01 Apr Find Your Trail With A Friend
Lately I’ve been spending a lot of time at home. Most weekends you can find me exploring the Ice Age National Scenic Trail at a variety of different access points, some less than a 20 minute drive from my house in Madison, Wisconsin. Tracing the pathway of a receding glacier from the Pleistocene Epoch, which ended about 11,000 years ago, the IAT spans more than 1,200 miles. It passes through dozens of communities, large and small, across the state of Wisconsin and connects our people with a common heritage of natural history and outdoor recreation.
It should be said that 2018 marked the 50th anniversary of the National Trail Act.In recent weeks my good friend Christopher Kilgore and I have made a habit of inviting local friends to join us on short hikes along the IAT. He’s an avid outdoorsman and environmental educator. We try to bring people together and share with them our passion for this valuable natural resource that’s open to the public for everyone to enjoy. In addition to the work I do sharing stories about the preservation of public land from one end of North America to the other I think it’s important to foster an appreciation for nature that is nearby. I believe the best place to begin the work of environmental conservation is right in your own back yard.
As a board member of the Ice Age Trail Alliance, a nonprofit dedicated to the protection and preservation of the IAT, I volunteer my time in an effort to raise awareness for its relative ease of access. With little more than a good pair of walking shoes, seasonally appropriate clothing and a water bottle, just about anyone can experience one of America’s 11 National Scenic Trails. But I’ve come to realize that barriers to natural world come in many forms. Much of the writing and reporting I’ve done over the last decade has focused on the cultural and socio-economic disparities in our society that too often limit the accessibility of nature. Though the IAT is just a few miles away from where thousands of area residents live, there are many who don’t know that it even exists. Due to this general lack of awareness, too many of us fail realize that a fun and worthwhile experience in the outdoors is as close as short car ride.
But even with good proximity, it helps to have the support and encouragement of trusted friends. Just about every time I give a public lecture on the importance of outdoor recreation and environmental conservation people ask, “what can I do to help?” Specifically when it comes to those who are least likely to spend time outdoors, I think the best thing we can do to help is to share our love of nature with those who, for whatever reason, don’t believe they have a place in nature. Often that includes people of color, those with physical disabilities or folks that just don’t have the disposable income and leisure time to take a day off. Typically though there are just those who just don’t have the personal experience or knowledge to find themselves on a hiking trail. Even though you may not consider yourself an expert or particularly skilled as a guide, sometimes once you find your trail the best thing you can do is invite a friend along on your next hike. That’s what Chris and I do. And I hope that as the weather continues to improve , as the days grow longer and warmer, as the trails get less muddy more folks will join us.