BY MIKE MCFADZEN
Do you ever wonder how your favorite trail gets maintained? You know, who cuts the brush, grooms the ski trail or takes down fallen trees? Who does those educational programs that introduce kids to natural resources? State DNRs are increasingly relying on friends groups to make it happen.
The Friends of Wisconsin State Parks (FWSP) is one of several statewide organizations that represent parks and trails. These local friends groups provide thousands of volunteer hours and deliver millions of dollars to support the mission and activities of state lands. FWSP is a lean organization driven by volunteers with only one employee, Executive Director, Patty Loosen.
“The Friends of Wisconsin State Parks have been working for 22 years to preserve, protect and promote the beautiful Wisconsin state park system properties, and to support the 70-plus local friends’ chapters through grants, workshops and resources,” Loosen told Silent Sports. “I am always amazed by the dedication, volunteer time and hard work that all of the friends members deliver. The annual volunteer hours they provide total more than 30 full-time equivalent positions. Now that’s a lot!”
The loss of tax revenue for Wisconsin state parks has opened the door to more citizen involvement. FWSP recognizes that parks and trails have a long-term heritage of connecting youth and families to Wisconsin’s natural resources.
“State parks and trails are the conduit to our state’s great natural resources,” Loosen remarked.
You can support Wisconsin parks by becoming a FWSP member, donation, or buying your park sticker, or other items through their online store (fwsponlineshopping.blogspot.com/2015/11/store-2.html).
The Parks and Trails Council of Minnesota (parksandtrails.org/friends-groups/) has been a tremendous asset to their park system. Minnesota’s park funding has taken a different direction than Wisconsin by increasing funding.
“Minnesotan’s voted in 2008 to increase the state sales tax with a proportion of the new revenue dedicated to various park and trail programs,” said Andrew Oftedal, a research and policy specialist. “Park visitation has been trending upward in recent years, increasing about 16 percent between 2012 and 2016. We’ve watched the elimination of tax-payer support in Wisconsin with concern.”
Volunteer-based friends groups help care for many of our state’s parks and trails.
“Friends of Maplewood State Park secured funds and recruited volunteers to contribute towards the construction of a maple syrup sugar shack,” friends group coordinator Ashley Pethan told Silent Sports. “Several friends groups have stepped up to voluntarily groom ski trails at parks and five friends groups are implementing habitat-restoration projects. Friends groups work with the DNR to ensure they are supporting and complementing the needs and goals of the park or trail.”
If you’re interested in learning more about how to partner with Minnesota parks, contact Ashley Pethan by email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or phone (651-726-2457, ext. 207).
The Michigan Friends of State Parks (MFSP) has many local groups that support its park system. MFSP developed an excellent guide on establishing friends groups that’s pertinent even if you don’t live in Michigan (michigan.gov/documents/dnr/park_friend_booklet_383083_7.pdf).
The Friends of Illinois Parks (IAPD – ilparks.org/?page=friends) has developed several programs to support their parks including PowerPlay! The PowerPlay! Beyond School Grant Program helps fund out-of-school programs that emphasize healthy lifestyles. The impact has been dramatic with child participants two times less likely to use drugs and one-third less likely to become teen parents. This past year PowerPlay! funded programs for thousands of children at 34 park and recreation agencies. Kids learn about the importance of health, nutrition, fitness and safety. IAPD also developed a foundation that will help support its park system for years to come.
National Scenic Trail Organizations
Many Silent Sports readers have hiked, biked or skied portions of the North Country Trail (NCT) or the Ice Age Trails (IAT). These trails are part of the 11 National Scenic Trail system. Volunteers are continually working to make more trail connections with a goal of completing these two Midwest trails.
The NCT (northcountrytrail.org/) stretches 4,600 miles from New York to North Dakota. NCT Executive Director Andrea Ketchmark gives credit to the volunteers.
“In 2017 over 1,200 volunteers contributed 80,000 hours to the trail,” said Ketchmark. “Recently, the NCT teamed up with the West Wisconsin Land Trust, Iron County and the Wisconsin DNR to purchase 113 acres near Lake Superior’s Saxon Harbor. The Heritage Chapter of the NCT is determining the final trail route of this visually beautiful trail section. We hope to begin construction of the trail in 2019.”
This critical parcel will provide two more trail miles from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan border into Wisconsin.
“We are always looking for volunteers, because there is always something happening on the NCT,” Ketchmark added. “Right now, we are finalizing work on the Copper Falls section of the NCT.”
Ketchmark asks interested parties to visit the NCT events calendar for more information (northcountrytrail.org/trail/upcoming-events/calendar-of-events/).
The 1,200 mile IAT (iceagetrail.org/) highlights Wisconsin’s glacial landscape as it travels through some of the state’s most beautiful areas. More than 600 miles are marked segments with approximately 500 miles of connecting routes. The trail’s western terminus is in Interstate State Park near St. Croix Falls, with the eastern terminus in Potawatomi State Park. Most of the marked sections are remote and secluded with some segments leading hikers onto the main streets of Wisconsin towns. By design, the IAT is meant to connect people and communities to natural resources.
The North County Trail Association and Ice Age Trail Alliance support these superb trails which are built and maintained primarily by volunteers. Volunteers are continually developing new trail segments, improving existing segments, working with landowners for trail easements and siting connectors on quiet country roads.
It’s no longer good enough to pay an admission fee or buy a park or trail sticker. Support the folks who support your recreational opportunities. Join your local parks friends group, statewide organization or national trail association. Help them make it happen.
If you say to yourself, “somebody should do something about this,” maybe that somebody is yourself.