Mud and Muscles: Volunteers Maintain St. Croix River Region Hiking Trails

Crews recently built boardwalks on the Ice Age Trail at the headwaters of the Trade and Straight Rivers.

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Will Goddard is a photographer/writer based in Osceola, Wisc.

All photos by Will Goddard

If you have hiked the Ice Age National Scenic Trail here in the St. Croix Valley, you know what an outstanding local trail experience it is. But it’s much more than just another trail. One of the nation’s eleven National Scenic Trails, the Ice Age is one of two such trails in the upper St. Croix Valley – the other being the North Country National Scenic Trail, which crosses the St. Croix River near its source.

Winding across the state of Wisconsin for 1,200 miles from Interstate State Park on the St. Croix River to Potawatomi State Park on Green Bay, the Ice Age National Scenic Trail basically follows the edges of the most recent glaciations in North America which lasted from about 100,000 to 10,000 years ago. It’s like a public greenway across Wisconsin’s glacial landscape that preserves outstanding natural resources and scenery.

The Ice Age National Scenic Trail offers a variety of experiences from multi-day backpacking adventures to short jaunts to interesting scenic locations. Some of the highlights of the trail in the St. Croix Valley are the interesting geological features such as the Dalles of the St. Croix River and the glacial potholes at Interstate State Park. From there, the trail weaves and zigzags through the city of St. Croix Falls, the “City of Trails.”

Further east, the Ice Age National Scenic Trail travels through Straight Lake State Park, a dramatic landscape of natural beauty which contains the headwaters of two river systems: The Straight River that flows southeast and the Trade River flowing northwest to the St. Croix River. Exposed basalt bedrock along with lakes, ponds, wetlands, and marshes are prominent features in this region. To navigate moist areas, the trail design relies on elevated boardwalks.

A trail like the Ice Age National Scenic Trail requires a fair bit of serious maintenance to keep it open for hikers. Over time, nature takes a toll: storms blow down trees, weedy undergrowth creeps over the trail, beaver dams flood vast sections, and so forth. Who maintains signage, cuts and removes windfalls, mows grassy sections, builds boardwalks and bridges over numerous creeks, rivers, and wetlands?

The short answer is the Ice Age Trail Alliance (IATA). This nonprofit volunteer organization works with the National Park Service, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, local governments, and private landowners to protect, promote, build and maintain the many segments of the Ice Age National Scenic Trail. More than twenty IATA volunteer chapters across the state organize activities such as trail construction, maintenance, hikes, stewardship, promotion and education.

Here in the St. Croix Valley, the Indianhead Chapter maintains and improves 60 miles of trail in from the western terminus at Interstate State Park. In addition to local efforts, the IATA organizes statewide trail-building projects known as the Mobile Skills Crew (MSC) program. These events offer volunteers wonderful opportunities to give back to the outdoor community, enjoy nature, and make new friends.

A recent MSC trail building event took place just last week, September 14-18 near Luck, WI.

The focus of this recent event was to improve the trail experience in and around Straight Lake State Park with new and improved boardwalks, new Dispersed Camping Areas (DCA’s) for long distance hikers, and clearing and re-establishing the “Stewardship Zone” – the irregularly shaped area on both sides of the trail.

The goal of the Mobile Skills Crew program is to educate and empower volunteers on methods of building high quality, sustainable trail. No background in trail work is needed to participate – those who want to experience what Ice Age Trail volunteering is all about are welcome to help out. Check out iceagetrail.org for information about the Mobile Skills Crew program and a calendar of trailwide and local chapter events.

So head on up to the Trade River and Straight Lake segments of the Ice Age National Scenic Trail to see the results of the recent MSC efforts. And remember it was all made possible for everyone in the St. Croix Valley and beyond by the strength of dedicated volunteers.


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One response to “Mud and Muscles: Volunteers Maintain St. Croix River Region Hiking Trails”

  1. Marty Avatar

    Nice article, Greg. I thought you’d like to know in the cacophony of emails in my box, I always read anything you write. Thank you for writing! Marty

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Mud and Muscles: Volunteers Maintain St. Croix River Region Hiking Trails