Rock County native invites hikers to discover glacier's gifts

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Anna Marie Lux
Monday, November 11, 2013

Tess Mulrooney wasn't so sure she wanted to hike all of the more than 1,000 miles of the National Ice Age Scenic Trail in Wisconsin.

Then a group of women in their mid-70s put it to her politely: “Dearie, if we can do it, so can you.”

Mulrooney began walking the trail in 2010 but was not committed to finishing it until 2012.

Through a Facebook group, she met more than a dozen hiking partners.

“Part of hiking the trail is having someone to share it with,” she said.

This year, Mulrooney got serious about lapping up the miles.

The trail stretches from St. Croix Falls in the west, dips to Janesville and reaches back to Sturgeon Bay creating a giant S-shape. Maintained by volunteers, the footpath traces the southern edge of the last glacier that bulldozed through the state about 10,000 years ago.

About 600 miles of trail consist of official segments, marked by yellow blazes. The rest is on connecting routes, including rural roads.

On Saturday, Mulrooney is finishing the last leg of her long journey: a 5.7 mile walk from Rotamer Road in Janesville to Vernal Avenue in Milton.

The Madison woman is inviting people to join her as she becomes one of almost 100 who have completed the entire route since it became a work in progress in the 1950s.

Mulrooney hopes others will get hooked on hiking with the mastodons. The huge beasts roamed when monstrous flows of glacial ice sculpted Wisconsin, leaving behind depressions, hills and other gifts of the glacier.

The mastodons are long gone, but geological reminders of when they lived still remain. Among them are conical hills called kames and rounded ridges called eskers. The unique landforms are better seen in Wisconsin than anywhere else in the world.

Mulrooney points out that Rock County is one of only 30 counties in the state with miles on the ice age trail. Some segments wind through Storrs Lake Wildlife Area, Milton and Janesville. The highest number of people Mulrooney ever saw on a trail segment was in Janesville, where she counted 29.

Some of the county's 50.4 miles are on roads connecting to the trail in Walworth and Green counties.

During the past two years, the National Park Service has held meetings to look at how to move more road miles to prairies, wooded areas and recreational trails to enhance the hiking experience, Mulrooney said.

An employee of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, Mulrooney thought she knew her state well.

But walking across the countryside and through cities has taught her so much more.

“The trail gives you a reason to go out and explore places that you might not see otherwise,” Mulrooney said. “I have all kinds of new little cities that I know and love to visit, including Rib Lake, Cornell and Mishicot.”

In addition, climbing eskers and hummocks are great for developing leg muscles, she added.

Mulrooney grew up in Janesville and later Lima Center. After getting her degree in data processing, she moved to Madison.

When she finishes hiking the trail, she looks forward to helping friends complete the walk and urges others to begin.

“I want to be as inviting and encouraging of new people as the 70-year-old women were for me,” she said.

“The trail offers such an intimate view of our state.”

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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