America’s Newest National Park Runs Through the Chippewa Valley

1,200-mile Ice Age Trail gets new title from the feds, and more funding may follow

Tom Giffey

Picnic Lake from the Ice Age Trail west of Cornell, Wisconsin in October.
Picnic Lake  west of Cornell is one of the many sights along the Ice Age Trail. (Photo by Jeff the QuietCC0)

Move over, Yellowstone. Step aside, Yosemite. There’s a new national park – and it runs right through the Chippewa Valley.

The Ice Age National Scenic Trail was officially declared a national park on Dec. 7 by the National Park System. The 1,200-mile-long trail – which zig-zags through some of the state’s best scenery along the edge of the last continental glacier – was one of three scenic trails to get an upgrade from the NPS.

“The new status for the Ice Age, New England, and North Country national scenic trails will increase public awareness and use of these amazing pathways,” NPS Director Chuck Sams said. “Their combined 5,500-plus miles travel through parts of 10 states and hundreds of communities, from large cities to rural towns, providing countless close-to-home opportunities for people to easily access green space and enjoy the benefits of outdoor recreation.”    

(Photo by Joseph Warren / Wisconsin DNR)
(Photo by Joseph Warren / Wisconsin DNR)

The three trails had previously been established by Congress and were already administered by the National Park Service as part of the National Trails System. So what does the change in designation really mean? Put simply, it will bring access to more federal funding, said Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., who pushed for the NPS move.

“With this new designation, Wisconsin trails will be included in all the great lists that publicize our nation’s national treasures,” Baldwin said, “and be considered for more funding opportunities that allow their managers and many volunteers to take good care of them.”

The three trails raised to 428 the number of units of the National Park System, all of which are commonly termed “parks” although they may bear more than 25 different designations, such as national monuments, national seashores, national battlefields, and more.

Luke Kloberdanz, executive director and CEO of the Ice Age Trail Alliance, was all smiles about the announcement. “Unit status gives the trail, and its volunteers, the recognition it duly deserves,” he said. “Make no mistake: the Ice Age Trail is world-class and the number of hours alliance volunteers devote to it consistently rank among the top in all the National Park Service.”

The Ice Age Trail begins near St. Croix Falls and winds its way east, south, and then north again to end in Sturgeon Bay. It passes through 30 of Wisconsin’s 72 counties, including the northern portion of Chippewa County.

One of the other trails to be reclassified – the North Country National Scenic Trail – also includes a Wisconsin segment: The 4,800-mile trail from North Dakota to Vermont crosses through far northern Wisconsin, including the Chequamegon–Nicolet National Forest.

Learn more about the Ice Age National Scenic Trail from the National Park Service or the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources