Trail Mapping at the Ground Level

August 19, 2013 No Comments

By: JoAnn Parks, GIS Project Manager

The new changing environment at ADC means more than a new coat of paint, new furniture or a new room design.  It also means new perks for the employees.  One perk in particular, Donating 4 a Cause, not only benefits ADC and their employees but will also benefit the community.  Workers will receive a day off, with pay, when they volunteer to help a non-profit organization.  This is a win-win situation for everyone!  For co-workers and others interested in “Donating 4 a Cause,” I’d like to share one with you – Ice Age Trail Alliance (IATA).

We are all familiar with how GIS and GPS can help in trail design, routing, and mapping.  Well, let’s leave this fast paced, high tech world behind and find out how the trails we map are really made by getting our hands dirty.  The IATA is a non-profit organization committed to building and maintaining the Ice Age National Scenic Trail, which is one of 11 scenic trails in America.  The Ice Age National Scenic Trail follows the end moraine of the last glacier that covered Wisconsin.


Trail building starts by understanding the ologys, – geology, topology, meteorology, dendrology, and hydrology.  Glacial geology is the scientific study of changes on the earth’s surface such as erosion or deposition resulting from glacial movement and topology is the study of landforms left on the earth’s surface such as eskers, kettles, drumlins, ice walled lake plains, and moraines to mention just a few.  After a proposed corridor is identified with glacial features, it is marked off with white flags set 100 feet apart; and is then watched for the next four seasons.  The reason for this long process is to see the effects weather meteorology will have on the future trail, as well as, what type of trees and vegetation dendrology will be growing within the defined corridor.  And last but not least is hydrology, which is the study of water distribution and movement on the earth.  This is the most important factor to consider as keeping water off the trail is critical!  After a year of observing, the white flags are moved many times before a final trail location is confirmed.

The next step is to clear a 5’ by 8’ corridor with the white flags in the center.  All vegetation and trees are removed.  Then it is ready for the trail tread which is completed by trained trail builders known as the Mobile Skills Crew (MSC).  They use a process that is called either “full bench construction” or “4 step construction.”  A McLeod tool is used to remove any remaining vegetation or top soil (duff).  The back line of the tread is marked with a Pick Mattock tool as is the critical edge.  The back slope must conform to the two fingers rule and the tread cannot have a slope of more than 4%.  The McLeod is again used to shape and finish the job and is often used as a way to determine slope angle.  Now that you know how to build a trail it’s time to put that knowledge to use!

The recent purchase of land by Chippewa County has enabled the IATA to reroute a segment of trail off private property to a permanent location.  All summer, pre work has taken place and on Sept 12-15, the Mobile Skills Crew (MSC) will come in and complete the trail project.  Here is your chance; they are looking for volunteers to help!  The base camp will be located at Camp Nawakwa in northern Chippewa County.  Come for the day, or spend all four days helping.  Coffee is on at 6 a.m. and the camp cooks have breakfast ready by 7, lunches are packed for noon and a hot meal is served at the end of the day.  You may even get lucky and experience Thelma’s trail-famous bread pudding!  If you stay for more than one day, sleeping accommodations are available in the cabins and yurts, or bring your own tent (food and sleeping accommodations are free if you help out).

If you plan to join in  please register so they know how many to plan meals for. Leave the apps and Google Maps behind and come join us  for the Harwood Hills Segment reroute project near Camp Nawakwa in northern Chippewa County and learn trail mapping at the ground level.

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