Weekly Walk: Volunteers carry on; Russ Helwig awarded with Spirit Stick

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Russ Helwig/Ellen Davis | March 9, 2015

Norwin Watson reports on the Tuesday hike:

Three of us set out at 4:05 p.m. to hike around Lake La Grange. The trail was still hard-packed snow and ice, and we wore our ice grippers for easier walking. There was not much going on; no other hikers, no one ice fishing. Just warm weather with blue sky and sun and snow.  We finished our three-mile hike with the feeling that spring could be coming after all.
Marvin Herman reports on the long hike:

It was 14 F and sunny with promise of warmer weather ahead as 13 hikers met at the John Muir Bicycle Trails off County Highway H. This has been our hiking location of choice recently, because these trails provide the safest surface in winter and miles of trails of all types.

Bicyclists and hikers traditionally travel these shared trails in opposite directions in order to see each other far enough in advance to ward off disaster. However, we felt that on this winter day there would not be many bicyclists, so we started hiking in the cyclists' direction — the opposite of our usual route.

The early part of the trail was hard-packed with snow with occasional ice patches. Those few hikers without ice cleats had to walk in the deeper snow at the sides of the trail in order to avoid slipping.  

We continued on the orange/white trail and moved to the blue/green trail after about three miles. This was more challenging, because the surface was not packed flat and the hard ridges of snow and ice worked our ankles and knees a bit more.

Near the four-mile point in our hike, one of our group developed some breathing issues, so the leader accompanied the hiker the shortest way back to the trailhead.
Ellen Davis reports on the short hike:

I arrived early at U.S. Highway 12 in order to check out the condition of the Ice Age Trail and the snowmobile trail on the south side of the highway.  It was bad — lumpy ice on one, flatter ice on the other, both dusted with a sifting of recent snow. Hiking on either under those conditions would have been hazardous and strenuous for our group.

We opted for a hike around Lake La Grange. Eight hikers and a canine set off up the hill on the Ice Age Trail. Part way down the other side, we noticed several sets of footprints following the old abandoned trail rather than the new re-route. We followed downhill through thickets of brush, overhanging vines and miscellaneous rocks and fallen branches. Then down slippery, snow-covered steps and onto the old Kangaroo Walk across the marsh. We crossed  carefully, pausing to observe the muskrat houses in the marsh, the open spring and the bat houses grouped at both ends of the walk.

Back on the Ice Age Trail again, we admired the many tiny bird nests in the bushes along the trail and the improved vistas where crews had removed areas of invasive honeysuckles.  Oakley found a lovely stick and entertained us while we rested a few minutes at Russ' bench.  

Back on the trail again, we slogged through the snowdrifts at the end of the cornfield and looked forward to the wider well-used snowmobile trail with relief. Our shortcut down the abandoned trail had cut our hike down to 2.7 miles — and the elevation equivalent of 22 flights of stairs.
Spirit stick awarded
The Spirit Stick is a prestigious award given annually by the Ice Age Trail Alliance. The Walworth/ Jefferson chapter nominated Russ Helwig and he has been selected as the winner. The award was presented to him in a ceremony at Fairhaven in Whitewater, where Russ is under hospice care.

Mike Wollmer, executive director of the alliance, and Monty, the trail's woolly mammoth mascot, presented Helwig with the Spirit Stick, an intricately carved hiking stick. The awardee must exhibit a passion for the trail that has become a way of life, lead by example and inspire those around them in a spirit of cooperation, optimism and enthusiasm.

Helwig joined the alliance about 15 years ago and led twice weekly hikes on the trails for more than 12 years. His hikes attract 25 to 40 folks each day.

He certainly would appreciate cards or visits from those legions he has inspired with his enthusiastic leadership over those years.

The address is Russ Helwig, c/o Fairhaven, 435 W. Starin Road, Whitewater, WI 53190. He is in Room 301.

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