I’m very excited about the proposed Driftless Trail. It will take hikers off the beaten path and into the very heart of the Driftless Area – through public and private lands into some gorgeous areas that are now inaccessible. Learn more in this article I wrote recently for Isthmus.
Dick Cates gets passionate when he talks about the land his family has owned in the Lowery Creek Watershed near Spring Green for more than 50 years.
He notes that Lowery Creek is one of the most productive streams in the entire Driftless area for native brook trout.
“The Wisconsin DNR collects trout spawn and takes them back to their fish hatchery where they grow them out as fingerlings to put them in other streams,” he says. “It’s a very, very special watershed.”
Cates grazes cattle in the valley, but he proudly mentions that he follows Aldo Leopold’s land ethic. Quoting Leopold, he says: “The land is a community that yields not only an ecological but also a cultural harvest.”
That’s why Cates believes it’s vital that everyone have an opportunity to experience the beauty of the region. “For people who don’t own land, how do you get to be a part of it?” he asks. “How do you learn to love it?”
Cates is involved with one effort to provide a way — creating the Driftless Trail, a 50-mile network of paths that would connect the vistas from the tops of Blue Mound and Tower Hill State parks, the rolling prairies and ravines of Governor Dodge State Park, to the cliffs and gorges of the Ridgeway Pine Relict State Natural Area and the fertile watersheds laced with trout streams of the Lower Wisconsin State Riverway.
“A trail gives people that opportunity,” Cates says. “I feel strongly that the more people who care about nature, the more it will be protected.”
Hikers have long been able to explore state-owned lands in the region. But Dave Clutter, director of the Driftless Area Land Conservancy in Dodgeville, came up with the idea of connecting the trails in these public spaces with others that would pass through private land. The idea is to not only provide more recreational opportunities and tourism dollars, but to make the area more resilient against climate change and protect the land.
The Driftless Area is a unique landscape created when the last three continent-wide glacial advances missed the area during the past half million years. Clutter also sees the trail network as a response to the proposed ATC transmission line.
“The benefits of the trail are such a huge contrast to the future that we would see if the ATC transmission line, with its massive towers and denuded corridor, cuts through the Driftless Area,” says Clutter. “I would like to see us work toward the best future we can, and the trail would embody a scenic gem set in the Wisconsin landscape.”
The Driftless Area Land Conservancy has been laying the groundwork for the trail for several years. This project is now ready to start connecting the dots with a strategy that will integrate state agencies, landowners and local communities.
The conservancy protects land through acquisitions and easements. “The more we can connect high-quality wildlife habitats, the more resilient areas become to climate change,” says Barb Barzen, the trail project coordinator at the conservancy. “Wherever the trail goes, we will focus our land conservation work, and by building the trail we will create a corridor of well-managed natural resources.”
Officials anticipate the trail could be used for backpacking, with overnight camping in existing parks. The trail would not be open to bicycles, horses or motorized vehicles.
Anne Sayers, deputy secretary at the Wisconsin Department of Tourism, is excited by the project. “I think there is something about the word Driftless that makes it seem like a place to explore, a place to get lost in and a place to experience something new. We know that the number one reason visitors say they come to Wisconsin is outdoor recreation. People will travel for this kind of opportunity, and that is really good news for local economies.” READ THE REST HERE