “going out with a bang” on the Gibraltar Rock project, which he anticipates will be a particularly popular project among volunteers.
While it will involve enduring cold weather and investing hard work, the end result will be worth it.
“I just have one description for Gibraltar Rock: it’s some of the best we have to offer,” he said.