Tuesday, October 31, 2017
Marathon County does their Trail Proud
The Ice Age Trail has four segments in Marathon County, and all but one - the smallest - gets 'first-class hiking' ratings from me. Working from north to south, here are the particulars.
The Plover River segment is the best. It's all new, opened just a few years ago. It gets its high rating because of three distinctive features. First, there's a long, well-built boardwalk through a wetland.
Then there's an abundance of very pleasant trail that rambles through some open areas and among big glacier-rounded rocks in mossy mature hardwood forest.
And finally there's an up-close walk beside the Plover River as it skirts a glacier moraine and meanders through the big rubble rocks that rolled down off it. The best view of this small river or creek is the headline photo above.
Following the Plover River Segment is a four mile road walk along quiet Sportsman Drive. There was one remarkable spot of lingering fall color there -- a sumac that looked ablaze, even on this overcast day.
The next segment is the Dells of the Eau Claire River Segment. This follows that significant river through quiet country and through the high-banked 'narrows' that are called 'Dells' from the French word for 'channel' or 'gutter'. Other places call them Dalles, most famously along the Columbia River between Washington State and Oregon.
The Trail crosses the Eau Claire river twice on footbridges. Here's the more scenic one, called the High Bridge.
This segment offers views of the small section of white water that cascades through angular rock formations that clearly had *not* been glacier-smoothed.
This is one of the few sections of the Ice Age Trail that is beyond the limit of the last glacier's advance.
Next came the Thornapple Creek Segment. It is a very short segment and really has two sub-segments not more than a mile each in length. I chose to bypass both--the first because it crosses private land that the owner wishes to be kept closed during hunting season.
I bypassed the second because, while bypassing the first, I met a local gentleman who was out riding his bike and he told me that this short stretch has two low areas that are basically always wet. I didn't want to bother for one mile of woods trail on this frosty morning, so I walked the road.
Finally comes the Ringle Segment. It uses a small piece of an 82-mile-long rail trail called the Mountain-Bay State Trail - sharing the route for just a mile and a quarter.
But the rest of this segment was trail deep in the woods, and very pretty. Within it there is a brand new section that was just opened this year (2017). The freshly cut trail is visible at right in the view below, in front of the freshly set bench with its excellent message.
Much of the rest of the woods trail is being rerouted off trails that are open to snowmobiles. I was tempted to follow the flag tape marking the reroute, but the snowmobile trails were all quiet and grass-covered surface, not ripped up by ATVs or turned into a succession of mud pits as ORVs do, so I really didn't mind the existing route. Still, the fact that Marathon County volunteers are being so proactive in taking the trail off these multi-use sections and creating foot-traffic-only trail speaks volumes for their dedication. Thanks, Marathon!
South of the Ringle Segment, I faced the prospect of a road walk of 25 miles or more before the next segment in the next county. In fact, between here and my destination of Madison the trail is largely on roads. It's the most incomplete portion of the whole Ice Age Trail, as this overview map displayed at one of the trailheads shows. Solid red lines are finished trail segments, dashed red lines are the road walks.
Because of this and because my ancestors' roots are deeply embedded all over the region around Milwaukee and just to its northwest, I've decided to take a detour down the Mountain-Bay Trail to Green Bay then the wide-shouldered bike-friendly highway 57 to Potawatomie State Park and pick up the Ice Age Trail there at its Eastern Terminus. So my next report will come to you from the Mountain-Bay Trail. Watch this space.