By Rich Prange
In mid-June, hiking enthusiasts from all corners of Wisconsin and from out of state quietly converged on the Nels Evjue School Forest. Their mission was to gain skills to help further develop the Ice Age National Scenic Trail in Wisconsin. The School Forest Lodge and grounds served as base camp, and the Lussier Cordwood Education Center and nearby woods served as the classroom.
The program, titled “Ice Age University,” included chainsaw safety, first aid/CPR, operational leadership, smart tools, camp chef, building the team and three tiers of trail construction. The intent of these training sessions led to skill development in using tools, equipment and methods for trail and community building. Lincoln County is the benefactor and host to 65.8 miles of the Ice Age Trail.
A needed target project done concurrently with the training program, was constructing two elevated boardwalks to route around a perennially wet area.
The boardwalk was a joint project coordinated with the Friends of the School Forest and the Ice Age Trail Alliance, Mobile Skills Crew Program. The “Friends” financed material costs, cut and built deck sections and staged all the materials near the worksite, saving much time and labor. Ice Age Trail Alliance staff planned and coordinated the project, obtained the necessary permits from the DNR and the Army Corps of Engineers and provided technical expertise. Ice Age Trail volunteers provided the skills and people power to build the boardwalks.
Working in rain, knee deep in mud and with a full complement of ticks and mosquitoes always present, 71 volunteers contributed 1,642 hours either attending educational sessions or working on the boardwalks. Merrill’s school forest now has 290 feet of elevated boardwalk for use by district school children and Ice Age Trail hikers.