Ice Age Trail yields a walk on the wild side
WHITEWATER — Looking to get off the beaten path this summer? Look no further than the 26 miles of the Ice Age National Scenic Trail that wind through Walworth and Jefferson counties.
Ice Age Trail segments are located near Colley Road, Whitewater Lake, Rice Lake, Whitewater campground and Lake LaGrange.
Along the trail, people can often see deer, eagles, turkeys and other forms of wildlife, as well as prairie areas, kettles and moraines.
Volunteers help to maintain the trails so they're enjoyable for novice and experienced hikers alike.
“People can hike as fast as they want. We maintain the trails really well, so they don't have to worry about ticks and poison ivy,” said Andy Whitney, volunteer coordinator for the Walworth/Jefferson County Chapter of the Ice Age Trail Alliance. “Once they go off the trail, they're on their own with ticks or poison ivy.
“The hills aren't bad. Some of the older trails are a little steeper.”
Ellen Davis of the Walworth/Jefferson County Chapter recommends that people walk the trail in segments.
“A lot of people don't realize that it's a point-to-point trail. It does not go in a loop,” Davis said. “People walk 10 miles and they don't realize they still have to walk back. I recommend that people walk a specific section of the trail.”
Whitney suggests that people plan ahead for hiking.
“I recommend people wear hiking boots. The trails can be slippery when they're wet if you're wearing tennis shoes,” Whitney said. “I also recommend that people bring bug spray and water.”
Passes aren't required to hike on the trails, but people need to have a sticker in order to park their vehicle in a lot located near a trail. Stickers can be purchased at the Kettle Moraine Forest Southern Unit headquarters in Eagle or at any Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources office.
The Walworth/Jefferson County Chapter works to maintain the trails throughout the year. A mobile skills crew meets once a month to build new trails throughout the area.
“We get about 300 or 400 people who come out and help us build new trails,” Whitney said.
The Ice Age Trail chapter also offers a trail angels program in which volunteers transport hikers to and from the trails.
“There's people who backpack for three days, and we pick them up and bring them back,” Whitney said.
Chapter volunteers lead weekly hikes at 4 p.m. Tuesdays and at 10:30 a.m. Wednesdays beginning at the Ice Age National Scenic Trail parking lot on U.S. Highway 12 near Whitewater.
“(The walks) are beautiful. You go in a prairie and look at all kinds of flowers,” Whitney said. “We have hikers whether it's zero degrees, snowy or rainy.
“You meet a lot of great people from throughout Wisconsin.”
The chapter also conducts cleanup days, kite hikes and children's activities at the Lake Geneva and Elkhorn libraries.
The group plans to participate in the Whitewater Fourth of July parade this year and host a food tent at Farm Technology Days in July in the town of Linn.
The group attracts people who have a common interest in hiking, Davis said.
“We all get along,” she said. “Everyone likes being outdoors. It's a nice feeling to be on a nice, brisk hike.”
For more information about the Walworth/Jefferson County Chapter, call 262-949-0286 or go to iceagetrail.org.
Informational brochures about the group also are available along the Ice Age Trail.
“We get a lot of new members (from the brochures),” Whitney said. “(People) will take a brochure from a kiosk that's located along the trail.”
On the map
Over in Rock County, local hikers are taking steps to put a portion of a popular hiking trail on the map — so to speak — this summer.
Members of the Rock County Chapter of the Ice Age Trail Alliance are eyeing a reroute of the trail so that it goes through Evansville, said Dennis James, volunteer coordinator for the chapter.
Rock County includes about 61 miles of the Ice Age National Scenic Trail with segments in Janesville and Milton, and soon Evansville.
“We're rerouting, because west of Janesville it's a temporary route, but our chapter is rerouting it to go through Evansville,” James said. “Evansville has the certification as an ice trail from the National Park Service, so we're hoping this summer that they will become a formal part of the trail as an anchor to the west side of Rock County.”
Hikers can see a variety of wildlife along the trails, including deer, turkeys, hawks, eagles and coyotes. There's also wildflowers, moraines, kettles, rolling hills and woodland areas to enjoy.
The trail passes along some historic sites as well.
“On a recent workday, I found out that there was an old brewery behind Mercy hospital on the Kiwanis Trail segment (in Janesville). So, there's not only geological pieces along the trail, but there's historical pieces as well,” James said.
“In Milton, (the trail) goes by the Milton House, Northleaf Winery and Milton College. In Janesville, it goes past Dawson Field, where the circus was held. It goes by the Lincoln-Tallman House. In Evansville, it will go through some historic districts as well.”
The trails are accessible to experienced and newer hikers, James said, however, the Devil's Staircase in Janesville could present some challenges for newcomers.
“The Devil's Staircase, along the Rock River, we have some people who feel it's pretty dangerous, but experienced hikers don't feel that it's dangerous at all,” James said. “(The Devil's Staircase) would probably be the most problematic part. The rest of the trail is very easy to navigate with no problems in the summer or winter, but the Devil's Staircase I would not hike during the winter because it can be slippery.”
Hikers should wear comfortable shoes and carry water, snacks and a camera, James suggested.
“If they're birders or like watching birds, I recommend that they bring binoculars,” he said.
In addition to enjoying the trails, members of the local alliance chapter work to keep the routes in good shape for fellow hikers.
The Rock County Chapter schedules workdays throughout the year, with the next trail improvement day set for Saturday, June 18. Volunteers will work from 9 a.m. to noon in the area of Jeffris Park in Janesville.
“I love working on (the trail) because it's giving back,” James said. “It's contributing to the community.”
Besides maintaining the trails, volunteers are needed for other tasks.
“We have other activities,” James said. “It might be somebody who organizes a hike. We've had people design brochures for us.”
The Rock County Chapter hosts hikes throughout the summer. Its Walk Across Rock County program features a hike along a different section of the Ice Age Trail each Wednesday. Sometimes the hikers explore other trail systems, too.
“I try to schedule hikes in some of the parks in Rock County, so this season we've hiked at Gibbs Lake and Magnolia Bluff,” James said. “Later this summer, we're going to be hiking at Beckman Mill down by Beloit. We also do a trip to Devil's Lake and hike the trail up there.”
For more information about the Rock County Chapter, Ice Age Trail Alliance, call 608-302-1885 or go to rock.iceagetrail.org.