Hikers near end of Ice Age Trail walk across Rock County

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Anna Marie Lux
Monday, July 28, 2014

ROCK COUNTY--Dennis James discovered early this summer that the best way to learn about Rock County is to walk across it.

He is not alone.

Since late May, James and about 30 others have hiked weekly on up to five miles of the Ice Age Trail in the county.

They are walking Wednesdays from the Walworth County to the Green County lines to complete more than 50 miles.

“The weather has been perfect,” said James, who is coordinator of the Rock County Chapter of the Ice Age Trail Alliance.

Only two more of the 12 summer hikes remain. But the walking is anything but over.

“I've learned that people really like to hike,” James said. “But they don't want to hike alone.”

In response, the county chapter of the Ice Age Trail Alliance will offer more hiking opportunities through September and post them on the group's website.

Meanwhile, he and others continue to discover the county's portion of a 1,000-mile footpath in Wisconsin. When completed, the Ice Age Trail will trace the unique features left by the last glacier. More than 10,000 years ago, monstrous ice flows sculpted the landscape as they melted and created a variety of geological landforms.

“To walk across Rock County is a first for me,” James said. “You see things you never would have noticed if you were in your car.”

He especially enjoyed parts of the trail at Devil's Staircase in Janesville and Milton's Storrs Lake Wildlife Area. The Devil's Staircase trail wanders along the side of a bluff with beautiful views of the Rock River. The Storrs Lake path stretches through tall prairie grasses, mixed hardwoods and depressions in the ground called kettles.

The last two hikes July 30 and Aug. 6 will be on roads, something the National Park Service is trying to change.

By next year, the agency will present a preferred off-road route to the public, said Mary Tano, park planner.

“In the coming years, we can begin developing off-road trails so people do not have to walk on the road,” she explained. “We only work with willing landowners. It's a lengthy approval process.”

The park service is the lead agency in Ice Age Trail development. It works with a planning team, which includes people from the state Department of Natural Resources, the county and area trail volunteers.

Ice Age Trail hikers do more than notice geological formations. Some such as Tom Stoiber of Janesville recommend the weekly walks to develop a pattern of physical activity. He has hiked regularly with his wife, Paula.

“The exercise is at a leisurely pace and not extremely strenuous,” Stoiber said. “The group is good about watching over everyone and making sure that they do not fall behind.”

Walks also have opened doors to new friendships.

“When we met as strangers at the beginning of the hike, we never dreamed we would be talking so freely with other hikers as we neared the end of the journey,” Stoiber said.

The cardiologist is impressed with Ice Age Trail volunteers who helped build the Rock County Trail System and who work regularly to maintain the trails.

“They are tireless in their work,” he said. “They are very selfless people who mainly care about the enjoyment others get from the trail system.”

Anna Marie Lux is a columnist for The Gazette. Her columns run Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call her with ideas or comments at 608-755-8264, or email amarielux@gazettextra.com


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