This was the second half of a single-day hike that included sections on two different trail systems: the Military Ridge Trail and the Ice Age Trail. The first part was on the Military Ridge Trail from Riley to Verona, and this second part was on the Ice Age Trail near Verona.
The Ice Age Trail is an interesting project: a 1200-mile network of trails, all within Wisconsin, that generally follow the southern edge of glacial coverage during the last ice age. At this time the trail system is far from complete, but there are quite a few segments – many in existing state, county, or regional parks – with plans for connector trails to link everything together. This trail system has been designated as a National Scenic Trail, a designation under the auspices of the National Park Service. There are only eleven designated National Scenic Trails in the country.
Near Verona there is a major trail junction between the Ice Age Trail and the Military Ridge Trail. A special map of the Junction Area is available on-line. For this hike I actually reached the Ice Age Trail by hiking several miles on the Military Ridge Trail. The Ice Age Trail segment that I hiked goes north from the junction a couple of miles. In this area there are two roughly parallel paths: one is an unpaved trail, probably like most of the rest of the Ice Age Trail, and the other is a paved bike/multi-use trail. The configuration starting from the parking area is a semi-loop or balloon configuration; the “string” is part of the paved bike trail. I believe the bike trail was built in 2010, so it is almost brand new.
This portion of the Ice Age Trail passes through the Badger Prairie County Park in Dane County. It is noteworthy that there are several mountain biking trails in addition to the Ice Age Trail, which is intended for hikers only and not for mountain bikes. I did not fully appreciate the either/or nature of hiking vs. biking trails until after my hike. The Ice Age Trail (hikers only) is designated by simple posts with yellow blazes.
For some of the posts, like the one in the picture, the blaze is a metal strip attached to the post. For others, the blaze is a similar-size yellow-painted rectangle. Some of the painted blazes are quite faded. Since this was my first hike on the trail, it was a learning experience about how to recognize the trail markings. I’m quite sure I got off-trail almost as soon as I left the paved bike trail, because I soon encountered a couple of trail junctions with several intersecting trails and no markings at all. Since I had studied the general trail configuration, though, I could determine roughly where to go to rejoin the intended trail – and once I was back on-trail, I found that the blazed posts were not far apart. I must have simply missed one, perhaps with an indistinct yellow blaze.
After turning north the trail crosses a road (Cross Country Rd) and continues past a set of soccer fields. Near the soccer fields there is a trail access point with interpretive signage. My impression is that some of the prairie in the Badger Prairie County Park has been restored to some degree – if so, the restoration has been very nicely done and is very pretty to walk through.
North of the road the terrain is slightly hillier, though the elevation change is less than 200 feet over about 1 mile from south to north. Next to the trail there is a bench – even the bench is rustic – where hikers can pause and contemplate the prairie landscape.
The turnaround point for my hike was at the next road, County Rd PD. The trail signage is quite prominent here, and there is a parking area with trail access. I returned via the paved bike path, which goes through the County Park a bit to the east of the unpaved trail. At the PD parking area a few houses are visible across the road. About halfway back to Cross Country Road there is another access point from a housing subdivision adjacent to the park.
It is kind of amazing that, if you simply turn your back to the housing, you think you are way out in the countryside! At the location where the bike path crosses Cross Country Road, I was amused to note a sign announcing the city limit for Madison.
I had “discovered” the existence of the Ice Age Trail during my visit in July 2011, and I’d been looking forward to exploring at least a little bit of the extensive trail system. This was a good segment to start with, because there were enough landmarks and other clues to avoid getting lost or seriously off-trail while getting familiar with the trail markings for the Ice Age Trail. I hope to hike other sections in the future.