A year of pandemic has been hard on people, but they’ve taken to the outdoors in great numbers, including important parks and trails in Polk County, Wisconsin.

Interstate Park Manager Matt Densow told the 120 members of the Indianhead chapter of the Ice Age Trail Association that membership in the trail system has jumped 42% statewide, to more than 5,200 members, as more hikers discover the trail.

Speaking at the association’s annual meeting on Feb. 7, Densow reported that Interstate Park, the western terminus of the Ice Age National Scenic Trail, attracted 300,000 visitors in 2020, up 50,000 over the previous year’s total.

The Ice Age Trail crosses both private and public lands and forests. Steve Gardiner / RiverTown Multimedia
The Ice Age Trail crosses both private and public lands and forests. Steve Gardiner / RiverTown Multimedia

The meeting was a virtual gathering for the chapter’s membership after a year in which the pandemic sharply cut the number of work parties and social hikes the chapter could sponsor. Nevertheless, the association still counted 1,499 people statewide who volunteered to build or maintain trail sections, contributing 53,000 hours. The association hopes that improved conditions will allow some smaller chapter events of up to 25 people initially this year, and is hoping for 50-person events by year’s end.

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The annual meeting marked a changing of the guard. Dean Dversdall of Bone Lake Township, who joined the chapter 25 years ago, relinquished the presidency he’s held since 2007. He is succeeded by Barb Ceder of Frederic and Paul Kuhlmann of St. Croix Falls, who will split leadership duties. Others handling key positions are treasurer Cheryl Whitman of Luck and secretary Nanette Del Monico of St. Croix Falls. Wanda Brown of St. Croix Falls will supervise 52 volunteers who maintain segments of the chapter’s more than 60 miles of trail. Brown said she is still seeking volunteers for several segments. Grant Burdick of Frederic and Dave King of Laketown Township manage the chapter’s equipment shed.

Another significant change was the loss of inveterate backpacker, tireless volunteer and generous mentor Chet Anderson of St. Croix Falls. His death in October after a stroke prompted members at the meeting to share photos and tributes.

This plaque marks the western terminus of the Ice Age Trail in Interstate State Park. Steve Gardiner / RiverTown Multimedia
This plaque marks the western terminus of the Ice Age Trail in Interstate State Park. Steve Gardiner / RiverTown Multimedia

Speaker Stephanie Lundeen of Bone Lake Township gave a presentation on the 3-year-old Friends of the Gandy Dancer State Trail, which promotes use of that crushed limestone trail. She said a priority is protecting the trail from uses that degrade the trail surface.

The group has created a folding pocket-size map for the Gandy Dancer Trail. They are distributing the maps to bike shops and tourism centers within a 150-mile radius to promote the trail. She suggested that because the Ice Age Trail runs on the Gandy Dancer Trail between Frederic and St. Croix Falls, the two organizations should cross-promote and co-sponsor activities.

Starting this year, the Friends of the Gandy Dancer State Trail will be providing a bingo-like card that can be filled in by trail users who participate in such activities as hiking, biking, geocaching and scavenger hunts.

This is the view near the western end of the Ice Age Trail overlooks the St. Croix River. Steve Gardiner / RiverTown Multimedia
This is the view near the western end of the Ice Age Trail overlooks the St. Croix River. Steve Gardiner / RiverTown Multimedia

Whitman, the treasurer, reported that the chapter finished the calendar year with a balance of more than $6,000 with income of nearly $3,800, including $1,500 from the 3M Foundation in recognition of people who volunteer on the trail and work for the company.

The Ice Age National Scenic Trail winds along the edge of Wisconsin’s glacial features for more than 1,000 miles. More than 600 miles of the trail are yellow-blazed Ice Age Trail segments, and more than 500 miles of connecting trails round out the total mileage. The trail crosses private land, city parks, state parks, county forests, and national forest.